Sunday, September 29, 2013

Postscript: Reform and the Common Core – Disorder and Confusion in Public Education


In the last post critique of the “Common Core” was offered, based primarily on its origins, the validity of its alleged knowledge standards, and its politicized roots.  This post, originally unintended, resulted from coincident education reporting that just appeared in Madison’s (WI) Capital Times, The New York Times, and The Washington Post.

The Capital Times is not at the forefront of everyone’s awareness as a mainstream press covering national issues, despite being the home of the University of Wisconsin.   However, in this instance it flagged the confusion and doubt that increasingly surround broad adoption of the alleged “Common Core.”  At the center of the controversy are two governors prominent in advocacy of the “Core,” Scott Walker of Wisconsin, and Rick Scott of Florida, the latter a major advocate of corporate reform based on standardized testing.

(It should also be noted in passing, that Governor Scott hired Tony Bennett as Florida's state superintendent after Bennett had been removed from that post in Indiana for falsifying Indiana school test grades for political purposes.)

Underscoring the troubled political heritage of the “Core,” both governors, originally “Core” champions, are now advocating against adoption.

Public Education and Disorder?

Confused now?  We all should be, because the chaotic alleged corporate reform movement interacting with the alleged common knowledge standards initiative has created really strange bedfellows: 

The Obama Administration in bed with testing profiteering; Republican state governments pushing NCLB and RTTT for dollars but otherwise damning the Federal government; and with CCSSI’s product (that early in promotion of the alleged “Common Core” CCSSI stated on its web site with overt sarcasm that those standards had nothing to do with the U.S. Department of Education) now blessed by the USDOE.

An assembly of billionaires funding the same distorted testing and VAM reforms of public K-12, but representing diametrically opposed social awareness and support of investment on health, civic and learning causes.

Our local public school bureaucracies that slavishly hop on every alleged reform gimmick, but are in bed with old-line education zealots still preaching discredited education methods from last century, consequently hypocritically conforming to reform but in reality changing little in the classroom.

Making sense of U.S. public K-12 education that has now become almost as dysfunctional as the U.S. Congress, requires lifting the covers.  Five potential causal clusters dominate what has become fragmented, contradictory, politicized, and fizzling public education reform.

Five Causes For a Learning Train Wreck

One – Dollars Versus  Education?

The first factor is illustrated by the two governors cited (linked here).  The explanation for the flip-flop of Walker and Scott is alleged to be as fundamental (and cynical) as who is funding their political ambitions.  In this case it is allegedly money that traces to a desire to squelch public schools’ teaching that intersects evolution and climate change.   What is part of the puzzle, and why making sense of present reform is problematic, the same sources of dollars used to influence were directed initially to building the “Core” but now disabling it?  A conclusion one can draw from the episode is that the leadership and conceptualization by the reform movement have frequently had one oar in the water.

Further illustrating the assessment that confusion reigns, the Capital Times today featured a second story on the "Core," that ironically, it is now being attacked from the political left as well.

Two – Uneducated Schools of Education?

The second factor is displayed in an editorial by the NYT’s Joe Nocera (linked here).  This op-ed hits a theme repetitively touched in past Edunationredux blogs, the role, or more accurately the lack thereof in any constructive sense, played by our collegiate schools of education.  They might be termed the silent scourge of public education; they remain virtually untouched by the reform zealots, though their responsibility for the deficits of learning in our public schools may equate with the impact of children’s socioeconomic and cultural deficits in effecting K-12 learning.

Three – Education Bureaucracy Run Amuck?

A third cluster, displayed in The Washington Post article by Patrick Welsh (just retired, who taught English for 43 years in Alexandria, VA’s T. C. Williams High School), and linked here, cites the overall blundering by the entire U.S. public education establishment in incompetently launching one ill-considered reform after another over a half-century.  Give U.S. public education at least a B+ or A- for recognizing reform need; but an F for the consummate ignorance of how you diagnose, plan, research needs, stimulate creativity, manage systemic change, and incorporate neural science in learning.

Parenthetically, our physical sciences contain the concept of entropy, “that nature tends from order to disorder in isolated systems.”  One can argue that the concept albeit not the precise math, can be applied to public education: Expansion, increasing diversity; lack of coherent strategic management because of the failures of local oversight; all drive the overall system to disorder.  In turn an objection, that public education is not isolated, lacks credibility.  Because of public education’s frequently dogmatic commitment to being opaque to its publics for decades, it can be argued it has de facto isolated itself.

