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Fordham’s Mike Petrilli: Selling Common Core in States with Better Standards

April 5, 2014

This post is about the for-profit “reform”-promoting think tank, the Fordham Institute.

The Fordham Institute likes to grade.

Mind you, Fordham doesn’t bother to grade itself. But it does promote the grading of teacher training programs via an entity it birthed in 2001, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), and it also promotes the grading of teachers using student test scores (see the final statement of this Fordham post for the clear endorsement for grading teachers using student test scores).

And, perhaps that for which Fordham is best known: It loves grading state standards and even giving some states higher marks than the Common Core State Standards (CCSS)– and still promoting CCSS in statehouses across the country.

In promoting CCSS, Fordham is only doing what Bill Gates has paid it to do: “track state progress towards implementation of standards….”

Fordham takes its CCSS “tracking” seriously– to the point of manipulating states with standards that it graded as “superior” to CCSS into clinging to CCSS.

Recall that 2010 Fordham report in which Fordham graded all state standards as well as CCSS and compared all state standards to CCSS.

CCSS did not receive the highest marks, yet it is continuously pushed by Fordham in statehouses around the country (see here and here and here and here for examples).

Consider Indiana, which has been in the March and April 2014 news for its considering dropping CCSS– and subsequently “forming” “new” standards that just happen to closely resemble CCSS.

In 2010, Fordham graded Indiana’s English Language Arts (ELA) and math standards as superior to CCSS.

In January 2013, Fordham Institute Executive Vice President Mike Petrilli, who bills himself as “one of the nation’s most trusted education analysts.”

(His self-titling reminds me of “Dr.” Steve Perry, who bills himself as “America’s most trusted educator.” Read here to see why Perry lacks my trust.)

Petrilli might consider himself “trusted”; however, he uses such trust to exploit– his undeniable goal being to manipulate states into keeping CCSS– even if his own think tank graded a state’s standards as being better than CCSS.

Let’s “watch” Petrilli in action:

In January 2013, Petrilli testified in Indiana and offered these points to talk Indiana out of any return to their CCSS-superior standards and into retaining CCSS:

1. First, you have already invested time and money into implementing the new standards. They have momentum. Calling for a do-over would waste the millions of man hours already invested—and potentially cost the state of Indiana more money than proceeding with the Common Core. [Emphasis added.]

A great suggestion: Keep the deficient CCSS since you have spent money on it already. Never mind that Fordham did not advise Indiana not to sign onto CCSS in the first place since it rated Indiana’s standards as superior. There was no Petrilli plane trip to testify on that front.

2. Second, it’s not clear that returning to your old standards would put Indiana on a path toward higher student achievement. For while you had some of the best standards in the country for over a decade, you also had one of the worst student achievement records on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Indiana was a classic case of good standards not actually having an impact in the classroom. You need a different way forward.

What a crock this point is. “A different way forward”?? Is “forward” higher test scores? Petrilli assures Indiana’s Senate education committee that “forward” is the direction CCSS will take them– even though Indiana’s “superior” standards did not take Indiana there. It is not clear that putting any state on the CCSS path will improve achievement– yet here we are, a nation on the unproven CCSS path… and Petrilli doing his best to sound knowledgeable as he talks unresearched, unanchored nonsense.

In its 2010 grading of standards, Fordham ignored comparing state scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) with its state standards ratings. The result was no logical connection whatsoever between NAEP scores and Fordham’s ratings of state standards. Indeed, some states with standards that Fordham rated poorly actually had high scores on NAEP.

In Indiana’s case, the NAEP scores were not among the highest in the nation (see here for Indiana’s 2009 and 2011 NAEP scores)– but Petrilli advises no return to Indiana’s previous standards because somehow, the lesser-rated CCSS could manifest in “higher student achievement.”

Come again??

This is the same Fordham Institute that believes in grading teachers using student test scores. However, I have yet to read the article on Petrilli’s testimony that it is possible for teachers to be “superior” yet their students’ test scores to not manifest the reality of “best teachers.”

