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Susan Brookings Paper: An Analogy Looking for a Teacher

In Defense of the Common Core Standards by Joshua Bleiberg and Darrell West is a production of Brookings Center for Technology Innovation, and its central thesis seems to be that since common standards let technology work better with big data, then hurrah! Common Core. 

The authors summarizes the paper on a blog:Using Standards to Make Big Data Analytics That Work. 

Big data is a group of statistical techniques that uncover patterns, which on their own have little substantive meaning. Standards like the Common Core enable the creation of better tools because they support the development of stronger learning models, enable larger big data systems, and encourage greater competition.

Get it? Data crunching is what matters; actual content of the Common Core is irrelevant.

Look at recipients of one author's Tweets about his new Brookings paper praising Common Core and you see birds of a feather.

And then we get the concise summary of why Brookings supports Common Core:

  • Josh Bleiberg ‏@JoshBleiberg Mar 7
    Standards can make big data analytics work better. It's all about the signal and the noise people. @NateSilver538

Data. Data. Data.

I'll spare you the paper. Here are a few of their major wild claims:

  • Common Core will succeed where past standards based reform efforts have failed.
  • The Common Core assessments [which haven't been given] are preferable to current tests.
  • [leaving out broadband requirements and computers] Common Core tests will cost less than previous examinations.
  • The economics literature on standards demonstrates the value of this approach to 
  • The Common Core map skills to individual standards. This process is key to developing 
personalized learning systems which rely on big data analysis.

My favorite parts of the paper are the analogies. Since the authors--one with a Masters Degree in Education Policy and Management from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and previous work experience coordinating political candidate calls to PACs, unions, donors; and one with a Ph.D. in political science and author of books promoting digital technology (focusing on media and elections)--don't know anything about teaching and learning, they argue by analogy--and they have some doozies.

  • The Great Baltimore Fire was a failure of standards. . . in 1904 fire departments 
around the country used 600 different fire-hose couplings. [Therefore, since teachers are like fire-hose couplings...]
  • When choosing between two similar products like Blue-Ray or HD-DVD the user wants the system with the greatest number of users because studios will have an incentive to release more movies for that system. [Therefore, since teachers are like Blue-Ray/HD-DVD--or maybe they're like movies...]
  • Standards can mitigate "penguin effects". . . . Penguins who must enter the water to find food often delay doing so because they fear the presence of predators. [Therefore, since teachers are like penguins. . .]
  • The developer of an application for a mobile phone doesn't need to invent the phone, the gyroscope in it, or the code for taking a picture... Standards then make it easy to plug a lesson from another teacher into their own curriculum. [Since teachers are like telephones, just plug anything in. . . ]

I engaged in my own Twitter snark.

  • Morgan Polikoff ‏@mpolikoff
    A nice paper from @BrookingsInst about the benefits of standards in education and other sectors:… - 07 Mar
  • Susan Ohanian @susanoha
    @mpolikoff @JoshBleiberg @BrookingsInst Nice for whom? From the getgo it doesnt accurately state reasons 4 liberal & conservative opposition - 08 Mar
  • Josh Bleiberg @JoshBleiberg
    We did gloss over the full args a bit. Genuinely interested. How would you describe the left right opp towards the Core?

Ask yourself: Who is the audience for this paper?

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Susan Ohanian

Susan Ohanian, a long-time public school teacher, is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in Atlantic, Parents, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Phi Del...