The 2008 Common Core Sales Job: Part Three FROM DR. MERCEDES SCHNEIDER

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Mercedes Schneider, PhD

Mer­cedes Schnei­der, PhD

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 [sic] 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).

Bar­ber now works for Pear­son, a mega-com­pa­ny that is depend­ing upon CCSS and its Unit­ed King­dom coun­ter­part for its prof­its in years to come.

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.