Gates' Common-Core Mea Culpa and the School Reform Divide
Over the past few weeks, the world of "school reform" has been consumed by a heated back-and-forth over whether the left-leaning majority is trying to shove right-leaning types out of the tent. The debate has swirled mostly around questions of race, but those can distract from more fundamental philosophical differences. After all, progressives tend to assume that ambitious programs and policies are the engine of social progress. Conservatives tend to be more concerned about the limits of social engineering, unanticipated consequences, and the unintended damage that well-intended efforts can do. Conservatives believe meaningful social progress tends to be incremental and gradual, the product of local communities, private associations, dynamic markets, and individual initiative. This is why folks on the right get irate when progressives launch a passionate crusade, sow conflict and division, trample on communities, expand bureaucracies, and then, when things don't work out, plead unforeseeable complications.
A nice illustration has been unfolding in real time. Just days before the left-right imbroglio blew up, Gates Foundation CEO Sue Desmond-Hellmann used her annual letter to issue a much-discussed mea culpa regarding the Foundation's efforts on behalf of the Common Core. Desmond-Hellmann explained that the Common Core's rocky path had been a surprise to the Gates team and "a challenging lesson for us to absorb, but we take it to heart." Kudos to Desmond-Hellmann for her honesty.
Missing, however, was an acknowledgment that some observers were not, in fact, blindsided. Conservatives expect these problems, look for them, and anticipate them. In fact, my AEI colleague Mike McShane and I were among those who publicly and repeatedly tried to call attention to these issues early on, only to be dismissed or ignored by Team Common Core. I'll offer a few examples of what I have in mind because the easiest way to demonstrate that something was foreseeable is to show that people foresaw it (recall that the Common Core standards were introduced in 2010 and most states started implementation in 2011). Some of the stumbles and miscalculations, Desmond-Hellmann writes, have included:
A lack of engagement. Desmond-Hellmann relates that the Foundation has learned that "deep and deliberate engagement is essential to success." In 2011, I observed, "[Common Core] success in all the miles ahead will depend crucially on the breadth, depth, and stability of public support." In 2012, I noted, "The early success of the Common Core was remarkable, but proponents failed to recognize that this quick success meant few voters or legislators really understood what was involved."
Failing to support teachers. Desmond-Hellmann explains that Gates has realized that "rigorous Gates' Common-Core Mea Culpa and the School Reform Divide - Rick Hess Straight Up - Education Week: