The 2008 Common Core Sales Job: Part Three
In 2008, the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and Achieve, Inc., released a report, Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-class Education.
I have examined this report in two previous posts. In Part One of my series on this report, I considered the report’s absence of discussions of national debt in promoting the faulty goal of “global competition” via nationally standardized education. In Part Two, I consider the individuals authoring, “advising on,” and financially supporting the report.
In this third and final post, I examine the idea of “benchmarking,” which is supposed to be the primary purpose of the NGA/CCSSO report.
Nevertheless, this report is not a detailed accounting of benchmarking specific standards. It is only an argument in favor of the idea of international benchmarking of American education standards.
The “benchmarking” promoted by this report is hardly sufficient for determining national “success.”
“Benchmarking” to Beat All Others
The report begins with stating that the purpose of international (educational) benchmarking is “to identify and learn from top performers and rapid improvers.” The question is, “top performers” and “rapid improvers” in what sense?
Why, in terms of nebulously-defined, internationally-compared “graduation rates” and, of course, on international tests such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS).
“Graduation rate” is can be defined in any number of ways. One might count only individuals who make it to high school, or who make it to the final year of high school, or who complete high school in a given number of years, or who technically quit high school but complete some alternative course of study.
Graduation rates are also affected by the courses studied. Some “graduates” might not have graduated had they chosen more challenging coursework.
The very idea that one can compare graduation rates across nations by simply looking at percentages and rankings is incredibly limited. And yet, this is exactly what No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) have America focused upon.
We must be the best in the world on flimsy, numeric measures.
Let us not forget international test scores. The United States has managed to solidify its position as a major world power despite our history of poor international test performance. However, it “looks bad” for the USA to not be first internationally on these international tests.
Is it even possible to test students from scores of nations on a set of questions fair to all? What if PISA officials even admit that some scoring is flawed? Or that the “snapshot” means of comparison from one year to the next is problematic?
Imperfect PISA is not discussed nearly as much as the rankings such imperfection produces:
The Pisa rankings are like any education league tables in that they wield enormous influence, but because of their necessary simplicity are imperfect. Where it could be argued that they differ is in a lack of awareness about these limitations. [Emphasis added.]
Again with pushing for first in the world on flimsy, numeric measures.
If we are first, then what? We get to remain a world power?
Back to the benchmarking idea.
It isn’t that NGA and CCSSO are concerned with improving the quality of life for all American citizens. NGA, and CCSSO, and President Obama, and US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan want to compare American education to that of other countries so that we can beat them on two-dimensional measures of “success.” For that, in their 2008 report, they turn their attention to the business sector and cite the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) as a model:
Benchmarking is the practice of being humble enough to admit that someone else has a better process and wise enough to learn how to match or even surpass them. [Emphasis added.]
Forget community and collegiality.
It’s all about competition.
On its website, APQC offers its customers the opportunity to “learn exactly where your business processes stack up against the competition” by entering information into a database and crunching numbers “more than 1,200 standardized measures spanning people, process, and technology.”
Enter information into a database –> get the result on how one company compares to another for the sake of beating the other guys.
Thus, the 2008 NGA/CCSSO idea of “benchmarking” is to pay attention to what other nations are doing in order to beat those other nations on international tests and graduation rates.
Finland: No Standardized Tests; Poorest Not Bearing Kids
Such a shallow goal, and a skewed one, at that. NGA/CCSSO would do well to consider those “high performing countries” in a context broader than merely the achievement of high test scores and graduation rates.
Let us begin with Finland. First of all, Finland’s academic success poses no “threat” to the US’s position as a world power. All it does is hurt the pride of the corporate reformers who want to “win” the international “competition” for highest standardized test scores. And the Finnish do not include standardized testing as a major component of a student’s education. Finally, it is not possible to compare international testing outcomes of the most economically disadvantaged Finnish and Americans since the poorest Finnish are not having children.
“Benchmarking” Finland’s non-reliance on standardized testing sounds great. However, it might be a Jonathan Swift-esque, ethical stretch to force America’s poorest to “emulate” the Finnish tendency for its poorest residents to refrain from reproducing.
South Korea: Consumed with School and Suicide
Let us next consider Duncan-admired South Korea. Will South Korea overtake us? Not likely; the South Koreans are consumed with education in a way that certainly beats any such obsession in America. The children attend school for over 14 hours per day, and as exams near, for seven days a week. In 2013, South Korea was designated “the most suicidal society.” The South Korean government imposed a ban on pesticides in order to curb the suicide rate.
Isn’t South Korea now “successful”? That depends upon how one conceives “success”:
In such an economically successful country, why is there such a high suicide rate? Kim Hyun-chung, a psychiatrist at the Korean Association for Suicide Prevention, believes existing social stigmas surrounding mental illness and a difficulty admitting any inability to cope, contribute majorly to the suicide figures. [Emphasis added.]
South Koreans are expected to show no mental weakness. Yet the reality is that what appears to be “success” on one level might not be so on another. Moreover, “success” always costs something, usually in the form of one’s money, time, or relationships.
