Here in NC, we’re well versed in the Common Core song and dance routine of Fordham’s Michael Brickman. He thinks NC standards before Common Core ‘sucked‘. New Hampshire is getting to know Brickman as well. Apparently, New Hampshire’s standards ‘sucked’ too. Radio Host Richard Girard of the Girard at Large radio show on WLMW took Brickman to task recently.
I’ve got the audio below and the transcript. Bear with me on the transcript, I used a service for part of it but had to fix some of what the transcription got wrong. The interview and wrap-up runs about 20 or so minutes and is well worth it. Girard’s commentary after Brickman is off the air is not to be missed! The Girard at Large characterizes it as feisty, but I think Girard took Brickman to the woodshed here.
* Big hat tip to Missouri Education Watchdog’s Gretchen Logue, who sent this interview my way. Great find! Missouri has had plenty of run-ins with Mr. Brickman.
Link to audio HERE.
G = Girard, B = Brickman
G: We are pleased to be joined by Michael Brickman. He is the national policy director for the Thomas B Fordham Institute, we’ve had his counterpart, Mike Petrilli, on the air on a handful of occasions. He furthers educational excellence as a commentator on education reform issues and is a regular contributor to the Fly Paper blog, as well as other publications. He served in communication roles in state and national campaigns before being tapped by Governor Scott Walker to lead his education reform efforts in Wisconsin while in the governor ‘s office. He worked to support collective bargaining reforms, increase standards and accountability, expand school choice and keep college affordable through innovative reforms. Michael graduated from the University Delaware with an honors bachelor ‘s degree in political science. He currently lives in Washington D.C.
G: Good morning, Michael.
B: Thanks for having me.
G: Glad to have you.
G: So, um, You folks through your publicist I guess, uh, wanted to come and chat about developments in the Common Core war across the country and were pleased to turn the airwaves over to Michael, what’s on your mind?
B: Well, thanks for having us back and certainly it’s an ongoing topic of discussion. I think it’s one that people still have, ahh, some confusion about, still have some concern about. And more than anything, I think that people, especially on the Right, but really across the political spectrum…there’s a lot more to agree on that to disagree on. Especially when it comes to what do you do from a public policy perspective.
G: Well, you know it would seem to me that Common Core has suffered any number of major setbacks across the country, not the least of which was the recent announcements by Governor Mary Fallin, in signing
legislation that removes her state, which is Oklahoma from the Common Core State Standards or national standards. In signing that bill, of course why that’s a big deal because she’s chairman of the National Governors Association, which is the one organization that everybody points to say ‘oh see this is state-led, it came from the Governor’s Association’. In her statement, her signing statement, she basically said ‘Look, this thing ‘s been completely corrupted by the Obama administration it is not what it was intended to be.’ It is not ended up as it started out and Oklahoma can do better as can just about any other state that wants to develop new standards. What say you? Has Governor Fallin wandered at the reservation wrongly?
B: Well, I think she’s right this has been politicized by the Obama administration. I think she’s right that states can, theoretically, do better. This is something, I think I most would people agree, we would not be having this conversation if weren’t for the Obama administration trying to step in, trying take this initiative on and offering incentives for states to adopt standards and the fact this was led by the governors, it was led by the state education chiefs and was a state led state run initiative and needs to remain that way. I think Washington need to butt out of these types of issues. Um, in terms of can states do better? Yeah, of course they can theoretically do better. The problem is in getting rid of Common Core in Oklahoma, the state adopted worse standards. Now in a couple of years, they’ll go with yet another set of standards. Hopefully those will be better than both the standards they have now in the common core. The Common Core are quite good.
They’re an improvement over what most states had in place before, there’s definitely improvement over what New Hampshire had in place before. And…
G: Well, you know… I’m going to argue that point with you, Michael. There are a couple different things that we need to bring up to be honest about this state-led thing. Since when has anybody ever pointed to the National Governors Association, which is largely a federal funded entity and a lobbying group, or the state ‘s chief school officers, which is also largely funded by the federal government and the federal lobbying group. Since when has anyone ever pointed to those organizations is evidence that states are leading on any particular issue? Don’t states lead when they when they come up with something innovative that attracts people and attention from around the country and other states start to experiment as they want to, not some federally funded Washington-based lobbying group?
