"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Thursday, August 1, 2013

Common Core: The Ultimate "Nudging" in Education. This "Nudging" Extends to other Federal Agencies.

Do you want to take this Common Core trip?  Unfortunately, this isn't a comedy that you can walk away from.

The Missouri Commissioner of Education in her Race to the Top 2009 application was either
  • a visionary
  • a follower of a governmental blueprint
  • a travel agent booking an exotic trip 
Why am I so concerned about Common Core standards and want others to know what is in store for their children and local school districts?  I read Missouri's first Race to the Top proposal in which our commissioner praised Cass Sunstein's book "Nudge".  She highlighted its importance in her educational vision for Missouri schools.  Her vision created fear and dread that has stayed with me the last 3 1/2 years.  From Remember Missouri's Education Commissioner's Love for Cass Sunstein?:

Who could forget Commissioner Chris Nicastro's admiration of Cass Sunstein as noted in Missouri's first Race to the Top application?  From ed.gov and the Missouri application (pg 9):

Core Student Learning and Outcomes Goals
The Race to the Top has provided an unprecedented opportunity for Missouri to bring its citizens together, to identify common goals and to develop a plan for a decade of educational reform designed to give Missouri’s children a competitive edge in tomorrow’s international competition. Our vision for reform embraces the notion advanced in the book, Nudge, where Thaler and Sunstein outline the need for "choice architects" to subtly steer choices toward positive results while leaving people, districts and schools "free to choose".  We know that if Missouri’s public schools are to be the best choice for our citizens, they must produce the best results. This Race to the Top competition has provided the "nudge" Missouri needed to pick up the pace.
Missouri Education Chris Nicastro based her proposal to Race to the Top on this theory; perhaps she is employing the current theory present throughout all the government entities; schools, the EPA, the Department of Education and the State Department. Here's an excerpt from the book's review:

Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.

Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful “choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice. 
From Nicastro's own words in the application process: her vision of reform is based on  the theories in Nudge (rather than the Constitution).  Missouri didn't win RTTT money but we sure got stuck with its mandates (such as Common Core State (sic) Standards) when Nicastro signed on to the ESEA waiver. 

Why would parents, taxpayers, legislators, teachers and principals accept such "nudging" and "choice architects" nonsense from an appointed bureaucrat?  "Free to choose"?  What kind of psychobabble is this?  Free to choose WHAT?  Schools can't choose their assessments nor modify standards.  Nicastro will tell you schools can choose their own curriculum, but since the curriculum must be aligned to the standards, that's a hollow "choice".

Since when did Americans have to be nudged (by a private/public partnership) to make decisions on how to live their lives and run their schools?  I thought that's why the revolutionaries fought to relieve themselves of monarchy rule.  This accepted belief of elitist thinking and policy from the highest educational office in Missouri should cause everyone to look closely at our state educational agency and reject this line of thought.  (Legislators, please take note).

It has now been confirmed in writing by a White House senior advisor that Americans require "choice architects" to live their lives.  This "nudging" is to occur in most federal agencies.  From Gov't Knows Best? White House creates 'nudge squad' to shape behavior:

The federal government is hiring what it calls a "Behavioral Insights Team" that will look for ways to subtly influence people's behavior, according to a document describing the program obtained by FoxNews.com. Critics warn there could be unintended consequences to such policies, while supporters say the team could make government and society more efficient.

While the program is still in its early stages, the document shows the White House is already working on such projects with almost a dozen federal departments and agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture. 

"Behavioral sciences can be used to help design public policies that work better, cost less, and help people to achieve their goals," reads the government document describing the program, which goes on to call for applicants to apply for positions on the team.

The document was emailed by Maya Shankar, a White House senior adviser on social and behavioral sciences, to a university professor with the request that it be distributed to people interested in joining the team. The idea is that the team would "experiment" with various techniques, with the goal of tweaking behavior so people do everything from saving more for retirement to saving more in energy costs.

The government document can be found here.  What "nudging" is needed in education by the Department of Education?  

  • Increasing college enrollment and retention: Providing streamlined personal assistance on the FAFSA form (e.g., pre-populating forms using tax return data and following up with a personal call) to low or moderate income individuals resulted in a 29% greater likelihood of their attending college for two consecutive years.
  •  Improving academic performance: Students taught to view their intelligence as a “muscle” that can grow with hard work and perseverance (as compared to a “fixed trait”, such as eye-color) experienced academic boosts of ½ a letter grade, with the largest effects often seen for low-performing students, students of color, or females in STEM-related courses.
The USDOEd needs to nudge people to go to college and view intelligence as a "muscle".  In essence:
  • the government is nudging people to probably borrow money from the Federal Government to attend college to obtain some sort of degree....with no available jobs since the private sector is tapped out having to pay for governmental regulations
  • the government is encouraging students to study harder (your brain is a muscle and innate intelligence is unimportant) and their grades are improved a  1/2 letter which will apparently make them more successful for STEM-related courses (which, by the way, there is a shortage of jobs and an excess of qualified job seekers)
When will the government leave us alone and let us fail or succeed as we see fit?  Are we such victims in this country that we are incapable of making our own decisions without government intrusion?   When did we become the serfs and the Federal government became our overlord?

Richard Thaler (co-writer on "Nudge") loves the nanny involvement but others understand the dependence fostered by "nudging" and loss of free will and freedom:

Richard Thaler told FoxNews.com that the new program sounds good.

"I don't know who those people are who would not want such a program, but they must either be misinformed or misguided," he said.

"The goal is to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government by using scientifically collected evidence to inform policy designs. What is the alternative? The only alternatives I know are hunches, tradition, and ideology (either left or right.)"

But some economists urge caution.

"I am very skeptical of a team promoting nudge policies," Michael Thomas, an economist at Utah State University, told FoxNews.com.

"Ultimately, nudging ... assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices than the individuals making them."

This last sentence is the explanation of Common Core standards.  What Mr. Thaler assumes and takes as a constitutional power is that the Federal government's role is to set policy for education. This is an erroneous assumption and he can count me among the many citizens who indeed are not "misinformed" or "misguided" on the increasing and unconstitutional "nudging" by the Department of Education.  

Commissioner Nicastro believes "nudging" is the road to travel and Missouri schools should happily implement the educational reform of Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, David Coleman.  Maybe she should apply for a job as a chief "nudger" or travel agent to steer others toward her vision of education:

It is likely that selected individuals will serve on a temporary detail under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act before returning to their home organization, which can be a university, non-profit, or state and local government.

The trip she has planned for Missouri children is a trip that has never been tried before (not based on best educational practice/field testing), the itinerary was never reviewed by the travelers (the taxpayers, students, teachers and legislators), the cost is unknown and the destination is theoretical.  This a trip I would give 0 stars on tripadvisor.com.  


  1. "Ultimately, nudging ... assumes a small group of people in government know better about choices than the individuals making them." This is the key problem with nudging. People are being nudged towards a particular choice which means someone has already determined the choice they want others to make. The arrogance inherent in this statement is obvious, but unlike the standards there is plenty of evidence that a system based on nudging will fail. We have years of evidence from a failed soviet system which applied their best minds towards solving these same problems with miserable results.


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