“A Conspiracy Theory in Search of a Conspiracy” *

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Andy Smarick (recent emigre from NJ’s Department of Education, where he served as Deputy Commissioner) interviewed Robin Lake, Director of the Center for Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington. Unsurprising, one of the recurring topics was the implementation of the Common Core and the implications of a newly-rigorous assessment system on school choice.  One of Smarick’s questions is particularly pertinent to the endless Jersey battle over charter schools, particularly those in non-Abbott districts (our 31 poorest areas). Regarding the expansion of charters into less impoverished areas, he asks,

As a recovering statewide charter authorizer [i.e., his stint in the NJ DOE], I know those fights—suburban groups ferociously opposing a potential charter in their communities—can be brutal. [See here, for example.]  Are you skeptical of suburban charter growth for this reason or others, or will the astonishing results of suburban models like BASIS and the expected drop in suburban test scores in the Common Core era cause now-complacent suburbs to give chartering another look?

Lake replies that “we need to face the reality that our suburban schools have failed too many students and have often skated by with mediocre instruction,” but that “the resistance is fierce from suburban families who think their schools are perfect, and philanthropic foundations have not been focused on supporting suburban charter expansion.”

This is one of those cases when the question  is more interesting than the answer. Will implementation of the Common Core and the attendant assessments have an impact on suburbanites’ pride in their local school districts, the “rude awakening”  that Jeb Bush has predicted?  Will a more critical look at student performance (engendered by rigorous standards) jumpstart a stymied trajectory towards suburban school choice? In other words, will all parents, regardless of income, lose confidence in their local districts when, as anticipated, test scores drop because content becomes more difficult to master?

I’ve no crystal ball, but I suspect not, at least in New Jersey where our best public schools are as good as our best charters and even our best private schools. (Lots of those in Jersey. School choice, but only for the wealthy.) For this coterie of parents, the transition to the Common Core will be transparent. Their kids already are held to rigorous standards.They already take hard tests.

That’s not stopping those who make the the jump from advocacy of higher and more consistent academic standards to conspiracy theory. It works like this: the Common Core academic standards or, more specifically, the tests that will accompany them, are a secret scheme to undermine traditional American education, even in moneyed suburban school districts where parents take great pride in local performance. Cue Diane Ravitch. 

“This is a hostile takeover, the final takeover, and the roots come from the stimulus package…Our children are the guinea pigs for the world.”

Oops. Sorry. That was Glenn Beck. Hard to tell them apart when they’re waxing conspiratorial on the Common Core. Here’s the rest of his quote.

We will lead the way. And do you remember when I said we wouldn’t be destroyed; we would be perverted? Profound darkness on this.”

Um, okay. Same to you.

*Arne Duncan

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1 Comment

  • kallikak, June 6, 2013 @ 5:27 pm Reply

    Some of us actually realize our suburban schools are in need of improvement. Will they be cured via a parallel system of charter schools some of whose operators are only in it for the money? Unlikely.

    Why have we not seen any meaningful steps to improve the selection and training of new teachers? Does anyone believe the new evaluation rubric is anything more than the latest system to be gamed by both sides?

    P.S. Nice to see Andy 'Suitcase Simpson' Smarick has found a new perch after his too short (what did we pay that guy?) sojourn at the NJDOE.

    P.P.S. Do we really need to see any more Glenn Beck quotes?

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