Bill Evers is on the list for Florida Commissioner of Education. However, given recent legislation, Race to the Top funding, and Florida's involvement in one of the national assessment consortium, his views may not give him enough points for serious consideration. Evers served under President Bush as Assistant Secretary of Education. He is now associated with the Hoover Institute at Stanford.
View a video of his views on common standards and common curriculum here:
Read the full transcript below:
TOP-Ed’s John Fensterwald interview with Bill Evers, May 2011
FENSTERWALD: I’m speaking today with Bill Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, specializing in education policy. From 2007 to 2009, Bill was U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education for Planning, Evaluation, and Policy Development. He is what columnist Jay Mathews of the Washington Post—affectionately, I believe—calls “an inexhaustible trouble-maker.” The reason we have him here today is that he was a co-author and organizer of the so-called counter manifesto, “Closing the Door on Innovation: Why One National Curriculum Is Bad for America.” Bill, welcome!…
Bill, it’s a response to what? And take a couple minutes and explain exactly what is in this manifesto.
EVERS: It’s an extremely important topic because, for all of us that care about children, and children’s academic success, what teachers teach in the classroom, how they teach it, what instructional materials they use, what lesson plans they use, and how these are all put together, is the essence of what goes on in the classroom. Now, in the past, this has been a kind of thing that’s been decentralized in how it’s organized.
FENSTERWALD: Yes. And so what’s the point of this manifesto, Bill?
EVERS: Some people, particularly organized by a spinoff of the American Federation of Teachers called the Albert Shanker Institute, called for a national curriculum – in other words, a curriculum organized and sponsored by the federal government. And, to some extent, the Obama administration has been already doing this. It’s put millions of dollars into curriculum development aligned around a national framework.
FENSTERWALD: So this is all related to the Common Core standards, which 40-some states have adopted. So…what’s the goal here, Bill? Is it to stop Common Core? Is it to stop the—have Congress defund the—assessments for Common Core? What’s ultimately your objective here?
EVERS: I would say it’s mostly to turn around the testing and the curriculum-development piece of this. The original idea with these Common Core national standards was that the states and the state superintendents were going to put together some model standards that people could adopt and, hopefully, would gather a lot of support. But the federal government used its financial leverage essentially to compel the states to sign up.
FENSTERWALD: Let’s backtrack a little bit, and the point of, the objective of, Common Core really was that No Child Left Behind, which…you supported in the Bush administration, sort of led to a race to the bottom in which many states lowered their standards and definitions of proficiency in order to avoid federal sanctions. So the goal of Common Core, I think, was to get states together, to work together, not at cross purposes, and create a more cohesive set of standards for students competing in the international economy, and to have assessments that were to sort of test deeper learning or critical thinking. What’s wrong with that, Bill?
EVERS: The No Child Left Behind was like an audit. The federal government was pouring money, millions and millions of dollars, hundreds of millions of dollars, into supporting K-12 education, and it looked like it wasn’t having much effect, if at all; and so, by examining student success, student performance, we could tell. But, for some people, it was something more than that. It was a road to a national school system, and President Bush, when he ran for office, said, “I’m not really doing this. I want not to be the head of a national school board.” But there were some people who want the U. S. Department of Education, to be the head of a national school system, as it is in European countries.
FENSTERWALD: Checker Finn, who was a signer of the Shanker Institute manifesto, in response to your writings, said the counter-manifesto is, quote, “Full of half-truths, mischaracterizations, and straw men.” And he says, So let’s be clear: The assessments linked to Common Core will be mandatory for those districts in states that choose to use them, but the use of Common Core curricular materials will be voluntary. We don’t see any evidence to indicate to the contrary. So, Bill, are you being paranoid here?
EVERS: I don’t think so. I’m actually looking at how tests actually operate, and I worked with them in the State of California. So, as the Shanker manifesto, and our counter-manifesto both say, really, curriculum comes before testing. So if you’re going to have national tests, you can’t just go from your academic standards, which are just a list of topics, to the tests. You have to have some idea of what curricular material there is, how things are taught, what kinds of lesson plans are involved. So once the national government decided it was going to promote national tests, it almost perforce had to set up…what we call in California “curricular frameworks,” and it had to get even into detail of lesson plans, and that’s what it’s doing. And so it’s Checker, who is being naïve, and not knowledgeable about how tests actually operate, who thinks, “Oh, this is just going to be purely advisory, and not going to dictate to all the textbooks and all the teachers in America who are in these states, a central plan of how the classroom is going to operate.
FENSTERWALD: Right. But…two [consortiums] of states are creating the assessments. Those are states-driven, and not federal government.
EVERS: The federal government is paying for it.
FENSTERWALD: Right.…It is funding it, but, in fact – You’re saying it’s dictating.
EVERS: …I’m saying it’s even illegal for the federal government to be doing this. The U.S. Department of Education Organization Act of 1979 says no supervising, no directing, no planning, no endorsing of curricula by the U. S. Department of Education. That is exactly what they’re doing here.
FENSTERWALD: Right. But, you know, I read the Shanker Institute manifesto, and I saw no mention of the phrase “national curriculum” in it at all. In fact, it talks about developing sets of curriculum guides, and states could collaborate with one another. It encourages a process. So where do you—why do you—characterize it as a national curriculum?
EVERS: I think they had public-relations-firm advice here. It’s very funny. They reprinted an old article by Albert Shanker himself where he talked about this. He is deceased now.…And, in it, where he said “national curriculum,” they took out the word “national,” and put in, in brackets, the word “common.” So they know what they are talking about. They’re just pretending to the rest of us to see if we can – we’re foolishly, naively, fooled.
FENSTERWALD: Right. I think you and they agree that the tests – You need curriculum before you do the tests.
EVERS: They both say that.
FENSTERWALD: Nonetheless –
EVERS: Both…manifestos say that.
FENSTERWALD: Right. Nonetheless, in the past, even a couple of months, and …still, the tests are a couple years away, there’s been a tremendous interest in developing curriculum frameworks.
EVERS: (talking at the same time) But anybody can do this.…The Silicon Valley Education Foundation could develop curricula if they wanted.
FENSTERWALD: Right, right.
EVERS: And the original idea that some people saw is that these national standards, which are troubling to me, but it’s possible they could have been more innocuous. For example, Minnesota decided, “We’re not going to accept the math standards, because we have all our kids in algebra in the eighth grade, and the national standards have algebra in the ninth grade. So that would be losing a grade’s worth of great progress, and our similarity to the high-performing countries.” So they rejected the math standards.
FENSTERWALD: So, ultimately, would you like to see states withdraw from the states’ consortiums and get out of the assessment business?
EVERS: I think that the national standards and the national tests are a bad idea, and they should be walked back. Yes. (Fensterwald note: After the interview, Bill said that he meant to say “national tests and national curriculum” since the Common Core standards already exist and will not be repealed, though Evers believes they are flawed.)
FENSTERWALD: Bill, it’s a pleasure to have you here. We’ll see what happens in the next year, and see if this generates what you want, in terms of response. I’m John Fensterwald from Top Ed, and thanks for watching.