B: Well I don’t think those groups are federally funded. I’m pretty sure they’re funded through dues, through the space…
G: Well, I’m pretty sure about the amount of money they get from the federal government. But that being what it may.
B: Well, bottom line I think that these are certainly groups that represent governors. I know that they do receive dues through the states, that are run by the states and regardless, I think we can argue about process. We can argue about, [CROSSTALK]
G: What is the value of a state-led organization that basically says, okay, we’re all gonna be on the same standards, we’re all gonna have the same test, we’re all going to do in fact create a de facto national standard in a de facto national testing scheme and claim that we as states are leading towards national unity on any particular issue one, especially as prone to local issues as education?
B: Well education should be, at the very least, as much as other issues, probably more than other issues be locally controlled. It should be run by states.
G: If that’s the case, then why is everyone… why is the federal government dropping almost four hundred million dollars into these testing Consortia to get everybody to take the same test and therefore have to basically follow the same curriculum because there got to be taking the same test? Where is the local control in this?
B: Well I think that’s jumping a couple of levels assuming .. certainly a lot about curriculum. The federal government has been funding tests for a very long time because they don’t want to put an unfunded mandate on local schools. [CROSSTALK]
G: Well they’ve been funding a variety of different tests.. they have not been funding tests like PARCC and Smarter Balanced.
B: Let me take some of these issues… So, local schools have been able to determine their own curriculum since the beginning of schools that won’t change that has not changed. If it would show any signs of changing I’d be right there with you saying the Common Core was terrible.
G: Well, you mean to tell me that if the school district takes a look at its curriculum and figures out that it will not see satisfactory student performance on the test. As a result, it’s not going to align their curriculum to what will lead to a better test result?
B: Well, it’s not just about the test. I think .. I don’t know..
G: No, no. You need to answer that question. You need to answer the question about whether or not districts, particularly with this testing scheme that will determine teacher effectiveness based on student results.
Whether or not they’re going to align their curriculum to something that will cause that test to be passed.
B: Right, let me answer the question. So, If students are not getting results in a given school district, any school district that doesn’t to try to change what it’s doing is, I think, is malpractice. I mean why any school district do the same thing over and over and over again and expect different results. There are a lot of school districts in New Hampshire and a lot of school districts across the country that are doing a fantastic job. Of the ones that are not need to change what they are doing right?
G: But you’re putting.. you’re putting faith in a test which has never been done in the way that it’s being proposed. There is absolutely no data to support its effectiveness in measuring whether or not students are actually learning in a classroom. And, you’re saying that the test is to be the…the final arbiter of whether or not success is being found in a classroom and had that test [CROSSTALK]..
B: I don’t remember saying that at all. I didn’t say that at all.
G: Well, you just said that if students aren’t making the grade on the test, that it would be malpractice not to correct what’s going on in the classroom. So that tells me that the test is more important…Is the determiner of what whether or not what’s happening in the classroom is effective, but what else would I take from that statement of yours?
B: Well, look we’re jumping five steps every time I answer a question you, you tell me that I must believe five other things. I’ll tell you what I believe. I believe very clearly that the standards that were in place in New Hampshire, before the Common Core were not as good as the Common Core. [CROSSTALK]
G: Well, let me.. and I want to get to that.
B: Hold on, hold on, hold on. Let me finish one sentence…
G: I’m sorry to keep interrupting you…
B: Let me finish one sentence. One of the reasons is you see all these Common Core Opponents who are pointing to specific math problems, who are saying that Math is confusing because there are not learning the standard algorithms. They are not memorizing basic math facts, when in fact the very examples that they’re pointing to are from bad textbooks and bad curriculum that are not aligned to the Common Core. If you look at what the Common Core standards actually say, they require students to memorize their basic math facts, required them to learn math in the way that you and I probably learned when we were in school and that’s something I think we all want. The common core requires that New Hampshire’s old standards did not.
