Many years ago, ten years ago to be exact, a legend began. It was whispered to citizens of Delaware through the years but nobody ever knew if it was true. When people would try to find out the truth, they were met with half-truths or outright denials. This is the story, unverified with any credible source, and how I heard it from a stoned DOE employee at Firefly one summer.
One Christmas Eve, Delaware Treasurer Jack Markell and Rodel CEO Paul Herdman met at a tavern. Markell wanted more from his political career, and Herdman had just been given a lofty position at Rodel. They were both at a crossroads in their careers, and they decided to vent to each other. This is the conversation that has passed down from teachers to students, from hedge fund managers to investors, from Comcast ticket vendors to charter school superintendents.
Jack: I don’t know what to do Paul. I’ve been treasurer for years, and it’s all about the money.
Paul: Uh, yeah Jack, it kind of is.
Now Jack had arrived early at the tavern, and started drinking hours earlier. By the time Paul got there, Jack was already three sheets to the wind.
Jack: I want to make my mark on Delaware. I want to go down in history, like Santa.
Paul: I’m glad you mentioned that Jack, because I have a vision.
Jack: You’re from the future? You know what’s going to happen?
Paul thought about it, and realized he could take advantage of this.
Paul: Yes I am from the future, and yes, I know what will happen with you Jack. What if I told you me and some friends of mine have a 20 year plan to take over education, not only in Delaware, but across the whole country? We are meeting in a few weeks to get things going.
Jack: Just don’t make it on Minner’s inauguration. I have to go. Your friends, are they from the future too?
Paul: Yes, they are Jack. Say, do you want another drink?
Jack: Oh yes Paul, I would. Thank you Paul.
Paul shrugged and ordered another Zima for Jack.
Paul: You know this No Child Behind crap they’ve been peddling from D.C.?
Jack: Whose child got left behind? Was this at Safeway?
Paul: No Jack, all the kids. They deserve better in our schools. What if I told you we can all become rich? You, me, my buddies? What if I told you we can bust the teachers unions, get cheap teachers fresh out of college, make kids take tests that make absolutely no sense, and you could be Governor one day? All we have to do is make LOTS of charter schools.
Jack: But what happened to the kids at Safeway?
At this point, Paul realized Jack was incapable of fully understanding what the hell he was talking about. He decided to get Jack some dinner rolls to soak up some of the Zima that was poisoning his mind. Paul couldn’t figure out how much bread Jack would need to do the job.
Paul: Jack, you’re a numbers man. How much bread would it take to get you sober?
Jack: If you take a whole loaf, divide it by 20, but only in groups of 4 and then add 5, that should tell you what year it was made.
Paul snickered in his mind. This was exactly the kind of math his cabal wanted to get out there. It made no sense at all, but they could brainwash parents into thinking this was what kids need to know for college and to compete against kids from China. Paul ordered the bread, and after hours of talk about Safeway, and comparing it to Acme and Redners, Jack began to sober up a bit.
Jack: Did you say something about Governor Markell earlier?
Paul: Yes I did Jack. The 2008 election is a ways off, but we can plant the seeds now. Like I said earlier, I have a vision…
Jack: Cause you’re from the future, right?
Obviously Jack was still on the tipsy side, but not fully immersed in complete drunken foolery. His mind was like play dough now, and Paul knew he had him.
Paul: Yes Jack, I’m from 2025. All you have to do is do everything I tell you to do, and you will become a very important man.
Jack: Woah, you’re the vision man! Like the Avenger. But from the future. No matter what year we get to, you’ll know what’s going to happen. Vision 2012 Man, Vision 2015 Man! The education man! Future boy! Ed25 man!
Paul: Those are great names Jack, but you are the public face. You will lead the charge for education reform in this state. We’ve been playing around with names for this new “reform”. We’ve come up with Common Standards, Core Basics, and Education Vision. What do you think of those?
Jack: You said core. And when I think of education, I think of an apple. And since I will be leading this, why don’t we call it Apple Jacks?
Paul: That’s a great idea Jack, but Apple Jacks is already trademarked.
Jack: Dammit! Let’s get back to the core idea. We need something common, like a common core all kids can get to.
Paul: That’s it Jack! You did it. We’ll call it Common Core! Let’s get a drink!
As Jack got another Zima, Paul sucked down his mimosas. The two were laughing and joking through the night. As the two bonded and hatched their plans, the dynamic duo began slurring words. Meanwhile, Santa Claus was delivering all the presents to the little boys and girls around the world.
Paul: You know what Jack, if you do my bidding, I will make sure you are WELL compensated. I’m going to give you a piece of Rodel. The prize will be yours!
Jack: A piece of what Paul? What did you say?
Paul: A piece of Rodel. A prize.
Jack: Did you say pizza? Chicago has the best pizzas.
Paul: No Jack. I said Rodel. Piece. Prize.
Jack: The Nobel Peace Prize?
Now Paul knew Jack loved to have his ego inflated. So he knew giving Jack something he would never actually get would help his cause. There had to be an end point to Jack’s wild imagination, and what would feed the ego more than the Nobel Peace Prize?
Paul: Yes Jack, you will get the Nobel Peace Prize! It will take a while, and you will need to be very patient. Many will oppose this, but if we get all the right people in the exact positions, we can make sure no one can stop us. We have to present our ideas to the people, make them think it’s the only way to improve schools. When we give these horrible tests to kids, we will use the scores to close down the poorest schools and we’re going to make them charter schools.
Jack: Did you say I have to make charts?
Paul: Yes Jack, lots of charts. Lots of data. You’re good with money, you can handle this.
The two wandered off into the snowy night, and they saw a huge mound of snow the plow had just made.
Paul: I’ve been trying to figure out how to get all the states in on my plan. We have to coerce them into it, and then they have to trick all the school districts. Make them think this plan is their only option.
Jack: Why don’t we just tell them I won’t give them any money if they don’t listen? I can do that you know. I control all the money. My friend Barack from Chicago told me the way Wall Street is going, there might a be a big recession in a few years. His buddy Arne is a master at making people do things. What if we do it then?
Paul: Yes, you’re absolutely right Jack. You are a Zima drinking genius!
Paul got distracted. He thought he saw someone he knew down the street but he couldn’t see too well. He needed a better vantage point.
Paul: Do you see that lady down the street Jack? I know her. We should tell her about my plans. Kendall, is that you down there?
Kendall: Paul, is that you, I can’t see you? Where are you?
Paul and Jack realized the mound was blocking her view.
Jack: How are we going to get over that big pile of snow? We would have to use a lot of rigor to figure out how to get up there. Come on Paul, let’s race to the top!
As Paul ran, he smiled, and thought to himself, “Common Core” “Rigor” “Race To The Top”…
And this was the genesis of the Common Core. Two drunken fools in Delaware, talking out of their arses about something that was so mind-boggling and confusing, with so many layers and levels, it had to work. And the legend was born. In the years since, Jack Markell is still waiting to be picked for the Nobel Peace Prize. He calls his friend Paul every Christmas Eve, and asks him when. Their friendship almost fell apart when Barack Obama received the prize, but Paul assured him it would happen. One day…