Four – Ouija Boards?

The fourth factor might be called one of public education's “third rails,” and why critics veer away from touching it.  That is the control (used euphemistically) of our public schools by local school boards, usually elected.  America’s public school boards range from just ignorant disgrace to outright venality, with occasional sanity.  Requirements to serve are minimal, and literacy isn’t even required (in spite of efforts by the National Association of School Boards for decades to get state legislatures to raise the standards).  No real education for education is required to be seated and subsequently learning about contemporary K-12 is usually optional and rarely exercised.  School board elections are regularly rigged, to maintain some ideology, or to promote some local venue, or to promote sports instead of learning, or to disable effective oversight of school administration, or even by a parent to right some individual conceived wrong by getting on the board.  Boards are rarely professionally equipped to recruit and vet administrators, even when they occasionally attract degreed professionals, or specifically to assess education and administrative performance. 

Consequently, a subsumed theme, a large measure of those who gravitate to public school administration arrive without competent managerial education, can quickly develop self-righteousness and ego, and rarely encounter the oversight and external leadership that exists in any sophisticated and well-managed private sector enterprise.  One can find even in this blog’s bucolic neck of the woods, system public school superintendents ranging from a convicted child pornographer, through alleged education fraud, to an alleged sociopath.  In parallel, in the same bucolic villages, are boards that have no understanding of contemporary learning, flaunt state open door and open records laws, rig elections, fudge financial records, fraudulently manipulate levies, and rank blocking transparency next to Godliness.  In the vortex of such dysfunction, many of these boards revel in self-righteousness, delusional in believing they are serving a community, if not its children?

Fifth – Middle Majority Miasma?

Lastly, a fifth cluster is also clearly third rail material.  While a small minority of U.S. public schools is so awful that they merit being shut down, it is arguable that a middle majority of our public system population is more responsible for American public education challenges than the outright disasters.  These are Potemkin Village systems in bubbles, pumping sports, test-based claims of excellence, self-esteem, symbols, and hype, to inflate local and civic egos, to justify levies and deflect hard questions.   Meanwhile these systems seek opacity of what is being taught and how dollars are used, and frequently discriminate in linking in a community's citizens/taxpayers to control and manipulate school agendas or levies.

Many of these systems – also visible in Ohio's neck of the woods – will commit a community to tens of millions of dollars of school construction, while operating with distorted priorities, fielding buildings that are functionally needed but educationally obsolete before the footers are poured.

Bottom Line

The reason that so-called corporate reform of public K-12 schools is not working – aside from the reform insanity of trying to achieve it by attacking its teachers and students using pedantic testing models, obsolete widget quality control logic, and threats of student holdbacks and system takeovers – is that it can’t work.  Does the concept of politically holding public schools hostage for some end that defies reason ring a bell?

Equally, on the other side of that coin, are too many public K-12 systems dug in, circling the wagons to protect their genre, and where the reform mission does surface trying to resurrect what worked in the 20th Century, but now seriously challenged by both new knowledge and new demands on U.S. learning.

Reality is that our Constitution ignored education, the Founders so adept politically (and educated as elites and by tutors), not unexpectedly could not conceive of the need for universal education, nor the magnitude and demographic, social, and economic complexity of a world and the U.S. by this century. 

When the only tool you can envision is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  Orderly change to all of the factors above plus others is needed to change an education system that is as complex as ours, and where at least four of the major forces effecting performance are simply presumed off-limits for fear of political consequences, or it requires strategic work not even conceived, or because to do so would interrupt self-serving goals.

Check out the above links; do your own research.  If the realities don’t motivate you – to attend school board meetings to ask for accountability, or request transparency of what your system is actually teaching and using to teach, whether your system is teaching to the tests to inflate performance, how your tax dollars are being spent, whether your board or administration is even cognizant of what has been happening nationally with public school reform, or to civically stand up and protest rigged school board elections or a flawed or fraudulent levy – below the hype, you deserve pretty much what you get. 

