What does Rick Hess say that “Common Core” is all about?

(Who’s he? you may ask. He’s one of Michelle Rhee’s friends, or so he writes; he’s also a well-paid shill for the American Enterprise Institute, which you can look up yourself.)

He wrote, regarding the real purpose of the Common Core “State” Standards, revealing exactly why many teachers and others oppose them:

In truth, the idea that the Common Core might be a “game-changer” has little to do with the Common Core standards themselves, and everything to do with stuff attached to them, especially the adoption of common tests that make it possible to readily compare schools, programs, districts, and states (of course, the announcement that one state after another is opting out of the two testing consortia is hollowing out this promise).

But the Common Core will only make a dramatic difference if those test results are used to evaluate schools or hire, pay, or fire teachers; or if the effort serves to alter teacher preparation, revamp instructional materials, or compel teachers to change what students read and do.  And, of course, advocates have made clear that this is exactly what they have in mind. When they refer to the “Common Core,” they don’t just mean the words on paper–what they really have in mind is this whole complex of changes. [Emphasis added by someone else.]

Another commenter wrote:

“Hess even broaches the major topic of federal involvement in CCSS. In this two part series written in June 2013, Hess opens Part One with the statement that he is “not on board” with CCSS:”

Hess again:

I’ve long said that the Common Core strikes me as an intriguing effort that could do much good. So, why am I not on board? Because I think the effort has a good chance of stalling out over the next four or five years. And, because standards and assessments are the backbone of pretty much everything else in K-12 schooling, that could tear down all manner of promising efforts on teacher quality, school improvement, and the rest. [Emphasis added.]

In other words, he wants the top-down, fascistic micro-managing control over teachers and the majority of the population that attends public schools, he just doesn’t think that CCSS will be successful in carrying it off. He wants to do it by other means.

Rick Hess’ classroom experience? A grand total of two years as a social studies teacher in Louisiana, about 21 years ago, according to his official website. It must have been pretty tough, if he quit teaching so soon. I’m sure he’s making much, much more money now as a spokesman for the billionaires who have taken over our educational system, and he doesn’t have to worry about teaching 150 students every single day and grading papers and filling out useless forms and memos until he can’t see straight at night, with no administrative support at all… Life’s pretty cool if you are a 40-something with a million-dollar portfolio schmoozing at conferences all over the place instead of actually teaching in the classroom any more…

All it takes is the ability to show those with deep pockets that you are on their side and are an effective mouthpiece for them. You can be very rich and very powerful, very soon in your career. Just ask Michelle Rhee how it’s done, but don’t expect any truthful answers out of her mouth…

So why do I object so much to this? Because it’s utterly false to say that SOMEBODY knows all the answers to the questions about how to educate our youth, our younger generation. Whenever I have a serious or even frivolous conversation in any forum whatsoever about education, I am struck by the degree to which perfectly serious, reasonable people, of all walks of life, disagree on the ultimate goals of education.

Heck, people can’t even agree on what are the most important questions!!

Of course, I have my own opinions, but as facts and situations change, my own opinions about education and many other aspects of society have been shifting a lot over my lifetime — and I’m willing to bet that this is also true of any of you who read this sentence, however old or young you might be.

So the idea that all lessons conducted in school need to follow a script that was written by somebody else, and that the teacher’s job is simply to follow that script — damn, that’s scary. Especially since the scripted stuff I see most of the time is clever but ultimately utterly dishonest advertising that is trying, for the most part, to get me to do things that are bad for me and my friends and former students but profitable for some small group of  very powerful people.

And guess who owns these companies who plan to sell, at very high prices, these all-encompassing, all-controlling educational UBER-bureaucracies that really would like to dictate — for a very hefty set of fees and costs and so on — every single lesson for every single kid in every single class in the United States of America, at every grade level, in every subject? Why, the same group of billionaires who run the country today – the Gateses, the Murdochs, the Koch brothers, Bloomberg, and a few hundred other people that comprise the 1% of 1% that are attempting to run the entire world.

They actually say it’s a good thing that if you transfer from one state to the next because your family moves, that you will be using the same exact textbook and electronic apps and can turn in the exact same assignment for the previous day to your new teacher. But since you only have one adult for 50 kids supposedly getting “personalized” learning from some form of computer, it really won’t matter where you go to school. No need to learn to get along with your schoolmates in a band, on a team, in a dramatic production or in building a project — those have all been eliminated, since the only important thing is test scores.

