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Crowdsource the Core

This week, Pennsylvania's Department of Education rolled out a site that has three stated goals:

1) Increase awareness and understanding of PA's eligible content
2) Solicit actionable feedback as part of the department's review process
3) Provide exam sample questions for teachers in the tested grade/subject

The site allows anybody who logs in to go through the standards, one by one, and comment on each one. Responders simply mark "Yes, I like this" or "No, I don't" and if they don't, they give feedback about what they don't like and how the standard could be changed. They can also pull up a sample of a test question aimed at that particular standard.

You are required to give some basic info about yourself (though not a name) and you only get one comment per standard per computer. So far ut covers only third grade standards, but the rest are promised within a few weeks. The site will be active until January 15, 2015. It's in plain English and simple to navigate, and as I perused the site, I had one thought--

See? That wasn't difficult at all.

internet tube.jpg

Travel with me to a parallel universe. In this universe, Gene Wilhoit and David Coleman get a great idea for a set of national education standards. But they need someone to help boost it and back it, so they go to Bill Gates and (in my parallel universe) they say,

"Mr. Gates, we're going to get these standards written, but we thought that you, as the richest technocrat on the planet and the best-connected king of computers in America-- we thought you could help us put the finishing touches on these standards to make them the best educational standards ever seen." And Mr. Gates said yes.

So a couple years later, the parallel universe Common Core Standards were written, and they debuted on line. Every single teacher, practicing and retired, every pedagogical expert, and every school administrator in America was invited to log on and sound off.

The amount of data collected was unprecedented, and Bill Gates saw it and called it good. "Yessir," said David Coleman. "When a few hundred thousand kindergarten teachers tell you that this standard is developmentally inappropriate, you know we have to listen."

"I'm glad you boys brought this to me," said parallel Gates. "In the old days, there would have been no way to collect data from every educational expert in the country. You would have just had to complete all this somewhere on your own, and then when you were done, we'd have to push it through with just pure force of political power and money-fueled muscle. Heck," parallel Gates chuckled. "We would have had to wait ten years to know if you'd even gotten anything right."

In that parallel universe, it would be possible to gather input from every single educator and look for trends and consensus far beyond anything ever imagined by the most ambitious strategic planning steering comittee. In that parallel universe, the power of technology would have erased all the logistical issues involved in convening a meeting of every teacher in the country. In that parallel universe, the sheer massive number of viewpoints sampled would reduce cranks and outliers to insignificant noise, no matter how loud they barked.

But of course, all that is also possible in this universe. It's not even particularly expensive-- the Pennsylvania website reportedly cost about $250,000 (roughly what the Gates Foundation spends on postage).

The Founding Fathers of Corelandia could have done this. They just didn't want to.

I don't know what exactly will become of the Pennsylvania feedback. It may be that someone in Harrisburg will sit in an office and throw out all feedback that doesn't match what they intend to do anyway. The feedback form may link directly to a central auto-delete function. The feedback data may be converted into pattern printers in some Chinese party hat factory. That's a conversation for another day.

The important fact here is that we know how to do this. We know how to crowdsource the standards. Granted, there's nobody actually in charge of the Common Core right now. And it no longer matters that we could have done this-- but didn't. We could do it now, today. The Core is in critical condition. Gentlemen, we can rebuild it. We have the technology.

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