Why Didn’t I Think Of That?

Perhaps the highest praise you can heap on another writer’s work is to acknowledge a tinge of professional jealousy. You read a blog post, column, or piece of reporting and think, “Damn, I wish I’d written that.” Here are some of the pieces—about Common Core and education at large—I wish I’d written in 2014.

Tim Shanahan of the University of Illinois at Chicago has long been indispensible on literacy—and never more so than in the era of Common Core. In November, he waded into the “close reading” thicket with a pair of clear-eyed posts on the importance of prior knowledge in reading. The second of Tim’s two-part post offered particularly useful guidance for teachers on dealing with knowledge deficits when teaching reading comprehension. A third installment is promised and hopefully coming soon.

As long as I’m casting a jealous eye at posts about reading: I also wish I’d written this one, by my Fordham colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee, on how reading standards mislead teachers. I’ve said more or less the same thing for years, but Kathleen said it far better.

Math educator Barry Garelick is no fan of the Common Core. I simply don’t agree with his assertion that the standards demand “all math should be taught using the techniques of ‘reform math.’” But no matter. He did the field an enormous service with a series of posts at the Heartland Institute’s blog titled “A Common Sense Approach to Common Core,” which described how to “interpret the Common Core math standards in a sensible manner that does not fall back on questionable and ineffective education practices.” Hear, hear.

It’s not a blog, but I wish I’d thought of doing something like this video from Center for American Progress Senior Policy Analyst Robert Hanna, who offered a simple, powerful rebuttal to those who complained that Common Core standards are “too complicated for children.” His video smartly breaks down how the standards should look when taught to kindergarteners.

I regret not calling BS on the vitriol heaped upon Campbell Brown this year, the way New America’s Conor Williams did. “Just as [Michelle] Rhee faced ugly rhetoric about her race and gender, Brown’s positions have already been dismissed on account of her looks,” he wrote. Jim Epstein weighed in similarly. “Welcome to the bloodstained sandbox of education policy,” he wrote in a post at Reason. “Attacking ideas without mercy is a noble sport, but the ed world is all about character assassination. The tragedy is that worthwhile arguments on both sides of the debate get lost in the mayhem.” Sad, but true.

Newark Superintendent Cami Anderson came to the American Enterprise Institute to give a talk, but was shouted down by protesters instead. Rick Hess, who hosted the event, returned fire and was unsparing. “It’s the hypocrisy that bothers me the most,” he wrote at Rick Hess Straight Up. “A group that claims it is disenfranchised and silenced, and wants only to be heard, adopts tactics that stifle debate. Yet it tends to get a pass because some reporters who seem to have a soft spot for self-styled protesters also seem disinclined to call these rabble-rousers out for what they are: enemies of free speech, civil discourse, and reasoned debate.” Similar episodes marred appearances this year by outgoing New York Education Commissioner John King and marked a palpable loss of the reform critics’ moral authority. Ed reform has long needed better enemies, and Hess’s post showed why.

Not everyone is disagreeable when they disagree. I appreciated the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey penning this op-ed with Fordham’s Mike Petrilli calling for facts instead of invective in the Common Core debate. But the piece I wish I’d written was this clear and concise defense of school choice that McCluskey posted at Townhall.com. “When you force diverse people to support a single system of schools, conflict is constant,” he wrote. “Diverse Americans should be able to access education consistent with their values rather than being forced to fight over what their children will learn.” Why didn’t I think of that?

The results posted by Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy on New York’s Common Core-aligned tests were extraordinary. In an op-ed in the Daily News, I suggested the time had come for friends and foes like to figure out exactly how she does it. Matt DiCarlo of Shanker Blog, one of our most incisive ed bloggers, dove right in with this careful piece of analysis noting that proficiency and growth are not the same thing. Paul Bruno’s guest piece for Fordham showed how the standard explanations for (or complaints about) Moskowitz’s results don’t account for the extraordinary results.

Elizabeth Green’s Building a Better Teacher was one of the year’s most noteworthy books for its central conceit—that teachers are not merely born; they can be made. That’s still the right idea and an essential vein of ore to mine, but shortly after an excerpt from Green’s book appeared in the New York Times, Brookings’s Tom Loveless exploded six myths in the piece. “Its most glaring mistake is giving the impression that a particular approach to mathematics instruction—referred to over the past half-century as ‘progressive,’ ‘constructivist,’ ‘discovery,’ or ‘inquiry-based’—is the answer to improving mathematics learning in the U.S. That belief is not supported by evidence,” he wrote.

I’m a longtime fan of Annie Murphy Paul, who writes better than anyone not named Dan Willingham about the intersection of science and learning. I hurt my neck nodding in vigorous agreement with her refusal to climb aboard the ed-tech bandwagon. Because our kids spend so much time with digital media outside of school, she noted, “schools must offer them a very different kind of education in order to even the cognitive scales.”

I never got around to commenting on the bizarre and misguided anti-Teach For America protests organized by United Students Against Sweatshops (TFA? Sweatshops? Same difference!). But after Howard Fuller weighed in there wasn’t much left to say.

“If you have money or influence in America, you don’t even blink when your local school doesn’t deliver,” wrote Derrell Bradford in this passionate cri de couer. “You know you can ‘move’ to a private school or another school district, and the local school does too.” The executive director of NYCAN, Bradford wasn’t on my radar screen until 2014. He is now, thank to his clear and compelling voice on charters and choice.

Blogging Rookie of the Year is Neerav Kingsland, the ex-CEO of New Schools for New Orleans, who launched his Relinquishment blog this year. I particularly liked his piece on the “Nirvana Fallacy” – his description of what happens when you criticize someone else’s set of polices and then make unrealistic assumptions about the implications of your own. From England, Daisy Christodoulou established herself as another important new voice in the fight for content-rich curriculum.

I’ve written tons critical of balanced literacy and Lucy Calkins’ workshop model over the years, but nothing as good as this New York Times op-ed by Alexander Nazaryan. I wish I wrote as well about character education as Brookings’s Richard Reeves; about data as well as Jennifer Borgioli; about classroom practice as well as Diana Senechal; about curriculum as well as Lisa Hansel—or about anything as well as AEI’s Arthur Brooks.

Lastly, a note of appreciation to a few folks in traditional ed media who at various times said what needed to be said well and clearly. When the war of words over Common Core was hitting a boil, Vox’s Libby Nelson delivered with this piece noting how the Standards “ultimate success or failure rests with teachers” instead of politicians—a rare look at implementation, not the food fight. And the focus on implementation over politics, made this deep dive into Washoe County, Nevada’s Common Core rollout by American RadioWorks’s Emily Hanford the best CCSS-related piece I heard or read all year.

Looking ahead to 2015, my blogging New Year’s resolution is to take the advice I have often given to other Common Core advocates—to stop re-litigating the adoption of the standards and focus on implementation. That will hopefully mean less punditry and more time spent in schools and classrooms, focusing on what really matters—the work of teachers in bringing the standards to life and improving outcomes for kids.

See you in 2015.

– Robert Pondiscio

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Common Core Watch.

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