Wait – isn’t that what we criticize North Korea for? Or South Korea, for that matter? Rigid uniformity where nobody ever gets out of line, and all the adults and kids are working in fear of results of tests?

Is that REALLY what we want for our teachers and students?

I didn’t think so. Unless you are some sort of fascist or control freak.

Of course, the people organizing the government to require and to tax us to pay to concoct and implement these plans wouldn’t possibly allow their own kids to grow up in schools like that. Billionaire and millionaire kids go to schools like Lakeside in Seattle, or Sidwell or St. Albans in DC, or Chicago Lab School or Andover or Choate or whatever, and each teacher challenges kids to think for themselves, and there are music lessons and glee clubs and handicrafts and outdoor activities and other sports and drama clubs and so on and so on.

I’m of the opinion that that sort of structure, where the working-class kids get a stultifying school regime and the children of the rich get a whole lot of indulgences and individual attention, is just plain wrong, and it’s sick.

All kids need individual attention. They need really small class sizes, and they need breaks. If a kid has serious mental or medical or physical or emotional or learning difficulties, he/she can require a lot of one-on-one time from a caring adult, and assurances that he/she is OK, and help with dealing with those problems so that he/she can go ahead with life.

As we know, some people don’t get that help, and they are indeed scarred for life. But you don’t help kids like that by increasing class sizes and pouring ridiculous workloads on their teachers and withdrawing any sort of support and creating so much of a ‘churn’ of teaching staffs that none of them stay longer than 3-5 years and get to know the community they teach in. You don’t help kids like that by requiring that every single kid in the entire country has to be on the same page, LITERALLY, and not having any sort of link to the community from the school itself – no PTA, but a distant celebrity CEO who is paid half a million dollars a year and who runs a for-profit foundation that does all its business with the school.

But you CAN help kids like that if you have adults in the building who know the family, who live in the area, and who come from all walks of life, who have time to take an interest and help talk to the kid, and if there are activities of all sorts (marching band, orchestra, debate club, science club, football team, basketball team, track team, wrestling team, hot-rod shop, welding classes, wood shop, computer club, and so on…) that kids can relate to each other with as well.

As I mentioned earlier, people do not exactly agree on what education is for. Is it just to prepare you for work (through more classes or direct job preparation)? Some people think so, and give reasons related to national security and income and such.

Or is the purpose of our school system to increase our national ranking in PISA and such?

Or is it to sort and rank people so that the “best” become the hedge fund managers and quants and bankers who gamble with the GNP and sometimes cheat and bring the entire world to the brink of financial disaster, and the rest of us fall into our proper places, be they burger-flippers or cab-drivers?

Or is it to lead us through the paths foretold for us by some religious group or other?

Or is it to let people make up their own minds about what they want to do, and to question why the rules are the way they are, so that they can contribute their own ideas?

Obviously I’m writing those choices in a biased manner because I think that the last choice I gave is the correct one. You may well object to the loaded wording I used in phrasing some of those choices, and you are right to do so. Feel free to write what you think the real purpose of education is. Maybe you’ll piss me off… That’s OK. There is no need for us all to agree. This is America, right?

You’re supposed to be free to disagree here.



In fact, in diversity there is also strength. Not just in unity.

In biology and in life, if a species has too much uniformity in its genes or even in its habits, that can be a recipe for disaster: some unknown plague or virus can wipe out the whole lot of them. Better that a species be very diverse. Like humans are. And boy, are we ever a diverse species, which helps. The worst plagues in the past couple of centuries, namely the 1919 Spanish Flu and smallpox, killed millions of people including at least one aunt of mine whom I never new, according to family tradition, but the rest of my family was resistant for whatever reason. My dad got polio and was in an Iron Lung instead of getting drafted for World War 2, but nobody else in his family or that he knew well got sick; they were resistant, for as-yet-unknown reasons that relate to our considerable genetic diversity as a species.

