Can't We Fight About The Policy?

As you know, I love everybody.

And I usually don't like to complain about anything that causes a good political scuffle. But for cripes sakes, when you get handed a policy difference please understand that you can either have a policy debate, or you can accuse someone of corruption. When you do the latter -- when you ask the Attorney General to investigate, for example -- you kinda toss the policy debate out the window.

I'm talking to you, Charlie Baker, Richard Tisei, and other Massachusetts Republicans.

The Massachusetts Education Commissioner has recommended that the state adopt new "Common Core" standards -- proclaiming that those standards are as good or better than the current MCAS standards. This is the end of a long nationally-watched process to see if Massachusetts was going to be too snooty to join in the Common Core thing; the state lost out in the first round of Race To The Top funds, in part, because the state hadn't yet committed to adopting them. For Massachusetts to have a better chance in the second RTTT round, I am informed by an Ed Dept spokesperson, the state would need to adopt Common Core by an August 2 deadline. The final version of the proposed Massachusetts version of the standards was sent to the Commish in June; there was a period of public comment; and that brings us to the Commish's recommendation, and a Board meeting tomorrow for a final vote to adopt.

This could be the opportunity for a legitimate policy debate, over whether the Common Core standards really are better, or whether they represent a risk of stepping backward from MCAS -- as, for instance, former senate president Tom Birmingham argues. Good debate; good opportunity to fight over who wants to do best by the children.

You can even make up bogus claims about how this policy will lead to the elimination of the MCAS graduation requirement; I've seen policy arguments go in similarly dubious directions many times before. 

But Baker and Tisei, along with other state Republicans, are claiming that Governor Patrick adopted this new policy as a quid pro quo in exchange for the endorsement of the Massachusetts Teachers Association -- an endorsement that was voted on by the MTA board earlier last week and was a surprise to just about nobody.

This is such a ludicrous contention that I honestly thought I misunderstood it. But no. In fact, the Associated Press has reported -- and the Baker-Tisei campaign verified for me -- that Tisei has asked Attorney General Martha Coakley's office to investigate, specifically requesting that the AG's office procure emails from Patrick's staff and search for anything that might show a connection between the MTA endorsement and the Commissioner's decision.

I'm sure there are emails somewhere about many things that the MTA has wanted from this administration, but I can't imagine that this would be one of of them -- I've checked with a few people who I believe would know, and they tell me that the MTA has no particular interest one way or another in whether the state adopts Common Core. Pretty much the only effect the change would have on teachers would be that some of them might have to adapt some slight changes to their curriculum -- not something they usually lobby for, let alone base their endorsement on, above-board or in secret emails.

Seriously, does anybody think that A) Patrick needed to buy the MTA's endorsement in this race, or that B) THIS would be the quo the MTA would demand?

If you told me that the MTA used its endorsement to buy off Patrick's acquiescence on teacher evaluations (the other major reason Massachusetts lost out on RTTT), at least you'd have plausible motive.

As for evidence... Well, I asked the Baker-Tisei spokesperson whether the campaign was aware of any evidence of any kind of this alleged illegal collusion. I mean, Mr. Fiscally Prudent Charlie Baker wouldn't be trying to waste the AG's taxpayer-funded resources on an investigation based on absolutely nothing, right?

No, that's exactly what he was doing. "It doesn't pass the smell test," I was told; "We want to make sure there wasn't anything fishy going on."

Glad to know that the next Governor will consider "the smell test" grounds for an AG investigation. Honestly, guys, I love everybody -- but you make it awfully difficult sometimes.


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