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Topic: III. Bill McCallum Responds to Michael Goldenberg
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 14,475
Registered: 12/3/04
III. Bill McCallum Responds to Michael Goldenberg
Posted: Oct 14, 2013 3:37 PM
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From @ THE CHALK FACE, Tuesday, September 10-, 2013. See
Bill McCallum Responds to My Post (and I Look Into My Crystal Ball)

By Michael Paul Goldenberg

"How I Spend My Spare Time"

I recently wrote a post entitled, "A Sane Reply to Bill McCallum: Why
I Cannot Support the Common Core "State" Standards." I addressed
directly some of my concerns and gave some general reasons that I
can't go along with Bill McCallum's request to join him in supporting
CCSSI. As you should know by now, he chaired the committee that wrote
the mathematics portion of the new standards.

Bill wrote several comments in response to my post, which I will combine here:

Michael, I do believe that there is a growing chorus of insanity in
opposition to the Common Core, but I do not consider you to be part
of it, even though you oppose the Common Core. To be opposed to the
Common Core is not in itself to be insane, any more than to support
the Common Core is to be a dupe of the 1%.

And, I meant to add, I apologize if I gave that impression.

You list a bunch of things that apparently you think I wish were
true, but all those things are bad. Why would I wish bad things were
true about the education system?

Anyway, I do not agree that believing these things is a necessary
condition for supporting the Common Core. And, in fact, they are not
the reasons I support the Common Core (whether they are true or not).
I support the Common Core because I think that shared standards can
empower teachers in the work of teaching. I say "can" because this
outcome is not certain. It requires solving many other problems to do
with testing, curriculum, and teacher preparation. My fervent wish is
that we move on to those problems using the Common Core as a

The Common Core allows for local innovations to have national
importance. It is as much a stone for David as a club for Goliath.

What follows below is my response to the third of his comments. I
decided to make it a new blog entry to increase the likely readership:

Bill, I don't claim to know what you believe or wish about public
schools, but rather who and what funded and pushed the entire Common
Core "State" Standards Initiative and why they are so doing. My
point, very broadly is that this is not about improving public
schools, but destroying and then privatizing them.

I doubt very much that many, if any, of the content specialist
academics like yourself, who helped draft the standards, are out to
destroy public schools themselves (though I have serious questions
about what goes on in David Coleman's mind) in order to help the
privatization movement absorb as many children and dollars into their
nets as possible. That is why I have said repeatedly that far more
important than specific objections to questionable items in the
content standards, or philosophical objections that the old
Mathematically Correct/HOLD crowd continues to have with the Practice
Standards (the main reason, on my view, that Jim Milgram refused to
approve the final draft of the math standards and is making so much
noise against them), is the entire project - what I term "the very
idea of national common standards." I firmly believe that it's the
wrong approach to improving education or related problems for the
United States.

I think some of the reasons given for their necessity (e.g., the
"stability" argument that claims a child who moves in mid-term or
between grades from New York to Texas won't be out of synch with the
new district's teaching is at best naive and at worst disingenuous.
I've worked closely as a classroom content mathematics coach to know
that even two teachers who plan together have difficulty keeping
their lessons parallel due to differences from class to class, hour
to hour, a host of other variables that are generally out of their
control, and their own differences as individuals. I've had trouble
keeping two sections of the same course on the same page from day to
day. And that's a GOOD thing. It means I'm adjusting to things that
arise in each class that make that class, that hour, that day,
different from any other. If I have to push under the carpet every
interesting, unexpected idea and, as folks like to say, "teachable
moment" that arises because of a pacing guide (be it from the
district, the state, or Washington, DC, then I might as well quit
teaching and turn my students over to a nice robot (or young tyro
from Teach for America).

This insatiable drive for standardization is, quite frankly, the true
insanity. I am too well-versed in the history of American education
and psychology not to know that we've gone through cycles like this
one before, particularly a century ago, with the rise of Thorndike,
the efficiency experts, the intelligence testers, and the eugenics
movement (I recommend that interested readers who wish to learn about
that and similar eras read THE MISMEASURE OF EDUCATION, an excellent
new book by Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn [see
http://www.infoagepub.com/products/The-Mismeasure-of-Education ].
Nearly every aspect of those efforts proved wrong-headed and not in
the interests of children (or democratic values). They were
business-driven, and they have led to many of the ills we continue to
face today rather than to any solutions. And now we have an
educational plan mandated by, funded, and carefully guided by
corporations, billionaires, and foundations and think tanks those
plutocrats control. It's rather difficult not to notice and to
refrain from wondering how folks in Washington, DC thought that no
one would notice.

I will save for another post my specific complaints about what the
math standards have and haven't given us from an educational
perspective. But my previous column wasn't about that, as I think you

I acknowledged then, and still do, that you believe sincerely in the
efforts you and your fellow committee members made in drafting the
math standards. And I was pleased indeed to see (most of) the
Practice Standards included, even if I am afraid I don't believe for
one second that they will be any more successfully or widely
implemented in American mathematics classrooms than they were over
the previous 25 years when they were the NCTM Process Standards. The
same resistance, ignorance, inertia, and confusion that kept that
effort from succeeding will continue unabated. And the specter of
plummeting test scores will both make those who might believe in
those principles abandon them in panic, reverting to teaching "the
basics," but the Practice Standards will be blamed by the old Math
Warriors and the media (as they already ARE being picked upon) for
the lower scores. I predict that in two or three total testing
cycles, starting in June 2015, the more progressive aspects of the
Common Core assessments will be entirely gone or mostly so. We'll
keep the new multiple choice formats, probably, but certainly not any
kind of performance tasks: too fuzzy, as my friends at MC/HOLD have
said since the early 1990s. And when Americans panic about
mathematics test scores, they ALWAYS call for a return to teaching
facts, procedures, and the rest of the comfort foods they believe
comprise the entirety of school mathematics (if not the entire

Of course, Bill, I would SO like to be wrong. I hope that 3 to 5
years from now, I'm writing daily mea culpa pieces and disseminating
them widely. I hope things go well, that you, the leadership of NCTM
and NCSM (and NCTE) are all crowing justifiably, "We told you to be
patient! Of COURSE we knew this would work!"

But I'll bet you that I won't be; because that's not the way things
are going to play out at all.

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
625 Wham Drive
Mail Code 4610
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610
Phone: (618) 453-4241 [O]
(618) 457-8903 [H]
Fax: (618) 453-4244
E-mail: jbecker@siu.edu

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