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Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

C’mon, Man!

By Rick Hess — March 03, 2014 3 min read
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You may have noticed that I took last month off from RHSU to work on my new book, The Cage-Busting Teacher--which I’m due to deliver to Harvard Education Press later this year. (Although, given the enthusiasm for our February guest stars, you may have noticed and thought, “Sweet.”) In any event, I’m back. And, it seemed to me a shame that Mike Ditka has gone back into hibernation, because February seemed pocked by developments that called for his trademark, “C’mon, man!”

I participated in a pretty interesting forum about education philanthropy, hosted by the Al Shanker Institute. It was a serious, useful discussion. But I was struck, after the fact, by the e-mail and commentary proffered by those who slammed foundations as “anti-public education corporatizers” bent on wresting control of schools from parents, teachers, and communities...but who would then proceed to complain that foundation staff don’t listen to them or solicit their views. Seriously? Here’s a tip: you really can’t accuse someone of being a Nazi bent on destroying public education and then expect them to ring you and ask, “Hey, so whaddya think?” C’mon, man!

I was down in North Carolina for a couple of events, with teacher leaders and for the state’s annual emerging issues forum, where there was enormous pushback among teachers about legislation that eliminated teacher tenure and step-and-lane pay. These struck me as potentially smart, brave moves. However, the governor and the legislature missed the mark when they put just a tiny fraction of the savings into small-dollar performance bonuses based entirely on test scores. Rather than shifting resources to cultivate and reward teacher professionalism, the legislation stripped away job security and hundreds of millions in teacher pay...and then called it a day. C’mon, man!

Common Core boosters insist that it’s unfair and misleading for critics to cite specific lesson plans, instructional units, worksheets, or web pages to attack the Common Core. But those same boosters blasted out waves of enthusiastic e-mails and tweets when Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) and former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue (R) penned a Bloomberg op-ed that alluded to a handful of vaguely described instructional units to celebrate the Common Core. (For instance, they happily wrote that Delaware’s elementary schools are having kids build “toy sail cars” to “teach basic physics concepts.” Er, guys? Physics for elementary kids isn’t even part of the Common Core.) If boosters are attributing random instructional units to the Common Core, they really can’t gripe that critics are doing it too. C’mon, man!

The Common Core elicits strong feelings. That’s good and healthy. But it also requires advocates to maintain some sense of proportion. Just last week, the Pioneer Institute’s Jamie Gass slammed Fordham Institute Vice President Mike Petrilli for defending the Common Core, attacking him as a “rodeo clown” and writing, “Truth be told, I’m just trying to figure how Fordham even calls itself ‘conservative’ anymore.” I’m quite sympathetic to Gass’s concerns on the Common Core. But...seriously? How can Fordham call itself conservative? Uh, because Fordham’s been fighting for school choice and dynamic educational markets, critiquing federal overreach, worrying about school spending and public pensions, and battling red tape and regulation for close to two decades. There aren’t that many conservatives in education reform to begin with. Given that, I’m having trouble seeing the wisdom of making the Common Core a litmus test, much less of embracing a small-tent strategy. C’mon, man!

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.