G: Well, Virginia Berry, who’s the Commissioner of Education here in New Hampshire has said on multiple occasions, as have other department officials, as a way of minimizing opposition to Common Core in the state, that Common Core’s standards really are no different than what New Hampshire calls its grade level expectations. And that there aren’t massive see changes in what we’re doing, yet for the complaint that standards in New Hampshire are allegedly bad, the students in this state on SAT tests routinely end up in the top three nationally and are typically in the top three or five of just about any other standard test that’s taken in this nation so question: If New Hampshire standards suck, but we keep blowing the lights out of these standardized tests nationwide, why should I believe we need a fundamental change and, more importantly, if our standards here are working, why did nobody complain about them until the state decided it was gonna try to qualify for Race To The Top funds and enter into Common Core as a result through waiver to no Child Left Behind?
B: Well, we’ve been doing evaluations of state standards since at least the year 2000. So we have been complaining about them for a very long time, as have groups in New Hampshire, as have groups in… to be clear.. I’m not [CROSSTALK]
G: (Laughs) No one complained about those standards in this state until came along.
B: Well that’s just not true. There have been groups that have been complaining about the lack of rigor in the standards for a long time. And I’m not just talking about New Hampshire…
G: Name One.
B: …Because the state of Wisconsin, and my homestate, and many other states had even worse standards again we’re getting back to the process issues. We’re getting to the issues of you know, how did this come about? What did the different politicians say? I think what really matters is debate is are the standards better or worse? And I think you did ask a fair question. You know what, what about New Hampshire all the actual education results? And that’s a fair question, but I think that goes to where some Common Core supporters have overblown the standards, were succumb… some uh, Common Core Opponents have overblown the importance of these standards. This is about one piece of the puzzle. We need school choice. We need a higher standards, new strong accountability, we need to effectively prepare teachers to teach in a classroom. We need innovation in the classroom. We need to do all the different things at once, but if standards are not preparing students to be ready for college or a career. If we’re not setting the expectation for a twelfth grader at the same level that a college freshman is expected to have basic skills in English and Math, we’re not doing a good enough job. Now and…
G: And when.. and when…These standards were brought to, New Hampshire, not one member of the Board of Education here, the department education or any political hierarchy went to University of New Hampshire and asked whether or not a freshman achieving these standards, or a senior achieving these standards, would be a competent freshman coming in, and my understanding is that really didn’t happen anywhere in the country. So, you know…
B: No, I think it has and there have been at our higher education… and I completely disagree with that statement. Higher educations leaders have been involved in developing and validating these standards. [CROSSTALK] And all you need to know… And all you need to know is that students who go into New Hampshire colleges and universities often need to be re-taught, remediated – is usually the word that is used. Retaught the things they needed to learn as high school seniors and that costs the taxpayers and parents millions of dollars a year. Now certainly there are students who leave New Hampshire schools ready for college, ready for career, ready for whatever they want to do because they’re far exceeding either standards that were in place before Common Core, I’m sure many the students will far exceed even the Common Core higher standards, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t set a minimum expectation for all students that is going to prepare them for something else.
G: Well, you still unfortunately have not answered my question about the efficacy of these tests that the Common Core folks insist are an integral part whether it’s Smarter Balanced, which we have here in New Hampshire, or PARCC which is in other states… on and how can you tell me with a straight face that a test that’s never been used before is somehow going to determine whether or not kids are improving their academic performance?
B: Yeah, I’ll be happy to answer that. So, first of all it’s being piloted this year. It started to be piloted last year.
And there is a mountain of research that goes into looking at whether or not these tests will be effective. Is any single test perfect? No. That’s why you need to look in multiple measures to understand whether students are learning right-handed and that doesn’t mean that the test isn’t better than what was in most the state before.
G: How do you know that if it’s just being piloted now?