He will defend standards as being “some of the best in the country” despite low test scores, but he has yet to extend such faith-based logic to teachers– and this despite the well-documented problems associated with using test scores to grade teachers, known as value-added modeling (VAM).

On to Petrilli’s third point of scoring the Indiana sale on behalf of CCSS:

3. Third, if you decide to opt out of the Common Core, you will be opting Indiana’s teachers and students out of an opportunity to participate in the incredible wave of innovation that these standards are unleashing. It’s as if the whole world is moving to smart phones and tablets while you’re sticking with a rotary. [Emphasis added.]

What “wave of innovation”?? The “opportunity for “CCSS-infused tests and teacher evaluations” that Fordham’s Chester Finn alludes to here in referring to California (with standards also rated as superior to CCSS)?

Implementation is a boring topic but here (as with most bold reforms of complex, sluggish institutions) it’s crucial. The past quarter century offers sad examples of states with praiseworthy standards and lousy academic results, with California being the woeful poster child. This breakdown is due to the plain fact that the state never infused its own standards into tests, requirements for promotion and graduation, teacher certification and evaluations, school ratings, college admissions, or much else. [Emphasis added.]

So, the question becomes, what is next in the CCSS push to “ensure CCSS infusion”?

I broach the topic in this post on the push for a centralized agency to control “CCSS-approved” curriculum. It’s logical to assume that if CCSS is being billed as The Answer for All States, its Gates-funded proponents would do all that is necessary to make CCSS “succeed”– including micromanage curriculum in states across the nation.

As for Petrilli’s appeal for a CCSS-bound Indiana, his oiled reasoning offers no assurance that CCSS will deliver on what the CCSS website promotes as the CCSS “guarantee”:

The Common Core is a set of high-quality academic standards in mathematics and English language arts/literacy (ELA). These learning goals outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live. [Emphasis added.]

CCSS will ensure skills and knowledge– got it?


…if CCSS doesn’t deliver– according to the CCSS license– the CCSS owners, the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)– cannot legally be held responsible.

In other words, NGA and CCSSO have effectively blocked themselves from the brunt of any lawsuits should CCSS not deliver according to the glowing promises made on the CCSS website or promoted by the CCSS talking points.

What will Petrilli do then?

I guess we’ll have to see what Bill Gates pays Fordham to do next in order to know for sure. Rest assured, however: No matter what Fordham does, it will package it as “excellence.”

  1. Fits right in with TBF sending Michael Brickman to Missouri to selflessly testify so that they wouldn’t have to “the worst standards in the country.”

  2. Harlan Underhill permalink

    Excellent report and analysis, Mercedes. Thank you again for your illuminating reporting. If the results of the NAEP don’t correlate with standards with what do they correlate? Is the sampling that NAEP does sufficiently robust to serve as a proxy for universal testing? Didn’t Massachusetts have a correlation between its standards and its NAEP scores? If it is not the standards that correlate with achievement, what does? Investment per pupil? I was under the impression that NAEP scores correlated best with parental income. In that case, what do we make statistically of the scores of the students in Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters? If the correlation there is not between parental income and scores, with what DO they correlate, that old concept of “time on task”? Hmmmm. Does that mean VAM might actually work? You raise many questions in my mind Mercedes.

  3. H.A. Hurley permalink

    Dr. Schneider ~ Fordham and it’s resident Gadfly Self-reported Most Trusted Education Analyst, have no education credentials. Please take a look at M. Petrilli’s highly qualified B.S. Degree in Political Science. His other Gadflies have mostly BS PoliSci and Public Policy degrees. No Educators! There are similarities with Dr? Steve Perry, but at least he played an Education Expert on TV. Petrilli only barks opinions, takes lots of $$ and makes lousy sophomoric Gadfly videos making fun of pedagogy because teachers protect children from harmful CCSS & ToxicTests.
    Why would ANYONE pay attention to these people? They only exercise opinions and get paid for them by other undereducated rich guys.
    Read Petrilli’s article about how US ought to fix poverty. Arrogant light weight!