And that has consequences:

All schools and all teachers and all lessons DO NOT have to be on exactly the same page, saying the same thing, using the same TLF rubric and blueprint, the way they expect teachers to behave here in DC public schools. It’s nuts! Nobody knows for sure how the brain works, exactly! Our best scientists are working on it, but they disagree among themselves as to who of them is a fraud and who of them is actually pursuing the truth. Certainly the sporadic headlines that the public sees or hears on psychology and learning theory are about as united and synoptic as the advice we hear on diet and fitness: experts firmly disagree with each other on the best way to lose weight, or how fit is fit, or even on what foods to eat and how to prepare them.

Why do some people then proclaim that a particular list of books is the only set of books that should be read by young people? That a particular set of ideas in mathematics, or history, or science, or geography need to be learned by every child, at the same rate, at the same ages? That’s an utter crock!

Even in math, which some people think is cut and dried, there are enormous controversies about how to teach it in general and even on what subset of the ever-expanding set of mathematical knowledge needs to be imparted. Or whether ‘imparting’ mathematical knowledge really means, or whether mathematics itself was created or was discovered.

Sounds theological, doesn’t it? I swear I’m not making that up.

In biology: to my surprise, biologists don’t even agree what “life” is. Or what are its requirements. Every day, it seems that current orthodoxy on how life and death and reproduction proceed seems to be at least challenged, if not overturned.

And in physics and cosmology, the most widely-accepted theory right now is that we have no idea what constitutes over 90% of the universe, and we have no real idea how it got the way it is in the first place. Physicists are pretty sure, however, that it does exist, and they have figured out how to predict how some of the stuff in the universe behaves, most of the time. But they disagree on what happens when those predictions will break down, such as in a black hole, and nobody knows what happened before 14 Billion years ago…

So if the greatest experts can’t agree, on either subject matter content or pedagogy, then why on earth would we willingly give a TRILLION DOLLARS to a network of corporations to hire low-paid or high-paid temps to crank out scripts or computerized lessons that every kid is supposed to follow — except the children of the very wealthy?

Haven’t we seen the kind of corruption these sorts of top-down enterprises bring?

Remember those pallet-loads of shrink-wrapped $100 bills air-dropped into Iraq and Afghanistan? Wonderful governments, those. Remember those hundreds of billions in “bonuses” given to all those Wall Street gamblers executives, while millions of industrial workers lost their jobs and others lost their houses and entire cities were forced to close schools and go into bankruptcy? Do you seriously think that people like Joel Klein, Rupert Murdock, Bernie Madoff, and Bill Gates are better than you and need to run society?

I mean, Gates didn’t even write his own beginning operating system; he’s only rich because he was able to create a monopoly — on operating systems that crash all the time and whose good features he “stole” from others.

Let’s not go back to the bad old days.

Published in: on December 28, 2013 at 3:40 am  Comments (10)  
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Scooped Again – By the Washington Times in 2007!

Scooped again.

I see now that my own analysis (and dismissal) of Rhee’s claims of stupendous success in the classroom, based on the UMBC study written by Lois Williams and Lawrence Leak in 1995, came about three years later than a fairly objective analysis in the Washington Times, dated June 28, 2007. Here is most of the article, with the parts highlighted that I think are important.



D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty’s choice to reform public schools has been unable to provide proof of the remarkable student improvement she achieved during her brief teaching stint in Baltimore.

“We were told that these kids came in on this level and they were leaving on average at this level,” said D.C. schools chancellor-nominee Michelle A. Rhee, who has noted a dramatic improvement in student test scores in her resume.

“I didn’t think to ask back then for solid documentation or proof or any of those things,” she said. “As a new teacher, I didn’t think those things were particularly relevant.”

Mrs. Rhee, 37, began her three-year teaching career at Harlem Park Community School in the 1992-93 school year through the Teach for America program.

In the 1993-94 school year, when she taught second-graders at the inner-city school, those students had scored at the 13th percentile on standardized tests.

By the end of the 1994-95 year, after Mrs. Rhee had taught the same students as third-graders, 90 percent of them scored at the 90th percentile, according to her resume.

Mrs. Rhee said the test results were achieved on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS).

Her biographical information on the mayor’s office Web site (http://dc.gov/mayor/news/) and on the Web site of her former nonprofit — the New Teacher Project (www.tntp.org) — both say such “outstanding success” in the classroom earned Mrs. Rhee national media acclaim.

But education experts note that most low-income schools have a high student-turnover rate and Mrs. Rhee taught her students as part of a team. Tying the percentile jump specifically to her is extremely hard to do, they said.

