Monday, September 29, 2014

The great buried lede of the Common Core debate

Lee Fang has another solid piece of investigative journalism at the Nation. It covers a lot of important ground (I'd recommend reading it for yourself), but I did want to single out a  couple of paragraphs that hit on a previously mentioned point.
The Department of Education under Obama has seen a flow of revolving door hires from the education investment community. In May of this year, the Senate confirmed Ted Mitchell, the chief executive of the NewSchools Venture Fund, as the Under Secretary for the US Department of Education. Prior to his government position, Mitchell, a personal investor in an array of education start-ups, forged a partnership last year with the creators of Facebook app FarmVille to create new education game products. James Shelton, the Deputy Secretary, is a longtime education investor and the former co-founder of LearnNow, a charter chain that was sold to Edison Learning, a for-profit charter management company.

In an interview with EdSurge, a trade outlet, Shelton explained that the Common Core standards will allow education companies to produce products that “can scale across many markets,” overcoming the “fragmented procurement market” that has plagued investors seeking to enter the K-12 sector. Moreover, Shelton and his team manage an education innovation budget, awarding grants to charter schools and research centers to advance the next breakthrough in education technology. Increased research and development in education innovation, Shelton wrote in testimony to Congress, will spark the next “equivalent of Google or Microsoft to lead the global learning technology market.” He added, “I want it to be a US company.”
For all the controversy, there are some details on the Common Core story that we should all be able to agree on: it has been produced and implemented with remarkable speed; some of the major stakeholders (particularly teachers) feel they were left out of much of the process; the initiative has become one of the most hotly debated aspects of education reform; a great deal of money is at stake here.

Intentionally or not, the speed of the implementation greatly increases the costs. In terms of both materials and training, a more gradual phase in would save a lot of money (it would also allow for field testing and fine tuning but that's a topic for another post). We should and will have a discussion about the pedagogical issues with the Common Core (you can get a head start on the debate here and here), but when we are talking about public policy proposals, proponents always need to show that their plans are cost effective.

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