Tragically, and unconscionably, your children do not.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Curse/Love the Alleged Common Core -- Some Straight Talk


In our current media saturated society, loaded with partisanship, it has become increasingly difficult for Jane and Joe taxpayer and parent to separate myth and some semblance of reality in U.S. public education.  The current alleged reform movement, initiated with NCLB, was less about changing learning than using U.S. diminished world K-12 public school performance to try to undermine public education.  

Few in our society have likely read the contents of the law that created NCLB, nor "A Nation at Risk," the report to former President Reagan that eventually rooted NCLB.  Part of the law prescribed Draconian consequences for schools that didn't achieve the arbitrary and delusional goals prescribed, but the embedded shadow theme throughout was creating circumstances for replacing public education.  Then with an inexplicable endorsement of NCLB under the Obama Administration, culminating with trying to buy change with RTTT, the current binge of standardized testing was launched.

Critically, that testing was keyed to private sector test creation for profit, launched with virtually no prior consultation with our education institutions, and was implemented -- almost unbelievably -- with no testing of its conceptual integrity, or forms of implementation, or whether there were potential unintended consequences.  Had that nationally scoped implementation guided, for example, our moon shot, the capsule might have made it all the way to Key West.

Enter stage right, the alleged "Common Core."  Repeat after me, the "Common Core" is the epitome of contemporary knowledge, designed by our best and brightest, properly vetted, the very minimum our children deserve in K-12 public education.  Keep repeating this as a mantra, echo it in our press, until it becomes self-fulfilling prophecy or your neurons become catatonic. Small glitch; the current alleged "Common Core" is laced with politics and fraud.

Round One

With little more than a whimper of protest, 45 states have allegedly adopted the first components -- reading/language arts and math -- of what is termed the "Common Core." 

That 45 state adoption rate, intended to convey broad acceptance, is smoke; the alleged knowledge standards are the product of a Republican dominated NGA, or National Governors Association, with a staff almost solely politically conservative.  The standards for reading and math were created by an anonymous group, appointed by just two governors, that the CCSSI's (Common Core State Standards Initiative) own web site notes must also remain anonymous.  Is this the American way in action? 

The standards, from that anonymous body, were then vetted by a committee of the least known educators in the U.S., typically from bureaucratic public K-12 ranks, and from schools of education in second and third tier colleges and universities.  In sum, the standards have mediocrity and/or obsessive reversion to obsolete last century public education methods logic written all over them.

Lastly, the "Core" has been aggressively marketed by ALEC, or the American Legislative Exchange Council, extreme right wing advocacy funded among others by the Koch brothers, and tasked with writing right wing legislation to be implemented by Republican-dominated state legislatures.

What superb provenance for the alleged knowledge to be stuffed down the throats of 49.5 million public school students, to then be hammered with standardized tests to claim learning?

Anyone, therefore, who naively believes that this first round of common alleged knowledge standards for public K-12 is the product of our bipartisan best and brightest, is either neurally challenged or in need of Obamacare.

Round Two

The CCSSI strategy calls for two more rounds of alleged common standards, covering respectively science and social science.  Here the story gets even more destructive of learning.

In contrast with the questionable reading and math contents from CCSSI, the science standards were initially created under the auspices of the AAAS, or American Association for the Advancement of Science, also publisher of the premier U.S. academic journal, Science.  Representing genuine higher education resources of every science discipline, these standards could arguably be designated as true national knowledge standards.  Along with the knowledge contents, our scientists proposed some learning caveats:  Move away from memorization of fragments of knowledge to basic understanding of science processes, and think in terms of learning progression, building understanding by unfolding learning with increasing levels of sophistication keyed to grade bands.  In short, stress core understanding, and evolution of fully integrated science knowledge; use standards that promote critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity, not memorization of a body of disconnected facts and knowledge fragments. 

Still enroute to our public K-12 schools those standards have already been hijacked, by allegedly the same education bureaucracy that perverted the reading and math standards.   Dr. Bruce Alberts, internationally known biological scientist, then editor of Science, authored multiple Science editorials protesting that perversion seemingly intended to support more standardized testing.

Round Three

One can only cringe at the prospect of a next round of core standards produced by the same origins.  The potential for demagoguery, for misrepresentation of American values, for pushing political ideologies, by manipulating social science standards, is what one can only describe as sick. What is incredible is that the public K-12 education establishment, thought to be overall somewhat liberal, has been cuckolded into believing that the CCSSI "Common Core" is actually legitimate learning, rather than the creation of some complex combination of right wing agenda for education and protection of last century's educational methods beliefs.  That naiveté is genuinely frightening for this nation.