B: Well, let’s take one example. Let’s just look.. [CROSSTALK]
G: [CROSSTALK]..and it has to be one because we’re over time.
B: Yeah, well let’s just look at the expectations. If you’re lying to parents as most state tests did before, about how students are actually performing. You’re telling parents that many many students are proficient when
In fact only about a third of the students are proficient. That is not being honest with parents and taxpayers about how students are actually performing. It’s a tough transition. I think it’s important to be honest with parents about where students actually are… [CROSSTALK]
G: Shouldn’t you similarly be honest with parents when you tell them there is absolutely no data to support that this test is any better than any other?
B: Um, well there is.
G: It’s just being being piloted now and I’m sure people who came up with the current tests say there were mountains of research that went into that test too and now everyone is saying that test sucks. Those standards suck on, but it’s the same old song and every time we go through one of these kabuki dances when end up with something worse than we had before, less local control, and more national interference. And that’s where this is going. I don’t know how you can say.. [CROSSTALK] anything other than that especially to try to get all fifty states, using the same tests, the same standards somehow make pretend there’s local control within that. Why do you need school choice if everyone’s gonna have the same standards and the same tests?
B: Well it’s forty-five states using the standards, about thirty using the tests. So, It’s not all fifty.. [CROSSTALK]
G: Uh, it’s a number of states who are pulled out, so I don’t think your figure of forty-five is wrong… is right anymore.
B: Look, (laugh) I gotta be able to answer your question here. I gotta be able to say that I.. these are standards that are not a national mandate like you’re saying. It’s not something that states can’t change. New Hampshire wants to change the standards. Do it. Change the standards. But just make them better not worse like Oklahoma …
G: Michael, I would love to continue with you…
B: I’m sorry go ahead.
G: I’d love to continue with you, but we are over time. Um. Maybe next time we can have a longer segment so we can ferret out some of these issues.
B: Absolutely. Would love to do it and I really appreciate you having me and uhh asking some fair questions.
G: Ok, Michael Brickman from the Fordham Institute, thanks for joining us this morning on Girard at Large. Traffic, weather sports.
[ MUSIC INTERLUDE]
G: Girard Large time is 17 minutes before the hour and before I bring Ed Nail on.. onto the air, I just have to say this about the prior interview. I meant Mr. Brickman, or Michael Brickman no disrespect, but I have to tell you that I have grown thread-bare on these tired platitudes that frankly insult the intelligence of any thinking person…that can… read and write and understand the clear meaning of the English language, which is not something that will be achieved if your students are put through the Common Core standards. Because the evidence does not exist for any of the claims that they offer. And it’s amazing to me that they can continue to make these representations and when challenged, have nothing to say. I mean, when he says they have mountains of research and they’re being test piloted now, he’s basically saying, yeah some wizards of smart sat in a room and said well, maybe it would work this way. And now they’re just starting to pilot the test? Which means they are starting to test the test. Starting to find out if their research is accurate and right? And the federal government has dumped 385 million dollars into the creation of these tests and supporting the companies that administer them… So that everybody in every state can be forced to take them? Not forced as a literal matter but as a practical one and I understand that are several states that have pulled out of various testing consortia. But there are practical repercussions against those states from the federal government for doing it.
Co-Host: yeah and look what happens to the states that try to pull out, Rich.
G: So… I just…you know at some point people have to stop playing nice in the sandbox and if that means there has a hard hitting interview that is that is fed up with the continued feeding…the uh, misrepresentations and so be it. I was not attempting to be rude. Hopefully I wasn’t, but you know, don’t tell me my standards suck. when my kids are leading the pack nationally on these standardized test scores. So and Whit, really, really where was the outcry in New Hampshire about the quality of our standards, prior to Virginia Barry coming in Common Core to get a waver to no Child Left Behind? There was…there was no outcry about standards in this state. Why would there be? When you’re number one, number two, or number three, year after year after year on the SAT scores is pretty good case to be made that good things are happening in your classrooms. But anyway,.. [END CLIP]