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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.

Standards Opinion

Understanding the Chiefs for Change on Common-Core Accountability “Hiatus”

By Rick Hess — May 30, 2013 3 min read
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On Tuesday, CCSSO waded into the Common Core “hiatus” discussion, issuing a thoughtful paper which argued that states should proceed with sensible flexibility and called on Secretary Duncan to exercise restraint when interpreting promises coerced by ED as a condition for ESEA waivers. The CCSSO rejected calls for an accountability “hiatus” but pointed to a need for states to have discretion in deciding when to start using tests for high-stakes teacher evaluation, how to make accountability determinations during the transition to Common Core, and whether to use their old tests or the new assessments in 2013-14. This was all a useful start towards a conversation that might help reduce the likelihood of a massive Common Core-inspired train wreck in 2014.

Unfortunately, my good friends at Chiefs for Change pretty much skipped the flexibility question and instead used this release as a chance to double down on their sloganeering letter from last week which essentially said, “No hiatus, no way. We’re done here.” The Chiefs responded to the CCSSO with a brief release that embraced CCSSO’s “firm stand against the call for a moratorium on accountability” and, well...that was about it. Now, let me be clear. I get it. The folks in Chiefs for Change are tough-minded leaders who’ve fought hard, taken some cheap shots, see the perils of taking their foot off the gas, and are (reasonably) concerned that trying to address complaints will only bring forth new ones.

I get all that. Still, I’d been underwhelmed by the Chiefs’ response to the challenges until a source shared with me the secret transcript of a recent Chiefs conference call. Then, the strategy became much clearer. [Note: For the easily confused, the following is entirely made up].


Voice 1: So, we’ve got these AFT complaints. Weingarten is worried that teachers are going to be treated unfairly, the tests won’t be validated, and results will be distorted by reliability issues. She says we have to be careful, since the results will matter for pay and tenure in a lot of places.

Voice 2: Excuses. We’re leaders. So let’s lead. We need world-class standards, measured with rigorous assessments, and used to hold educators and schools accountable. That’s what works.

Voice 1: Okay. The pro-hiatus doubters are also asking about whether the technology and devices will be ready to support the assessments. I guess they’ve seen some of the glitches and problems with technology infrastructure and they’re asking whether we can be confident the test administrations will be competent and fair.

Voice 3: More excuses. We’re going to have results from rigorous assessments, based on world-class standards. We need to use those to hold educators and schools accountable. It’s been proven to work. Let’s move on already.

Voice 1: Okay, let’s see. Some doubters are apparently saying that holding too tightly to an artificial timeline didn’t turn out so well for NCLB and that we don’t want to make that same mistake again. They say that the aftermath permanently damaged support for and the efficacy of NCLB.

Voice 2: Are we a debating society or are we doing this for the kids? We don’t have time to pontificate all day. We’ve got children to save.

Voice 4: Yeah, I’m here for the kids. I’m not here to worry about fancy, how-many-angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin questions about test validity. We’ve got scores. We’ve got kids to save. Let’s go.

Voice 1: Now, staff tells me that some of our so-called friends are saying, “Sure, the AFT is still likely to balk at accountability, no matter how much you work with them. But if you address Weingarten’s reasonable concerns, you make it clear that you’re doing this carefully. Then, if she keeps complaining, it’s easier to make the case that she’s being unreasonable.”

Voice 5: Hey, I’m here for the kids, not the adults. We’ve come too far to go backwards. What’s right for the students are teacher and school accountability, based on rigorous assessments, backed by world-class standards.

Voice 1: Okay, glad we’ve got that sorted out. Let’s just make sure we’re on the same page regarding the message. I think we’re all on board with saying, “No retreat from world-class standards, rigorous assessments, and teacher accountability. It’s the right thing to do.” Now, what happens if any of our friends say, “We’re with you in principle, but you’re making some unfortunate, avoidable missteps.”

Voice 4: Look, folks are either with us, or they’re against us. If they’re with us, they’ll shut up and fall in line.

Voice 3: Yeah, and failing that, if they’re real friends, at least they’ll have the decency to not say, “I told you so.”


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