Equally frightening, is the reality that K-12 public education's teachers over a half century have been reduced to classroom technicians, disconnected from truly understanding contemporary knowledge, turned into education mechanics.  Few now have the educational background to evaluate contemporary knowledge much less research and invent it.  The profession has primarily our retro collegiate schools of education to thank for that. Some evidence:  The very existence of "Teach for America" -- Wendy Kopp's Gates and U.S. Department of Education funded/supported scheme for recruiting teachers avoiding our collegiate schools of education.  The strategy may well be justified, but the question is, is this a rational mainstream solution?


A consensus is building, too slowly, that U.S. public education has been attacked for its very reasoned existence, universal public K-12 education, versus the extreme right wing's view that it should be trashed in favor of privatized schools.  Buried underneath layers of the facades of reform, the real argument asserted is that what is driving charters and vouchers is the rooted belief that public education has over the decades created more subsequent Democratic voters than Republicans.  A secondary argument is that universal public education puts the Federal government in a position to control local schools, attacking the core beliefs of extreme conservatism.

The most tragic part of this story is that public K-12 bureaucracy, administrators, even its teachers, are so brain-washed, or lacking the courage to buck public education bureaucratic leadership, that they are contributing to their own denouement.  It is unquestionable that most of our public school teachers are sincere, empathetic, principled, and genuinely wish to see their charges learn.  It is also likely that many who have migrated to public K-12 administration operate in good faith, believing they are acting for the common good.  But many of the latter are also hypocrites, or seek power, or monetary gain, or lack the education to be effective and creative leaders, and abuse the system by blocking transparency to avoid critique and loss of power or possible dismissal.

If some of the above sounds a bit like some of west central Ohio's school systems, once the Pollyannish rose-tinted shades come off, the shoe fits.

A bottom line -- resisting recognition because of the dogmatism on both sides of the public K-12 reform debates -- is that BOTH the corporate test/VAM-based reform movement, and a now inadequately educated, inadequately conceptualized, organizationally obsolete, and self-righteous public K-12 education system are culpable in America's education wars.  

Is There Common Knowledge For the U.S. Classroom?

YES, of course, categorically, subject to the maxim that a material fraction of what we think we know is likely wrong, even to the nature of matter and our universe.  Are the theories and laws of physics and chemistry, or any other science, or neural science, or of human behavior, or any other core intellectual construct different by state?  Excepting possibly Texas, the answer has to be a resounding NO.   What is needed to right the public K-12 education ship, call it U.S. public education parbuckling, is real reform driven by educator participation, research on what works, creativity, and something assumed to be in America's arsenal, courage.

One proposed answer is:  
  • Concept real reform, and make that reform bottom up engaging our teachers and administrators rather than imposing it; 
  • adopt real national knowledge standards;
  • adopt uniform national education standards for K-12 teachers and administrators; 
  • get Federal, state, and politicized control of public schools out of the system, restoring local control; 
  • but make that control subject to rigorous standards of school leadership, classroom performance, and rational periods of assessment devised primarily by the schools themselves, while leaving space for periodic national assessments of school learning performance, e.g., NAEP; 
  • require periodic third-party (sourced from higher education?) education and financial audits of local systems to puncture the self-righteousness and grandiose views of exceptionalism that stymie self-assessment and self-reform/improvement;
  • institute major reform of school boards, with rigorous election standards to correct the internal rigging of elections, and adopt long advocated state upgrading of the educational requirements to serve on those boards;
  • a challenge because our colleges and universities seem incapable of launching any reform of their own venues, but seek comprehensive reform of collegiate schools of education, or eliminate them in favor of a universal and more effective version of "Teach for America;"
  • finally develop standards of performance requiring local systems and boards to operate transparently to their parents and voters/taxpayers.  
Lastly, the current U.S. Department of Education, once properly the locus of quality research on what works in the K-12 classroom, has basically been trashed by a demagogic Arne Duncan, therefore indirectly, by the ignorance or confusion about mainstream K-12 education needs and realities exhibited by Mr. Obama.

