Can the Zhao/Tucker Debate be Made More Useful?

While certainly more serious and informative than most discourse about the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), the recent exchange between Yong Zhao and Marc Tucker still avoids serious discussion of the political issues raised by the CCSSI, even while inadvertently pointing to them.

For example, Zhao writes:

it is impossible, unnecessary, and harmful for a small group of individuals to predetermine and impose upon all students the same set of knowledge and skills and expect all students progress at the same pace (if the students don’t, it is the teachers’ and schools’ fault).

This is a frank admission that the CCSSI has in fact put into place a governing arrangement which allows for “a small group of individuals…to impose”. In this respect, the arrangement would be no better if “a small group of individuals” imposed “good standards” that are “useful guides” (Zhao’s view of standards). Why complain about what is being imposed without first addressing what has enabled the imposition in the first place? I believe Zhao would agree since he speaks against “totalitarian governments”, yet, this key point seems lost in the back and forth between Tucker and Zhao.

Whether or not the CCSSI will lead to improving the quality of education (it won’t), it appears certain that a governing arrangement has been put into place which allows for greater “imposition” than existed under past arrangements. These imposing agencies (The NGA/CCSSO, and of course, for New Yorkers, PARCC) and their private backers (like the Gates Foundation) are unaccountable to the public, to the legislature, to voters, to taxpayers. They are established as non-public agencies, and driven by private money, and hence private interests. Yet, they govern public institutions! To me, the key thing to challenge is this backward decision-making structure.

The critique of the CCSSI would be strengthened if the anti-public and undemocratic from of governance of the standards informed analyses of the content of the standards, and how each affects day-to-day practice in schools. As Tucker reveals, the CCSSI reduces school to serve “the mass market” and so in that assertion one finds a great deal of guidance for understanding what drives the CCSSI and why it is inadequate as a basis for a 21st century education.

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