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The American Enterprise Institute, Common Core, and “Good Cop”

December 28, 2013

In my research on Gates’ Common Core State Standards (CCSS) spending, I came across this unusual grant to the pro-reform group, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI):

Date: June 2012 
Purpose: to support their education policy work in four distinct areas: Exploring the Challenges of Common Core, Future of American Education Working Groups, Innovations in Financial Aid, and Bridging K-12 and Higher Ed with Technology 
Amount: $1,068,788 [Emphasis added.]

Gates paid AEI one million, in part to “explore the challenges of Common Core.” If Gates really wanted AEI to critically address problems associated with CCSS, it would not have paid AEI to do so two years following CCSS completion.

No, no. This is no critical appraisal of CCSS. This is CCSS promotion.

Given its timing (two years following CCSS completion), the Gates-funded task for AEI is better read as

Exploring the Challenges of Selling the Common Core.

What we have here is a version of Good Cop, Bad Cop.

By way of Scholar Frederick Hess (yes, he really refers to himself as “scholar”), AEI offers the appearance of critical appraisal of CCSS.

Thus, Hess appears to be the “good cop” to the outspoken CCSS proponents’ “bad cop.”

However, “good cop” is an illusion.

Consider this December 13, 2013, excerpt from Hess’ blog. Hess plays the neutral card, but he is not neutral:

If the standards are better than those that many states had in place, swell.  If more common reading and math standards make things easier for material developers and kids who move across states, that’s fine.  But I don’t think that stuff amounts to all that much.

There’s the “neutral.” Now, for Hess’ established reformer bent, which is particularly notable in the bolded language:

In truth, the idea that the Common Core might be a “game-changer” has little to do with the Common Core standards themselves, and everything to do with stuff attached to them, especially the adoption of common tests that make it possible to readily compare schools, programs, districts, and states (of course, the announcement that one state after another is opting out of the two testing consortia is hollowing out this promise).

But the Common Core will only make a dramatic difference if those test results are used to evaluate schools or hire, pay, or fire teachers; or if the effort serves to alter teacher preparation, revamp instructional materials, or compel teachers to change what students read and do.  And, of course, advocates have made clear that this is exactly what they have in mind. When they refer to the “Common Core,” they don’t just mean the words on paper–what they really have in mind is this whole complex of changes. [Emphasis added.]

Hess even broaches the major topic of federal involvement in CCSS. In this two part series written in June 2013, Hess opens Part One with the statement that he is “not on board” with CCSS:

I’ve long said that the Common Core strikes me as an intriguing effort that could do much good. So, why am I not on board? Because I think the effort has a good chance of stalling out over the next four or five years. And, because standards and assessments are the backbone of pretty much everything else in K-12 schooling, that could tear down all manner of promising efforts on teacher quality, school improvement, and the rest. [Emphasis added.]

Good cop.

Then Hess closes his post with advice for CCSS “proponents” (mind you, he is “not on board,” yet he is assisting the “proponents”):

…Check out what Fordham’s Mike Petrilli and Checker Finn have been writing on this score, as they’ve spent the past couple years operating as pretty much the only Common Core enthusiasts willing to publicly call out Obama overreach or talk frankly about problems and missteps (as with Fordham’s tough new analysis of the Next Generation Science Standards). 

Hess advises CCSS “proponents” to read Finn and Petrilli– a duo I have recently written about for their sneaky and slanted state standard letter grading that points towards a false CCSS “superiority.”

In the Part One post, Hess refers to the “Obama overreach.” In Part Two, Hess tries to promote the idea that Duncan can actually convince the American people that the federal government was involved in “the beginnings” of CCSS “but it won’t happen again”:

Sec. Duncan needs to give a speech in which he pleads “mea culpa” and acknowledges that federal involvement and money played a nontrivial (and perhaps, in hindsight, an unfortunate) role in the early stages of the Common Core. Doing so will allow the conversation to move off that sticking point, and reassure the skeptics that the proponents are finally speaking to their fears of slippery slopes. Duncan can then pivot to what comes next. He should signal support for proposals by Congressional Republicans that would prohibit further federal involvement with the Common Core…. [Emphasis added.]

Let’s get this straight: Good Cop Hess wants to help Duncan sell CCSS by saying, “Yes, the federal government was involved all along, but I promise to support those in Congress who want to limit my CCSS reach”??