Clearly, there is no silver bullet for getting U.S. K-12 education out of its evolving crater.  But so far, there appears no consensus among those with the intellect to diagnose that and concept remediation; nor among our parents -- educated by the same failing public systems -- who have little conception of how public education really works or how that has been covered up. Meanwhile, our alleged legislators -- Congressional and state -- cynically use any opening, including playing on the fears of parents, to seek political advantage, and much of our corporate world has underwritten a simplistic and greed-driven version of the market system featuring denial of social responsibility.

Will America's K-12 public education system be saved by standardized tests, politicized education, freak knowledge conceptualizations, and public schools in denial and blowing smoke?  Will Ted Cruz suddenly develop humility and advocate for health care for Americans who aren't on his Congressional Plan?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Why are you criticizing our public schools -- we're the victims?

A question, but not a terribly perceptive one, for the practitioners of a system that was historically granted a virtual monopoly, immunity from rigorous oversight, the ability to tax our public, protective policies, and supposed to be educating our next generations of choosers and doers, parlaying all of that into mission failure this century. 

And I suspect some readers of this blog, sarcastically though sotto voce, wonder just how many hours has this reporter actually spent in the classroom, writing exams, grading exams, counseling students, mentoring students, inventing and assessing curricula, managing education processes, and hiring and assessing educators?  A rough estimate overall is somewhere in excess of 55,000 hours. 

So let’s try a really simple thought experiment:  If American public schools have been doing such a magnificent job for the last quarter century, why are Mr. Obama, education’s pretender Arne Duncan, a small army of alleged reformers including some raw power seekers and aggressive billionaires, and a material slice of corporate America clamoring for K-12 change, killing public systems, cashiering teachers, penalizing students, and expending double-digit billions of both private and public sector dollars on take-no-prisoners alleged school reform?

The issues in present conflicting camps on US public K-12 need for change, including the forced testing, teacher assessment via VAM, and in the imposition of a “common core” not ready for prime time, have been dual:  A reform movement based on naive and untested models of learning and assessment, laced with political ideology, imposed on public K-12; and an entire collegiate system of education for education, plus 100,000 public schools that do have historical infrastructure for orderly process, but have simply fumbled their own opportunities over decades for self-reform?

The capacity demonstrated by both sides of this war to simply speak past each other is amazing.  Further muddying the playing field has been the demagoguery shown by some reformers, and by public educators alike who have simply been sycophant to the reformers, or lack the courage to strive for excellence and innovation versus the serenity and anonymity of conformity.

Our public schools, then, are as guilty as the alleged reformers in pursuing self-centric goals versus putting systemic learning achievement at the apex of the K-12 mission.  The hot-button issue, and the words that supposedly dare not be spoken, some fraction of our teachers and many public school superintendents and principals are at the vortex of K-12 failure even if it is unintentional.

But third party critique slips off the backs of our K-12 educational establishment as easily as school levies seem to materialize from local school boards.  Let’s hear a parent’s view. Below is a response from a parent to the last Edunationredux post, speaking to our systems’ righteousness:

“This is pretty much my experience with the system.  If they spent as much time managing the teachers as they do the testing procedures, our kids would learn so much more.  My daughter, a senior at ---------- HS, has a teacher (if you want to call her that) for pre-calc, who uses YouTube videos and other automated or non-automated but non-teacher activities for the students to learn the material she has outlined on the board.  In other words, she doesn't teach it.  When my daughter asked her for help on a problem she was told by the teacher, "I don't know how to do that one."  She had her skip it and go on to the next and said she would not mark points off for it. 

I pay a tutor $60 per hour 2 nights a week to teach my daughter pre-calc.  What does the teach do?  She spends most of the class time socializing with her fellow teacher who doesn't seem to have a class at the same time.  They hang out in the classroom and talk while the students teach themselves.  I'm told the principal does not have the authority to take corrective measures to manage his teachers.  It seems like he has been relegated to managing the students and staff but not the teachers.  I don't understand this.

How do I know my daughter isn't making this up?  Because the tutor has about 12 other students she tutors and they all tell her the same thing, independently from one another.  This makes me want to scream and shout from the roof tops that our system is broken.  Evidently it will do no good because everyone is deaf.”

