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We Are the Smart People Here

12:15 PM, Nov 17, 2013 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
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There is widespread opposition to the latest federal initiative aimed at improving education in this country.  And the secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, knows why. It is because the imposition of something called the “Common Core State Standards” has exposed a terrible truth to many:

“… white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — [have learned that] their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Mr. Duncan speaks with authority (of the titled kind) but not necessarily with total credibility. But if it is possible to be deceived by appearances when it comes to how schools are doing their job, then he surely does speak from experience.  

A few months back, a slew of teachers and principles in the Atlanta school system were busted for conspiracy to commit fraud. For years, they had been conning students and their parents by falsifying scores on standardized tests.  The students thought they were being educated and their (vastly) improved performance was hailed of proof that public education was not broken and could do the job.  The teachers and principles got promotions and cash bonuses.  Then, the grand jury started handing down indictments and the prosecutors started talking RICO.  

At the center of the scandal there was Superintendent Beverly Hall who had been:

... named National Superintendent of the Year in 2009 by the American Association of School Administrators, which declared her to be “an outstanding superintendent whose leadership has turned Atlanta into a model of urban school reform. .  .  . She has demonstrated a commitment to setting high standards for students and school personnel, working collaboratively with the school board, and meeting the needs of the local community.” 

Ms. Hall had fooled everyone, it seems, except for a few suspicious parents who operated according to the precept that if something appears too good to be true, then it probably is.

But for a long time, Ms. Hall was untouchable.  She was a hero to educrats and the education establishment, to include the Gates Foundation and was even:

… honored at the White House by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who later said, while the rumors of widespread fraud and corruption were already in the air, “Whatever the outcome of the state investigation, [Hall’s] accomplishments should not go unrecognized.”

A few skeptical parents, it turned out, had been right.  Arne Duncan had been wrong.

Perhaps he is right this time.  But one does feel entitled to a little skepticism or, even, outright distrust.  Parents – indeed, voters and taxpayers at large – have been told so many things, with such exquisite confidence and condescension, by the experts from the foundations, the teachers unions, and the government that they are entitled to suspect that the know-it-alls don’t really know as much as they think they do.

This played out recently in Colorado where a ballot measure, supported by all the proper elements of the education establishment and with a money advantage of some $10 million to $40 thousand, was voted down 2 to 1.  

Among the many aspects of Obamacare’s difficulties that has advocates of what was once called “activist government” troubled if not, indeed, panicked is that it has eroded confidence in the ability of government to do virtually anything its supporters claim it can do.  And, at the extreme, to fuel a conviction that they are all either Beverly Halls or her enablers.  David Brooks captures the concern nicely in this dialogue with Mark Shields.

But there really isn’t any mystery, here.  Government isn’t trusted because, lately, it hasn’t been especially trustworthy.  Something it, and its supporters and operatives – like Arne Duncan – continue to deny.

It is a fairly natural human response to distrust someone who condescends to you for being gullible when his own BS detector is so obviously overdue for (government) inspection.

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