By December 26, 2013, Mr. “I’m Not on Board” advises CCSS proponents to openly acknowledge their dependence upon the federal government to make possible the entire spectrum of reforms (of which CCSS is the hub):

There’s a studied dishonesty about the “state-led” rhetoric. Going back to Common Core’s initial planning in 2007 and 2008, its earliest advocates always noted that getting most states to adopt common standards and implement them aggressively would probably require an outsized federal role.

As Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas Fordham Institute and a longtime champion of national standards, observed in 2010, “For these standards to get traction . . . a whole bunch of other things need to happen. Curriculum needs to happen, textbooks need to be aligned with the curriculum, teacher preparation and professional development need to be aligned, tests need to be aligned, [and] the accountability system that is built on those tests needs to make sense.”

There’s little evidence that Common Core boosters really believe that states, school districts, and commercial providers will make this work on their own. …

In each case, plenty of Washington-based Common Core enthusiasts think the feds need to help get this stuff right. In 2011, the American Federation of Teachers endorsed the creation of a national curriculum to support the Common Core. The National Governors Association has previously called on Uncle Sam to help fund and encourage Common Core implementation. The Obama Department of Education has embraced a much more prescriptive role in telling states how to measure teacher effectiveness and where teachers should teach. [Emphasis added.]

So, here we have Hess doing what Gates has really paid him to do:

“Exploring the Challenges of Selling the Common Core.”

Notice how that sale is walking the straight path to federal control of American education in its entirety.

CCSS is not meant to stand alone. Any discussion that presumes as much is not only counterproductive, it is dangerous, for it draws attention away from the Package Deal of Reform.

(As of October 2013,  Student Achievement Partners will be working with the Danielson Group [as in Charlotte Danielson] to “align” teacher evaluation with CCSS.)

If CCSS is part of a Reform Package Deal (which it is), then it will require that states hand over their rights to the likes of Duncan.

And if states forfeit their rights in the name of Comprehensive Reform by opening such a door to federal control, states will not be able to close the door when the federal government decides what should be done to “turn around failing states.”

It’s coming, folks, if we do not actively combat it.

Hess is no Good Cop.

His ploy is to incrementally introduce what would otherwise be unacceptable change so that in its increments, it becomes palatable.

Time for a palate cleanse.


  1. EllenLubic permalink

    Mercedes…we need more than a palate cleanse…perhaps a head to toe scrub with steel wool.

    We also need to review the Hess/Deasy article of some weeks ago in the LA Times on the need not to fear technology. Deasy who worked for Gates, and who is responsible for the LAUSD iPad fiasco, wrote this after his contract was renewed by the spineless BoE who superceded the 91% NO CONFIDENCE vote for Deasy by LAUSD teachers, so of course he now feels invincible. He and Hess make good teammates for Coleman and Pearson in touting CC. Who better than Eli Broad’s boy and AEI right wingers.

    Here is the text.

    Don’t let fears stop necessary technology reform in L.A. schools: Guest commentary

    By Frederick M. Hess and John E. Deasy

    Posted: 12/04/13, 3:27 PM PST |

    The Los Angeles Unified School District has been lauded — and scrutinized — for its trailblazing efforts to reform teacher evaluation and include student achievement in hiring and firing decisions. But the $1 billion push to provide every student and teacher with an iPad may be attracting the most attention.

    School board members have questioned the costs and benefits of the investment. Parents and teachers have good cause to be skeptical of technology. Schools have been overwhelmed in recent years by oversold, ill-designed and frustrating new gizmos. Questions about whether dollars allocated to new technology are being spent wisely deserve serious consideration.

    While these concerns are warranted, they should not hold students back from a 21st century learning experience.

    Skeptics fear that the district’s investment in education technology is “anti-teacher,” that it represents some kind of insidious plot to replace teachers with machines. This strikes us as bizarre. Why? Try to remember the last time a doctor viewed an MRI or needle-free diabetes care as “anti-doctor.” We just don’t talk that way; we understand that these things are not a substitute for skilled care but tools that allow professionals to do their jobs better.

    New technologies have made it possible for professionals of all stripes to tackle routine chores more quickly and precisely. This has allowed roles to evolve over time, creating new professional paths and the opportunity for them to spend more time putting their expertise to work. It would be terrific if such changes came to schooling, but this will be a gradual process and one in which teachers will have a large say.

