More Speak Out on Common Core

As promised, Hugh Hewitt spent most of last week discussing Common Core on his radio show. He did it because “I go out on the road with Dennis Prager and my other friends, people approach the microphone and they are on fire to talk about the Common Core and I don’t know what to say, because core education has always been something that conservatives have believed in, but the Common Core has burned through the tea party.”

His five interviews reveal some interesting points by both sides. I have picked out the ones that stood out, but you can read the full transcripts yourself at hughhewitt.com.

First, Hewitt talked to Jay Matthews of the Washington Post. He has a new book coming out called “Raising the Average” which discusses our education problems.

What he concludes in the interview is that in the end, it’s the teacher who matters, much more than curriculum or standards.

I respect and admire the people who put the Common Core together. I think they are very well intended. I just don’t think it’s going to work.

It’s very difficult to take teachers who are not good teachers and give them a curriculum and that makes them into good teachers. You have to have people who have sensitivity and the energy to see how kids learn and to take them places in the direction that they want to. It’s very hard to see how this is going to change the sort of level of teaching we have simply by handing people a list of standards.

We have yet no data to show that adding technology to classroom in the form of web assisted, computer assisted lessons raises achievement for kids.

Matthews likes KIPP and sees it as a good alternative:

It now has 125 schools in 20 states in the District of Columbia. It is the marker for just about every education reform we can see now. Their kids are getting into college in great numbers. They’ve spread, introduced elementary schools and high schools, and at every stretch you see them looking for ways with their kids that can do even better than they were even doing before. This is what happens when you put our best teachers together and say, okay, your job is just to get those kids up anyway that makes sense to you that works.

A big proponent of Common Core, Patricia Levesque, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Her responses were wishy washy and unconvincing.

Hewitt began:

Patricia Levesque, one of the arguments that I’ve discovered this week is that many conservative activists are afraid that the Department of Education is going to be using the Common Core enrollment process to data mine local district information on students. What do you say to that?

PL: Well, I say parents need to be the joint now and they need to be diligent in the future to make sure that that doesn’t happen. The federal government should not be taking students private personal information and using it for any reason as far as I’m concerned, but Common Core, the data still stays at the state level. It’s the states that run accountability systems now. It’s the states that will be responsible for controlling and reflect—protecting that data in the future.

Levesque called the data mining aspect of Common Core an “urban myth”. She says it won’t happen via Common Core and admonishes parents to participate in their local school boards and monitor what they do.

Her opponent, Emmett McGroarty with the American Principles Project, disagreed.

Well, first of all, the proponents and the developers of the Common Core say that this is a state led process and that’s not true. This is a process that was engineered and funded by private interests, most notably the Gates Foundation, and it’s something that was developed and pushed by private trade associations, particularly the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Those sound like state entities, but they’re not. They are privately incorporated and they receive private money to push certain agenda. They don’t have a grant of authority from any state legislature. Governor’s participating them as individuals, um, so they own the Common Core.

He bristled that states have to swallow the whole thing and in so doing, have given up large swaths of education policy decision making.

The Common Core is highly defective. In short, with English Language Arts what you have is a greater emphasis on dry informational text in place of classic literature. In math it ushers in fuzzy math which delays the learning progression, causes the Common Core to jettison important concepts like prime factorization and conversions among fractions, decimals and percents. It delays the learning progression so that by 8th grade, according to Professor James Milgram of Stanford, Common Core students would be about 2 years behind their piers in high performing countries. He says it only gets worst after that.”

McGroarty urges that we don’t need a monopoly of mediocre standards.

As a former Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett’s basic caveat to parents is to read the details.

Forty-five states have signed up saying they want to do it. However, there has been some contamination of the process. The federal government has got its big foot into it. Um, there’s been big money made available to people in the states, something called “race to the top” if they subscribe to the Common Core, and some of the work that’s been done particularly in the science standards and the history standards does not look so good. So, there is now a very popular rebellion, a lot of our folks, tea party folks who say no, no, heck no, we won’t do this.

Should the federal government be getting behind this? Should it be incentivizing people to do this? What kind of intrusions under the curriculum would the federal government make? That’s the kind of worries that people have.
In Massachusetts you’d be trading down.

One of the governors who pushed Common Core, Jeb Bush, acknowledges some of the flaws of it, but tries to dance around the issue.