“Although there were some significant gains for third-grade Title 1 students in reading [during Mrs. Rhee’s tenure], there is nothing that would establish a sufficient evaluation link between that particular population of students and any particular individual staff member,” said Ben Feldman, who is in charge of testing for Baltimore schools. “You couldn’t go there.”

In addition, establishing a precise link between student achievement and Mrs. Rhee’s performance in the Baltimore school system is difficult in part because of dated information systems and antiquated storage.

Mr. Feldman said retrieving data from a decade ago is hard because his office changed its information storage systems for the year 2000.

Still, the normal curve equivalent score (which is similar to a percentile) on the CTBS for Harlem Park second-graders was 27 in reading and 43 in math in the 1993-94 school year, according to a 1995 report published by the University of Maryland-Baltimore County.

The report also shows that third-graders at the school for two years achieved a score of 45 in reading and 51 in math in 1994-95. The report does not break down scores by specific class and excludes some students from the totals, including those who received special-education services.

Those scores show significant gains at Harlem Park, but the question remains whether they support the remarkable gains highlighted by Mrs. Rhee and her backers.

“It’s nothing to sneeze at at all,” said Mary Levy, director of the public education reform project for the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. “The only question is where does this 90 come from. Ninety [percent] is amazing. You get that kind of score at schools attended by advantaged children.”

Figures contained in the university study also show that Harlem Park’s elementary enrollment fell from 523 in 1992-93 to 440 in 1994-95.

Mrs. Rhee, who was in her early 20s while at the school, said she did not remember the size of her class.

Her time at Harlem Park coincided with an experiment by the Baltimore school system to let a private company — Education Alternatives Inc. (EAI) — manage nine out of 180 city schools, including Harlem Park.

The Maryland study, which focused on the EAI experiment, and a follow-up report showed that the project elicited little progress in CTBS scores among its students.


Me again:

The whole thing is so bizarre – and typical of Rhee and her star-struck, reality-defying acolytes.

Rhee claimed very specific (and incredible) gains among her students. Admits that she had no actual data whatsoever – she didn’t even remember how many students she had – which means that she made the whole thing up – but pointedly refuses to admit that. She claims that there was national press coverage of her amazing success, and cites various publications (without, however, providing any dates). When I and other investigators look into those publications (such as the Wall Street Journal), we find no such acclaim at all. When I and other investigators look into the actual CTBS data for the time period, we find no evidence whatsoever of any such unprecedented, extraordinary gains.

Then, well-paid, right-wing ideologues like Rick Hess attack me (!!) for supposedly playing loose with the statistics – but exonerate Rhee for making up a pleasing fairy tale, and claim that perhaps her claims are true, but that none of her students were tested (!!!!!). One rather obsessed Rhee-lover, Chris Smyr of Eduwonk (I think), goes on to make the outrageous claim that the principal author of the UMBC study has no right to comment on my conclusions that Rhee made all of her claims for success up!!

Meanwhile, Rhee continues to make claim after claim in the national press — claims that go against all evidence, but which are accepted at face value by almost the entire establishment press, with the exception of Valerie Strauss, a paid blogger/reporter for the Washington Post. Jay Mathews, the most-printed WaPo education writer, appears to realize that Rhee made up nearly all of the claims that got her the job as DCPS chancellor, but he doesn’t quite come to the correct conclusion — which is that she is a fraud from beginning to end.


Is She A Liar, or is She Merely Stupid?

I have been asked about the “argument” made by Rick Hess that perhaps none of Rhee’s students were actually tested in Harlem Park, and therefore we can’t tell anything about whether Rhee achieved the miracle that she claimed, so therefore the vitriolic blogger Brandenburg is full of it.

His argument is laughable.

The kids who had no test scores reported, according to the study itself, were those who were

(a) absent during the testing time period,

(b) enrolled at the school after February 1, or

(c) were in severe special education categories and thus were exempt, or

(d) students who put their heads down and didn’t answer anything at all, or scribbled all over the test, or some such thing, and thus were given a score of “1”. (I left this reasons b and d originally)

As far as I understand, there were no other reasons to exempt students. Anybody find any such reasons? In any case, NONE of those groups of students are the ones that Michelle Rhee could possibly be boasting about.

