In a glowing tribute to outgoing Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D), U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan claims the state of Massachusetts has led the nation in education under the direction of Common Core champion Patrick, who will turn the reins over to a new Governor, Charlie Baker (R), on Thursday.
Duncan wrote at the Boston Globe:
It seems every politician says they are “pro-education” — no one wants to run on an “anti-education” agenda. But not many walk the walk — and Patrick has done that, with courage, clarity of leadership, and a real sense of urgency. And he has approached education issues with an inclusive style — working with educators, higher ed leaders, the business and philanthropic community, unions, and community members. In many ways, Massachusetts is now helping to lead the country where it needs to go in education.
However, Jim Stergios, executive director of the Boston-based think tank Pioneer Institute, expressed a quite different view, also at the Globe.
“Who says Common Core advocates don’t like fiction?” Stergios quipped. “US Education Secretary Arne Duncan got one fact right: Massachusetts leads the nation in education. Attributing that progress to Governor Patrick’s leadership is like suggesting that a pinch runner who finds himself on third base hit a triple.”
Stergios observes that Massachusetts has held the highest spot in all subjects on national assessments for a decade, and that prior to Patrick’s inauguration in 2007, the state had already been identified as “one of the fastest improving states in the nation.” In addition, just several months into that year, Massachusetts students had been ranked on international math and science assessments with the top six countries.
“Only a politician, or an education secretary playing one, would attribute Massachusetts’ success to Patrick,” Stergios asserted. “The best one can say about overall student achievement in the Commonwealth during Patrick’s terms in office is that it has been stagnant. An objective observer would note significant areas of decline.”
It was under Patrick in 2010 that the state abandoned its highly acclaimed academic standards and adopted instead the unproven Common Core standards. The new education reform initiative was intended to close the achievement gap, as now infamously referred to by Duncan in 2013 as “white suburban moms” versus low-income minority families.
In an interview published in June of last year, Common Core proponent Bill Gates, whose foundation has been the primary source of private funding for the development and implementation of the standards, underscored this principle purpose of the initiative.
“The country as a whole has a huge problem that low-income kids get less good education than suburban kids get… and that is a huge challenge,” Gates said about his push to have the Common Core implemented, even though billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent over the past several decades to fix the “huge problem” with no progress to show for it.
“Over the last several years, the state has also introduced new college and career ready academic standards, with a focus on critical thinking, problem solving skills, has brought approximately 5,000 poor children off waiting lists and into high quality early education, and has worked to make college more affordable,” Duncan wrote, in praise of Patrick’s drive to implement the Common Core. “And progress is being made on closing the critically important achievement gaps that exist for economically disadvantaged students and students of color: the state has seen impressive achievement gains among African American and Hispanic students over the last eight years.”
Stergios points out, however, that, since the Common Core’s adoption in Massachusetts, “sampled national tests show fourth-grade reading scores, the best predictor of future success, falling more significantly in Massachusetts than anywhere else in the country.”
Additionally, he notes the state’s SAT scores have dropped 20 points during Patrick’s tenure when, prior to his arrival in office, Massachusetts’ SAT scores had “risen for 13 consecutive years.”
Yet another reason to question Duncan’s praise for Patrick—and the Common Core standards—is Stergios’ observation that, prior to 2007, “67 percent of third graders scored advanced or proficient on the state’s third-grade reading tests… that number is now 57 percent.”
Duncan’s suggestion that this uninspiring record is path-breaking no doubt stems from his own support of policy changes Patrick made. The most significant of these is the governor’s abandonment of two pillars of Massachusetts’ original, bold reforms — academic content standards that approached those in the highest-performing nations and a unique accountability system focused on improving district leadership and performance.
Looking at the wider, national picture, Stergios describes Duncan’s distorted presentation of educational decline as success as a “malady” that affects Washington, D.C. bureaucrats, characterized by a “toxic mix of self-importance and the inability to see reality.”
“Six years later, any policy analyst can review the data,” he writes. “Arne Duncan’s impact on student achievement in the United States is no different from that of his predecessors—imperceptible.”