How many times per week, month or term do this and other learning insults still occur unchecked in our public schools, because of archaic school system organization theory, poorly trained, vetted or conforming administrators, marginally trained teachers, and a culture of entitlement, self-righteousness and ignorance of genuine learning?  Do we need reform? There is really no argument for denial in spite of the minority of systems in that milieu that does seek the right values, manages with excellence, and tries to employ creativity.

But what a mangled tribute to advanced societal diagnosis and remediation: Consider that in spite of reformers' strident calls for constant student, teacher and school metrics, they concluded you don't need prior diagnostic metrics to prescribe major change; dive-bomb the customers with naive post hoc tests; ignore those at the top who steer and fail in that assignment, or project timid leadership, or who have just lapsed into bureaucracy misconstrued as management; advocate curricular product with a political aroma; and in mass testing bombings with indiscriminate targeting pretty much ignore both over one-hundred years of public education organizational learning and historical success, along with impacts on the aspirations of many to teach, and muddying hope of future sophisticated K-12 learning.

Bizarre, that our cabal of public K-12 reformers advocating a better grip on knowledge is acting in almost total ignorance of how knowledge is developed, assessed and promulgated for real effect.   No less bizarre, a public K-12 establishment that to too great an extent by denial or dogmatism is as destructive of constructive public K-12 change as the alleged reformers.

The US public K-12 challenge calls for a time-out, cessation of the embedded dogmatism on both sides of the skirmish line, and genuine debate on what should constitute national public education goals, what knowledge should be universal and who gets to call that out, and the remediation and innovation needed to get there.  Beating on education's foot-soldiers, and addressing only the symptoms of US learning deficits, have never proven an effective change model.  In parallel, innovation from Ancient Greece through Schumpeter to present advocates of creative change, all assert that real change may need to be disruptive; a cost of change some idealists simply can't fathom, and that those who need to change deny or vigorously resist.  An ancient saying:  "You gets what you pays for."

Sunday, September 1, 2013

About Our K-12 Reformers: The Rigor in Rigor?

In an August 31 post to (THE WASHINGTON POST) “The Answer Sheet,” on the alleged “Common Core,” educator Marion Brady peripherally raised a telling question:  How is “academic rigor” defined de facto by present public K-12 reform, versus how it should be defined to support US public K-12 education?

Brady’s post zeroed in on the corporately-influenced notion that rigor demands indiscriminate toughness, a no excuses view of classroom achievement, throw the baby out with the bathwater if necessary to bring those recalcitrant to slothful students to heel, and bring those squishy teachers to a military state of readiness to test, drill, retest, repeat, or perish.  Heil to the testing bottom line, the only real metric that matters; as this treatment unfolds the slavish commitment to a single destructive metric will become an icon of our reformers.

His list of assumed qualities of rigor as demanded of present reform went on, terminating with the heroic notion that the ultimate goal is tightening those curricular screws to transplant by whatever it takes, memory mastery of our elegant understanding of all things relegated to the status of K-12 knowledge – the alleged “Common Core” – except that understanding is not terribly elegant at all and riddled with our society’s manifest lack of replicable knowledge.

True confession:  In a prior career many of the above caveats and processes were personally advocated and practiced; but applied to turning out mechanical and electronic products, to providing customer service for “stuff,” even to some of the more mechanical business and product development functions. That form of quality assurance is now almost universally applied in our advanced economy to the production of every physical product, assembly, program, nanoparticle, food, and even live animals.  Did they work where human performance and creativity were what drove organizational success, organizational learning, and success in a higher education environment?   To put it mildly, not so much.  To put it not mildly at all, those protocols as applicable to human performance allegedly went out with the adoption of virtually every contemporary concept of professional management and emerging neural science.  They don’t even work as reliable mediators of human performance in military environments.  They are not, sustainably, learning.

So why is this demagoguery and a naive view of metrics being virtually crammed down the throats of public K-12’s students and real educators, locally applied by school administration acting out of ignorance about learning, or wallowing in dogmatism, or hypocritically ignoring rigor they may actually comprehend if they were educated outside of most schools of education?

What should educational and intellectual rigor feature?  The concept is multidimensional and still more qualitative than quantifiable.  Rigor of explanation applied to some body of observations, information, theories, hypotheses, behaviors, and then measurement with increasing structure or precision of quantification, needs to embrace the subject matter itself, attributes of the one purporting knowledge, the methods of discovering, cataloging and verifying knowledge, and recognition that much of what we know is probably wrong and will continue so into this century.  No one has created an index of knowledge change, but should.  The rate of turnover in our alleged understanding of phenomena is high, and in most places still doesn’t possess enough specificity to deduce a trajectory for closing in on perfect and replicable explanation.

