Failed Implementation, or Failed Governance? On the Possibility of a Common Core Moratorium

Many are now discussing the possibility of a moratorium on the Common Core in New York State. This possibility poses significant questions that should be pursued.[1]

The key question to start with is, how should such a proposal be evaluated? How are members of the public and professional educators to determine whether or not the moratorium is a Trojan horse or if it is a space to broaden the discussion about what education policy is required in New York State, enabling the public to have a say?

How might parents, teachers and community members influence a moratorium so that it serves the public good?

Will a moratorium serve to expand the space for the public to operate, to develop and exercise its authority over the purpose of public schools? Will it serve to strengthen the work and standing of professional educators? Will it bring parents, educators and their communities closer together, working in concert to develop and together realize a vision of the common good through education work?

Will it allow for communities to put the real, serious and growing problems of poverty, school funding and racism on the agenda?

While Governor Cuomo’s Common Core review panel has already been exposed as a fraud, the move in the state Senate and Assembly to enact a moratorium on the implementation of the Common Core warrants careful consideration.

To that end, I offer the following observations.

I like to begin with definitions. They discipline and calm the analysis. So, what does “moratorium” mean? Derived from the Latin for delay, a moratorium is, “a temporary prohibition of an activity,” with my dictionary offering this example: “an indefinite moratorium on the use of drift nets.” In law, it refers to “a legal authorization to debtors to postpone payment.”[2]

And what about implementation? Much of the focus in the media and among some educators has been with respect to the implementation of the Core regime. It is defined as the “the process of putting a decision or plan into effect; execution: she was responsible for the implementation of the plan.”

The notion of moratorium thus contains the idea that, in the end, the thing now being delayed will eventually be resumed. That is to say, to propose a moratorium on implementation of the Core regime is to assume that it should continue, but only at some future point. I don’t think such a conclusion reflects existing public opinion. I think people want an honest and thorough evaluation of the regime’s elements, with the understanding that such a review might lead to the conclusion that the Core regime be rejected in its entirety.

The notion of implementation is even more significant. By focusing on implementation, the question of who decides is ignored. Focus is turned instead to those directed to follow orders. Directing all of one’s energy at the Commissioner or even the Regents might lead us to miss other key elements of the “reform” agenda, including an examination of who is driving the actions of King and the Regents. It must be understood that their actions are the result of a much larger movement. Replacing them will likely not be enough to stem the tide of “reform”.

For example, it is widely known that there are other, larger forces acting in concert, such as the secret and not publicly accountable Regents’ Fellows, and beyond that, the huge foundations controlled by the likes of Bill Gates and Eli Broad, not to mention Achieve, Inc, and Pearson, and many more corporate interests. It is well known that absent such forces, and absent Race to the Top money, there would be no King, or Regents Fellows; and there’d be no test-based teacher evaluation, no Core standards or Core tests.

Thus, a focus on implementation assumes that the decision making processes are not to be evaluated as part of a moratorium on the Common Core. In so doing, the public is being redirected to focus only on the implementation of decisions already made, largely in secret. The public is being directed to instead focus narrowly on those doing the implementing. Here, it is important to understand that this even includes the New York State Department of Education, in addition to superintendents, school boards, and union contract negotiators.

Maybe the problem does not originate as a problem of “poor implementation.” If the observable situation points to flawed implementation all down the line and at nearly every step of the way, with no shortage of evidence from across the state, one has to pause and consider the possibility that extensive problems related to implementation signify that the policy itself is fundamentally flawed. You can’t do a wrong thing more right. If its killing all the patients, its probably not doctor error.

And what appears to be at the center of the current “wrong thing” is the manner in which the governance of education has been centralized and privatized, with public schools transformed into the play thing of the super-rich. The public should not be shocked that decisions aimed narrowly at maximizing profits and labor control, decisions made by non-educator hedge-fund managers and corporate CEOs in far-away corporate headquarters, cause trouble when implemented.

Thus, I offer this thesis: systematic failure of implementation suggests that the problem is not only with the policy itself, but with the way in which the education system is now governed. What if the difficulties we now find ourself facing are really a result of the decision making process itself, and who is involved, and who is excluded? What if what we’re experiencing is not a failure of implementation, but a failure of governance?

I propose that any government body, committee, panel or Blue Ribbon Commission, be directed to address public concerns about the Core regime by answering, in detail, the following questions:

  1. How did existing authorities in Albany and NYSED come to make decisions for the public that have so systematically caused it harm?
  2. How are those responsible to lead education in New York State currently selected — The Regents, the Commissioner — and how can that process be changed to better reflect the public will?
  3. What mechanisms are in place to check the power of and hold accountable private foundations and corporate interests involved in educational decision-making in New York State, including the Regents’ Fellows; what oversight of private foundation influence currently exists, and how does it operate?
  4. Did New York State legislators or state officials evaluate the legality of the federal Race to the Top and USDOE wavier programs prior to signing on to state applications for RTTT grants and NCLB waivers? What was the nature and scope of any review and to whom was it reported?
  5. What action should be taken should it be found that such policies violate state or federal law, especially with respect to violations of the legal standing of Local Educational Authorities in New York State?
  6. What resources will be provided by the state to communities to empower them to broaden the public discussion about public education and what mechanisms will be developed to further involve parents, educators and members of the local community in ensuring that they are no longer excluded from decision making about their public schools.

If parents, educators and their communities were involved from the beginning in determining what was needed for public schools, would we be in the current situation? Would we see developmentally inappropriate standards, narrow, unreliable and invalid tests for students and teachers, violations of privacy rights and the overall cheapening of public education? I doubt it.

The point is this: its not about the standards, its about who controls them, who makes them, who enforces them. Fights over standards are really fights over who decides. That is the question any moratorium worthy of the public interest must consider. Because if the Core is defeated, yet the public remains excluded, you can bet Bill Gate’s tax exceptions another hair brained reform will soon follow in its wake.

Notes

  1. Just as I posted this piece, the Regents announced the following moratorium, Adjustment Options to Common Core Implementation. Governor Cuomo responded to the announcement here.
  2. I can’t help but note the tendency for education-related phenomena to be discussed using financial or economic metaphor.

5 Comments Failed Implementation, or Failed Governance? On the Possibility of a Common Core Moratorium

  1. Dino February 10, 2014 at 7:30 pm

    Good article Mark–now….
    Parents, teachers– Don’t Delay!
    Get organized! Use your voice!
    Who knows what alternative plans the deformers have in store with their delay? The current form of their plans seem to be having trouble, but will they give them a new name? Will they wait us out? Will they try to fool us, and make us think that we’re done? Parents and teachers who’ve mobilized themselves, who’ve investigated, debated, held forums, been kept from forums, faced administrators and the king himself won’t be satisfied unless we ourselves are decideing. We want nothing about us to be without us. Whatever their moves might be, we have to stick to our agenda where we decide! We don’t have to agree on everything, but lets make sure that teachers and parents are deciding!

  2. Patrick Carlin February 18, 2014 at 11:44 am

    I like the way you think and write!

  3. Mark Garrison February 18, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Thanks Patrick, I appreciate the compliment and I’m glad that you found the article useful!

  4. Damon Buffum March 7, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Awesome article and drives home the critical points. We can’t be lulled into thinking a moratorium will fix anything, but have to continue to press on changing the control and decision making process.

    Excellent.

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