Friday, August 29, 2014

One of the most important aspects of Common Core gets relatively little attention

“No one ever went out to lunch with Mushari. He took nourishment alone in cheap cafeterias, and plotted the violent overthrow of the Rosewater Foundation. He knew no Rosewaters. What engaged his emotions was the fact that the Rosewater fortune was the largest single money package represented by McAllister, Robjent, Reed and McGee. He recalled what his favorite professor, Leonard Leech, once told him about getting ahead in law. Leech said that, just as a good airplane pilot should always be looking for places to land, so should a lawyer be looking for situations where large amounts of money were about to change hands.

”In every big transaction,” said Leech, “there is a magic moment during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who is due to receive it has not yet done so. An alert lawyer will make that moment his own, possessing the treasure for a magic microsecond, taking a little of it, passing it on. If the man who is to receive the treasure is unused to wealth, has an inferiority complex and shapeless feelings of guilt, as most people do, the lawyer can often take as much as half the bundle, and still receive the recipient’s blubbering thanks.”
— Kurt Vonnegut, God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

Between textbooks and testing and training and all the other things that will need to be replaced or revamped, the introduction of Common Core is going to cause billions upon billions to change hands. That doesn't make it a bad idea, nor does it make the people behind corrupt, but it is not something that can be ignored.

The billion-dollar LA iPad plan was primarily intended as support for Common Core. It has become more of a cautionary tale. From Steve Lopez of the LA Times:

And the emails really make you want to hold your nose.

"I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one," now-departed Deasy deputy Jaime Aquino wrote to Pearson in May 2012, two years before the contract was approved.

Aquino, if you have forgotten, had been an executive with a Pearson affiliate prior to heading up Deasy's tech implementation plan.

Deasy — who graciously appeared in a promotional video for iPads before the contracts were awarded — later jumped in on that same email conversation.

"Understand your points and we need to work together on this quickly," wrote Deasy, later adding he did not want to lose "an amazing opportunity."

Deasy maintains that the emails were not about the larger, $1-billion tech plan but about "a pilot program we did at several schools months before we decided to do a large-scale implementation."

[The 'pilot program' is, by the way, a time honored work around. It is an excellent way of easing a preferred vendor into a position -- MP]

Even if you believe that, along with Deasy's claim that "nothing was done in any inappropriate way whatsoever," his contact with Apple and Pearson raises countless questions about whether a legitimate bidding process was ever an objective.

"You should make every bidder think they have a slim chance of getting the job," said Stuart Magruder, the school bond oversight committee member who briefly lost his post for asking too many questions about all of this. Deasy "didn't do that. He created an environment where Apple and Pearson probably didn't have to be as creative as they could have been."

Or as thrifty. As Magruder noted, the district agreed to a far higher cost per device than what other districts were paying. Magruder also argued that he believes the main objective with digital devices has always been to facilitate more test-taking rather than better teaching and deeper, more meaningful learning experiences for students.


  1. Mark,

    This problem with money changing hands would arise with any major overhaul of the curriculum. The LAUSD's iPad debacle is only incidentally related to the Common Core standards. Indeed, it would not surprise me if it turned out that the Common Core standards conversion was simply seized upon as a pretext to do an iPad sweetheart deal that Deasy would have wanted to do anyway.

    There is much to worry about in the "Education Reform" movement. But for too long, many states have hidden the inadequacy of their school systems behind lame educational standards. If you have serious reservations about the actual Common Core standards themselves, I think you should air them explicitly. I think the standards are really quite good and the students in many of the states adopting them will be substantially better off as a result.

    I think it is wrong to denigrate these standards for the other (numerous) problems of school administrations or the larger "education reform" movement.

    1. "This problem with money changing hands would arise with any major overhaul of the curriculum."


      This problem of money changing hands would arise with any standardized, national, rapidly-implemented overhaul ('Major' isn't a requirement -- see below). I would have the same concerns about any similar proposal but at the moment, only Common Core meets these conditions. That was the point of the post.

      As for the standards themselves, at least on the math side, there are a lot of specifics I don't like, but the main thing that struck me was how relatively small a change they represented, Big enough to maximize the cost but too small to have a significant impact. The worst of both worlds.

      See here for a discussion of what a major overhaul might look like