Some determinants of intellectual rigor:

  • Humility; awareness that virtually everything we think we know is still subject to modification, even our concepts of matter and gravity and time.  Confidence but being circumspect about what we know; more importantly, acknowledging what we don't know with the integrity to try to erase the deficits.
  • Curiosity; the innate or developed capacity to question even when evidence seems irrefutable; fascination with rather than fear of the unknown.
  • The capacity to hold simultaneously opposing views about any phenomenon, or its reciprocal, the capacity to reject dogmatism in holding beliefs.
  • Possession of the presently essential tools of explanation – scientific method, probabilistic explanation, experimental reasoning, a systems view of complexity, grasp of historical method, a language (contemporarily math) that enables generally unambiguous expression of propositions, and the psychological and cultural motivation to search beyond easy answers.  In our present civilization that implies the application of the misplaced “toughness” of corporate reform, to by one model, the Edisonian capacity to experiment until you reach answers.  In another model of exploration, that toughness alludes to having the courage and dedication to pursue a course of answers even in the face of reference group denial or ridicule.
  • Being able to admit error, that wrong conclusions and choices are not surrogates for loss of personal self-worth or esteem, and the tenacity to continue to seek answers when they aren’t a lay down or easily produced.
  • The notion of intellectual sovereignty, that one’s views and propositions can come from one’s own intellectual processes, and need not be seeded or approved to justify pursuit.  There is a corollary, that simultaneously, rigor is defined in the capacity to acknowledge that one’s own ideas may be flawed, and that a group’s or others’ ideas may offer better solutions. 
  • The concept of “getting off easy” meanders through the rhetoric of present K-12 reform, implying one has to assume that we need to see the sweat (or fear) poring from both students and teachers as verification of learning accomplishment?  We need to see failure as the intervening variable that connotes success.  As wiser heads than the corporate reform movement have asserted, failure handled as learning leads to another and more sophisticated level of learning.  In parallel, one of the properties of true cognitive accomplishment is ultimately the ease with which ideas can emerge where one understands a phenomenon.  In another time the concept of master and apprentice, and the complex process that saw the former emerge from the latter, may have been a better model of learning than the entire cobbled up and dystopian version of present reform; testing, VAM, penalty, compete or disappear, further relying on a naïve version of the concept that markets can work directly with any precision in mediating human accomplishment. 
  • Terminally, recognition that the state of our civilization currently makes the language of metrics the gold standard for testing proof of propositions and observations along with that measurement keyed to experimental modeling or replication.  While this sounds like an endorsement of standardized tests it is not.  The metrics implied here represent a level of sophistication of modeling that currently has no counterpart in testing K-12 memory of knowledge subassemblies or disconnected parts, or even simplistic application of alleged knowledge bits.  As the most recent brain research has demonstrated, findings about how neural processes occur refute the idea that they are simply analogues of digital modeling. Unfortunately, our reform movement rather than employing creativity and even present neural science to devise genuine tests of higher order thinking, and problem solving expertise, has blundered through an egregious application of testing logic corrupted by corporate control arrogance and profit-seeking. 

The so-called corporate reform movement is a disgusting and distorted replicate or progeny of now equally distorted American school of business thinking and protocols.  What was once a viable learning environment for many of America’s decision makers, has become a tracked, intellectually distorted academic enterprise competing with America’s current schools of education for irrelevance.  At some point last century, America’s schools of business, putting endowments and narrowly conceived business sycophancy ahead of good academic reasoning, narrowed their intellectual perspective, and pronounced shareholder value as the only relevant metric for corporate performance, helping to set in motion the corrupt organizational model American financial institutions and many corporations have become.    

It is massively ironic, that the slice of corporate America driving and funding alleged K-12 reform has demonstrated the most vacuous rigor imaginable – adopting an almost (tragically) laughable model for reforming our K-12 public schools and now poking around US higher education – while intrinsically demonstrating in their own governance lack of the very rigor so self-righteously pronounced as their goal for US public K-12.