  4. Laura h. Chapman permalink

    I think one of the main points is that the Fordham and Petrelli gather media attention. They churn out reports with ratings and the press loves anything that looks like it is a league table or horse race. Mercedes has taken the time to expose the fact that the CCSS are marketed as “ensuring” a bill of goods for the nation, but for which the the copyright holders, authors, and promoters assume not responsibility. Mercedes has also taken pains to show that the Common Core with the forthcoming tests is a huge enabler of more data mining by people who care about public education only as $500 million market. Look at the Education Industry Association website. This lobby was set up in 1990 and is one of the most diligent in lobbying on behalf of for-profit education.

  5. Thank you, Mercedes for this analysis which is brilliant.

    I’ve analyzed Fordham’s “grading” of the state science standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards. Their science team of experts, just like the math experts, are right wing conservatives, that have some kind of an ax to grind with the science education research community.

    Their own “science standards” which they use to provide the criteria to rate state science standards are a 1950s list of science facts and ideas that only come out of the mouths of those who haven’t stepped in high school science since the end of the Pleistocene.

    Thank you for calling Fordham’s Petrelli out.

  6. Ms. Schneider, Thank you for linking to our article from highlighting Petrilli’s Colleague’s testimony (Brickman) in Missouri. The two of them have gone all over the country trying to sell their Gates paid for grading study to legislators. Most aren’t buying what they’re selling – at least in NC they didn’t.

  7. NY Teacher permalink

    I just started this at Petition2Congress. It is very easy to sign, copies are automatically sent to President Obama, and your own senators and your representatives. Please take the time to read and the petition entitled: STOP COMMON CORE TESTING. Thank you.

  8. ARGOXY permalink

    Reblogged this on Inspire Teaching.

  9. Leslie Rose permalink

    This post raises some interesting points. Chiefly, what is the connection between content standards and high quality teaching? In the case of Indiana, what role did the old standards play in the complex education arena, and now, how are CCSS being implemented in participating states. Where does the shift promise to be more successful and why? Is it possible that “waves of innovation” can result from new/different or even, lesser, standards?

    The unfortunate limitations of relying on standardized testing to determine successes in our education system remain, despite content standards.

    The point you make about NAEP and Fordham’s ratings is also interesting. While NAEP attempts an apples to apples comparison between test outcomes for states, there remain differences in how states report data which means that even NAEP scores require careful reading of the fine print in order to make sense of or draw conclusions from their reports.

    It’s not a coincidence that CCSS came on the scene as NCLB was being recognized as having fallen short its ambitious goals for better outcomes for more students in our education system. The trend is to shift away from what Diane Ravitch refers to as a “measure and punish” model to one that is more supportive of improvement efforts at every level of the system. If CCSS helps that come about, if educators can become more collaborative and engaged in professional culture that enhances classroom practice (pedagogy), even if on some level just another swing of the pendulum, we will all applaud that.

    ~Leslie Rose

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Schneider to David Brooks: Common Core Does Not Encourage Opinion Writing Like Yours (UPDATE) | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. National Council on Teacher Quality Gets Caught in a Data Collecting Lie - Dr. Rich Swier
  3. NCTQ: “their remedies are part of the disease” | the becoming radical
  4. The Privatizing Agenda of Survey-producing Education Next | deutsch29
  5. The Privatizing Agenda of Survey-producing Education Next – @ THE CHALK FACE
  6. DEY’s Director Responds | Defending the Early Years
  7. DEY Defends Little Children from Academic Pressure | Diane Ravitch's blog
  8. Washington Post Editorial Board Supports Jeb Bush in His Common Core Quandary - Dr. Rich Swier
  9. Chester Finn Laments Maryland’s Corporate Reform Resistance; Fails to Connect Common Core to Falling NAEP Scores | deutsch29
  10. DEY’s Director Responds – Defending the Early Years
  11. DEY’s Director Responds – Defending the Early Years
  12. Common Core Salesman Michael Petrilli: *Economics Affect NAEP, but Stay the Ed-Reform Course* | deutsch29
  13. Bill Gates Is Still Dabbling in Common Core | deutsch29: Mercedes Schneider's Blog

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