I agree that it is awfully suspicious that only sixty-four percent of the students at Harlem Park had reported test scores in 1994-5. No other school in the entire study had such low numbers (the next-lowest percentage is in the mid-70s; most are in the 80s to 90s). Of course, back then, it was rather common for principals and unethical teachers to subtly encourage their low-performing students to take testing week off, or to allow them to put their heads down or doodle during the test, or else to send them to a special room to watch films during testing period, and so on. That raises the scores for the remainder.

I can’t think of any good, legitimate reasons for the low test-reporting rate, and I have also publicly worried, in print, why the number of students tested AND the entire cohort that Rhee and her colleague taught at shrank so drastically from grade 2 to grade 3 at HPE. Such a high percentage of missing scores only occurred at that school, and at none of the other ones, either Tesseract or regular Baltimore Public schools. It makes me think that the principal at Harlem Park at that time was not doing her job.

Keep in mind that Rhee has said and written many times that she AND her team-teaching colleague raised the scores of the entire group of 70 students from the bottom to the top, i.e, from the 13th percentile to 90% of them above the 90th percentile. She uses the word “we” a lot in this regard, and of course, later, claimed that she learned about the scores from her principal, but, of course, conveniently has no records.

Let’s do a little math. There are reading scores reported for 43 third-graders at Harlem Park in 1994-5. The overall fraction of students at the school with scores reported is 64%. That would mean that there were probably about 67 third-graders overall. There is no evidence whatsoever in the report of reporting or testing irregularities at Harlem Park, except for that 64% figure. But 67 kids is more like three classes, not four classes, it seems to me.

But then again, it might just be, if you believe Rhee’s boasts, that she and her colleague taught every single one of them. (After all, 67 is less than 70.)

If you believe it is likely or possible that only 10 of Rhee & Colleague’s students got tested and that 9 out of those ten got scores at the 90th percentile — while all of the other students in that other, non-cooperating teacher got tested and they scored really low, then I would say this:

(1) I have a nice bridge in Brooklyn that I’d like to sell you.

(2) You have no understanding whatsoever about statistics or probability.

(3) Even, if by some miracle, this actually happened, then:

The only HONEST thing Rhee could have said was, “I lost all of my class data for all of my students, lost all of my roll books, and somehow almost every single one of my students was absent on the entire week that the CTBS was administered, and I forgot to call any of their parents to please, please bring their children to school that week. But, of the ten students in my and my colleague’s class that DID get tested, well, 9 of them did really, really great!”

Or else, perhaps Rhee simply found that at some unit of study, she and her colleague taught some unit of study, and over 90% of the students got scores of 90% or better on this teacher -made test (or perhaps it was one that was purchased from some commercial venture — and the company claimed that the test was ‘nationally normed’ or some such foolishness).

My response would be, “That’s nice. Good for you.”

But I would continue: “Michelle, don’t you know the difference between a teacher unit test and an actual, nationally-normed, standardized, comprehensive, end-of-the-year test like the CTBS? Didn’t you take any educational statistics courses at all? And how come you don’t have any records whatsoever to prove this, and yet you have boasted over and over and over again about this miracle that didn’t happen? Are you just full of chutzpah, or are you just stupid?”

So, I am going to revise my conclusions a little bit. It is now a tossup

(a) She’s a bald-faced liar

b) She’s stupid and clueless and can’t keep records, and doesn’t understand the first thing about educational statistics.

Either way, she has no business running any of the following:

(a) a business recruiting long-term subs (NTP)

(b) any school as a principal

(c) any school district as a superintendent or chancellor

(d) advising any governor or educational body whatsoever about anything. Unless that ‘something’ be how to lie and get away with it.


Aside: It’s no surprise that Rick Hess, who gets paid big bucks to prostitute his intellect for the right-wing millionaires and billionaires who fund the American Enterprise Institute, leapt to the defense of his personal friend, Michelle Rhee, since she is basically in the same boat. Me, I do this entire body of research and advocacy for precisely no financial remuneration whatsoever, and I am not going to go around asking billionaires or ordinary people for any funds for it. This, however, won’t prevent folks who are rabidly anti-public-employee-union for saying that I am receiving millions of dollars from a dastardly union plot to take over the nation, and that teachers are selfish and only in it for the money. If it weren’t such a serious situation, it would be laughable.

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