Shall the US “benchmark” the South Korean Number One Suicide Rate?
Japan: Also Suicidal, and Facing Incredible National Debt
Third, let us consider Japan. Japanese suicide rates are also high:
The number of suicides in Japan per 100,000 people is two to three times higher than it is in the United States and Britain. Among the eight developed countries, Japan’s suicide rate is the second highest after Russia. [2013 article.]
Japanese suicides appear to be connected to business failure:
[Japanese suicides] topped 30,000 for the first time in 1998. The number of people who committed suicide rose sharply in March that year when the business year ended for most firms. The year before, significant numbers of small and medium-size enterprises began failing due to a credit crunch. Since then, the number stayed above 30,000 through 2011.
Concerning its national economic situation, the Japanese national debt is over twice its gross domestic product (GDP), “the biggest debt pile among industrialized nations.” Japan might be scoring well on international tests, but it is also borrowing cash twice the rate of the US:
In actual currency, Japan’s debt has crossed the quadrillion yen threshold. That is a 1 followed by 15 zeros. Of course, with a yen being worth a (U.S.) penny, Japan’s debt is equivalent to $10 trillion. But with a GDP equal to one-third the size of U.S. GDP, Japan’s debt is like the U.S. having a $30 trillion national debt, about twice its actual size of just under $17 trillion, which is the largest absolute national debt of any nation in all of modern history. [Emphasis added.]
Japan might have pretty international test scores, but Japan is also beating the US in terms of both suicides and national debt.
Suddenly Japan’s international test scores do not appear so glossy.
Canada: No Federal Department of Ed; Educational Variety
Finally, let us consider Canada. That’s right. In this 2008 report, Canada is among the nations hailed for those with “higher and more equitable performance.” Here are some notable basics regarding public education in Canada:
In Canada, there is no federal department of education and no integrated national system of education. Within the federal system of shared powers, Canada’s Constitution Act of 1867 provides that “[I]n and for each province, the legislature may exclusively make Laws in relation to Education.” … Local governance of education is usually entrusted to school boards, school districts, school divisions, or district education councils. Their members are elected by public ballot. [Emphasis added.]
Thus, there is no Canadian version of Arne Duncan.
Now that is worth “benchmarking.”
To continue: Canada doesn’t try to “standardize” its provinces/territories:
While there are a great many similarities in the provincial and territorial education systems across Canada, there are significant differences in curriculum, assessment, and accountability policies among the jurisdictions that express the geography, history, language, culture, and corresponding specialized needs of the populations served. [Emphasis added.]
Diversity does not promote the “powerful market forces” that education standardization does. Yet Canada does have those higher international test scores– which flies in the face of Gates-Duncan-NGA-CCSSO-promoted CCSS standardization.
Pearson, Coleman and Gates in the Shadows
There are other points worthy of note in this report. One is the push for the US to buy into international benchmarking from Sir Michael Barber, “a former top education official in Great Britain,” who in 2008 worked for McKinsey and Company (the same company where CCSS “lead architect” David Coleman worked when he could not secure a NYC teaching position).
The “competition” is not lost on profit-hungry Pearson.
One fine irony in the 2008 report is the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reports America’s high college dropout rate, even as the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are being funded to the tune of $2.3 billion by the richest man in the world— who happens to be a college dropout: Bill Gates.
The International Competition Dodo Race
The report offers a list of “myths” regarding benchmarking and also “action points” for states to take. One of the “myths” is that the 1983 “A Nation at Risk” warning “never happened.” The report does not disprove the fact that the US remains a world power; instead, it cautions that “our historic advantages (e.g., size; earlier investment in mass education) are eroding as other countries imitate the US example.”
Soooo, the US’ supposedly “mediocre education system” really was not so problematic. Not sure how other countries will “imitate” our “size”; however, they can imitate our means of mass educating our citizens.
What is eyebrow-raising is that according to this report, the basis of “benchmarking” is to imitate in order to surpass– yet we are concerned that other countries might do the same to us.
We musn’t be that “mediocre”–even in education– if other countries are imitating us.
What is humorous is that we are now involved in a dodo race– no finish line– whereby we “imitate” other countries so that we might “beat” them, and they “imitate” us to “beat” us in return.
No one wins a dodo race, but all eventually tire of running.
On to those “action points.”
Where Are Those Detailed, CCSS Benchmarking Reports??
The first “action point” is to “upgrade” state standards by “adopting a set of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.”
The CCSS sales pitch.
Other “action points” promote CCSS standardization.
To date, no detailed report regarding the “international benchmarking” of CCSS has been provided to the public. However, the public has been told ad nauseam that CCSS will “ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.”
Any such report should provide research-based, quality-of-life-enhancing explanations as to why the US should emulate other countries’ education systems outside of merely attempting to best these other nations on international tests.
So much effort expended to argue why the US should benchmark its one-size-fits-all, CCSS standards and no benchmarking reports.
No need for it, after all.
Once 46 governors signed on for CCSS in 2009 and brought their unsuspecting states with them, the major CCSS work was done.
No need to feed bait to a hooked fish.