The curriculum, this is why people get all riled up and legitimately so. They are told that this, this will be a national curriculum. In fact, standards are different than curriculum, and that where I think the biggest misnomer is where people legitimately get concerned. I would be concerned if we had a national curriculum influenced by the federal government. My God, I’d break out in a rash.

the science standards has just come out. We don’t, the foundation that I had doesn’t have an opinion on the science standards. There are mixed feelings about that. The standards that are developed today at their fullest are, and the ones that will be driving its excellence, are language arts, reading in effect and math. And I think in both those cases, given the fact that curriculum is established, developed at the local level, um, that having these higher standards is really critical

There’s no federal data base in the sky somewhere that we’re these people are going to be mining information that jeopardizes the American families.

Marco Rubio, also of Florida,

The problem is that since then, the Department of Education has been using it as a hammer over states, telling states that if they want to waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act they have to follow Common Core. If they want, if their funding could potentially be one day be tied to Common Core and that’s where I have a problem because the federal government never knows when to stop. When (it) starts taking, it never gives back and, quite frankly, I don’t think we need a National School Board. I think that we have local school boards for a reason because that’s where parents can most influence the process and get good results. So, my problem is now the way it’s being used is not the way it was ever intended to be used. It’s the sort of national requirement or some national platform of template that the U.S. Department of Education now uses to get states to do what they want them to do.

Well, I think the goals are best defined at the state and local level because every state is going to want to a curriculum that perhaps is more sensitive to the industries in that state or to what the learning needs are in that state vis-a-vie and other places and, by the way, it drives competition. I mean one of the good things about having 50 states is that they compete with each other and that drives quality and education is an example. The problem is, like any other endeavor, once you wrote in the Department of Education and they start telling states if you want a waiver from No Child Left Behind, we’re going to want you to do this and they point to one central and identifiable document that applies to the whole country, that’s where you put yourself in a position now where the federal government is doing something that is never intended to be a part of. So, I think the goal of curriculum reform is still a noble one. I think it’s best done at the local level. If a group of national leaders want to get together and make suggestions, there’s no problem with that. But once the Department of Education starts using those suggestions as a requirement of getting waivers or funding or what have you, then that becomes problematic.

Hewitt’s analysis of all this leads him to several conclusions:

Common Core is a well-intended effort at school reform, aimed at building an achievement standard floor on which all American public education is expected to stand.

Common Core is perceived as a dumbed-down “ceiling” by some, an ideological imposition of federal standards by others, and an ideological exercise by many.

Political momentum against the Common Core is large and growing at an almost exponential rate. Proponents of the Core set out to persuade elites, not parents and activists, and this has created widespread suspicion among groups used to being excluded from policy making and already feeling as though policy makers are insulated from voters.

The overreach of the Obama Administration is greatly resented and Common Core is seen as a part of that overreach. Tying adoption of the Common Core to federal education dollars is understood to be blackmail of the standard D.C. type, and not unlike the attempted jam down of Medicaid expansion via Obamacare which the Supreme Court struck down even as it upheld the individual mandate in the summer of 2012.

There are “big data” implications of the Common Core, and in this environment of sudden and widespread hostility to the collection of data which could possibly be misused by government in the future, the reality of the vast collection of data on students is hitting at exactly the wrong time for pro-Common Core forces.

There is a whole lot of money being made via the adaptation of the Common Core, just as any enormous government program creates wealth among those provided mandated services, testing and supervision. Opponents of the Common Core have begun to “follow the money” and the MSM will not be far behind.

There is very little upside and enormous downside for center-right politicians to be pro-Common Core. Education reform is a huge issue on the center-right, and there are many causes to promote such as charter public schools. Candidates seeking to attract pro-reform votes can do so by singling out many reforms other than the Common Core, support for which –fairly or unfairly– will in fact cost them votes.

There is very little political upside for Common Core as teachers’ union are at best ambivalent about it. Many fine teachers who have emailed or called me this week strongly support Common Core reform, but the political realities are heavily stacked against the innovation.

Local school board members and administrators should be prepared to pause and listen to criticism as the anti-Core movement spreads, and not to react defensively to it, even if the local district is responding to state mandate. Rather, every district that can do so should stress that the Core is a floor, and that its ceiling is going to be much, much higher, and that its children’s data will not be shared if it has anything to say about it.

Common Core proponents had better huddle quickly and develop a systematic, wide-spread and responsive outreach to Core opponents or the work they have done will be undone, and quickly. It won’t be long until “Sweeps Weeks” find the right viewer demographic with “Is the Common Core Dumbing Down Your Kid?” One of the key charges of the anti-Core folks, for example, is that algebra is being moved from the 8th grade to the 9th grade. I don’t know if that is true, or if true, if it is a good thing, a bad thing, or a “it depends” thing, but the conflict is going to make for great television, and pro-Core people have to defend a change that has nameless, faceless Washington D.C. bureaucrats dictating via the purse what must be taught, and collecting data on kids.

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