    Skeptics have also expressed doubts about the wisdom of introducing technology into high-poverty schools. They wonder if students will respect the devices, or can use them. They argue that any available funds should instead be spent on teachers. At a philosophical level, we reject this premise. Children who grow up in poverty will have to negotiate a wired world, alongside their more privileged peers. The students of South Los Angeles should have access to the same learning tools that suburban students enjoy.

    More prosaically, early evidence suggests that students treasure these devices, use them and master the skills they’ll need for college or career. In Riverside, one of the first California districts to try to put a device in every student’s hands, the “destruction” rate was less than one-fifth that of textbooks, keeping the costs well within the budgeted range. Technology that lets teachers spend more time coaching and mentoring, and less time collecting paper, can be a powerful way to support great instruction.

    Finally, skeptics worry that digital learning creates a slippery slope where students will not need to be physically present in school. The fear is that kids will be off on their own, potentially unsupervised. There are grounds for sensible discussion here, but warehousing disengaged students in schools is not the answer. L.A. high schoolers can today enroll in a Stanford course while sitting at Starbucks. Our focus should be on helping students excel as thinkers and citizens — not on the where and when.

    With all that said, education technology will not magically improve test scores or make learning more “fun.” But it can help professionals and parents support student learning and growth. In the case of LAUSD, iPads are one tool, not a solution, to help educators engage students and provide students the support they need. It creates new opportunities for students to learn and grow; these opportunities should not be driven by community politics, grand promises or state procurement deadlines, but by helping students learn and teachers teach.

    Frederick M. Hess is director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. John E. Deasy is superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

  2. Wow. That’s pretty shocking that Hess is so open about this. Here’s my take:

  3. Dear Mercedes, Thank you for ALL the research and insight! I am so up-to-date with these “scary” facts. Keep up the great work; knowledge is power, and accurate knowledge does illuminate the truth.

  4. Thank you for taking time to write this — I will do my part to spread the word…

  5. ira shor permalink

    To Master Scholar Mercedes: Another brilliant expose of the fraud called CCSS…Aspiring Scholar Ira Shor

  6. Thank you. Please keep your posts coming.

  7. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    As usual, this post is on the mark.
    About a year ago I requested peer-reviewed evidence from the Danielson Group on the reliability and validity of the Charlotte Danielson observation protocol, part of her Framework for Teaching instrument, for every grade and subject. I asked specifically about studies in the arts and other “non-tested” subjects.
    Charlotte herself sent me a rambling email. She had no answer other than the “studies” on the Danielson Group website. The site offered about five published studies, none relevant to reliability or validity by grade and subject, and none recent.
    The Gates-funded “Measure of Effective Teaching Project” (MET) was published shortly after this email exchange. That study showed that the observation section in the Danielson protocol is NOT reliable across grades and subjects, that the highest and lowest ratings are rarely used by observers, and a whole lot else. No one can offer evidence about the validity of the rubrics or scores based on them.
    The grant for “alignment” of this flawed instrument with the CCSS is wrapped in language that preemptively allows the Danielson Group and promoters of the CCSS to sidestep all issues except for “alignment” and the degree to which a district achieves high fidelity in implementing the CCSS and in using the Danielson protocol.
    In other words, this expensive field trial is likely to be cited as “research” that justifies a headlong rush into a new teacher evaluation scheme that has never been compared to others and independently checked for reliability and validity.
    Look at the embedded sales pitches in the link this press release.

    • Stiles permalink

      The Danielson Framework for Teaching dates from the mid 1990’s and is not exactly new. I know CPRE conducted a series of studies at both the district and school level on the Framework a decade ago. I believe the largest studies were on Cincinnati and Washoe County. It is true that more versions of the Framework focus on core content classrooms instead of the related arts. The 2007 version of the Framework was more broadly inclusive, but I am not aware of much research on the 2007 version.

      Most of the locally developed practice frameworks replaced by the Danielson Framework were not evaluated for reliability and validity. They were usually products of local committees that operated on a general professional judgment basis or were collectively bargained. That is not to say they were always poor quality, but in my experience educators would not claim they were proven to be reliable and valid.

    • Charlotte Vrooman permalink

      Los Angeles Unified is using the Danielson model along with Common Core standards and it is creating havoc. Professional developments for teachers taught by their peers who were taught by district “experts” who don’t know what they’re teaching because the system is new and untested.

  8. Charlotte Vrooman permalink

    i would like to know more about Charlotte Danielson’s profession; background and experience.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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