Head of the Common Core grown-up table

Though this may fall into the category of self-dealing or nepotism, I have to heap some praise on my TBFI colleague Kathleen Porter-Magee. I’ve know Kathleen for going on a decade in various capacities, and I’ve always thought her to be a super-smart, funny, and independent-minded participant in all things education reform.

As lots of ed reformers fall victim to group-think, Kathleen’s independence has become especially valuable.

But her virtues have become clearer and clearer and more and more valuable over the last couple of years as she’s emerged as a responsible national leader on standards, curriculum, and assessments, especially with regard to Common Core.

As lots of ed reformers fall victim to group-think—this maddening view that we can reach our goals by just pursuing a handful of consensus reforms and showing political “backbone”—Kathleen’s independence (bordering on healthy contrariness) has become especially valuable.

But what’s even more important is that her views are grounded in some pretty remarkable real-world experience. She’s been a teacher; worked in curriculum, assessments, and PD for a high-performing CMO; has worked a great deal on standards and accountability; and much more.

Common Core Watch

While I was working in New Jersey, I had fewer regular opportunities to talk to Kathleen, but her name was often ringing in my ears, as a growing number of thoughtful people talked about her contributions to the Common Core debate via her TBFI blog, Common Core Watch.

If you follow her writing, you know that she is a grown-up—encouraging, understanding, prudent, clear-eyed, half-skeptical, tough, and prone to teach not scold—not a CCSS cheerleader, antagonist, or profit-seeker.

We’re in an era when gobs of people say they support CCSS either because other people are saying it or because they think it a fait accompli, and they want to be on the right side of history. Others are just interested in taking advantage of the new market opportunities that develop when virtually all states have the same standards and assessments.

One day Kathleen might caution against the rush to implementation; another she’ll defend the strengths of the standards while taking to task those whose currency is “misrepresentation” and “inflammatory rhetoric.”

After reading a representative selection of Kathleen’s work, you can’t help but conclude that she’s a sharp, discriminating party in an area where this is so desperately needed.

Her most recent post is a case in point. Kathleen extols the virtues of some of the best charters, but points out that while they’ve succeeded at reaching proficiency, they’ve generally fallen short of truly preparing their students for success in higher education. She then pivots to suggest that to break through these high-flying CMOs ought to start having conversations with some folks who know a thing or two about standards and instruction but may be generally hostile to charters.

The reader ends realizing that Kathleen isn’t a super-fan or zealot, stubbornly defending an orthodoxy, come what may. She’s a knowledgeable researcher-commentator-umpire. She reads, thinks, and calls balls and strikes fairly, even if the crowd boos mercilessly.

This is invaluable in ed reform generally, but especially in the common-standards and common-assessments arena, which has too often fallen prey to the uninformed ideologue or the unthinking supporter, who like the old man in Rome in Heller’s Catch-22, sides with whoever is winning at the moment.

Please keep it up Kathleen, you’re improving the discussion immeasurably and making me much smarter in the process.

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