While in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Wednesday, former Reagan Secretary of Education Bill Bennett put out what was described as the “Conservative Case for Common Core,” he admitted he is paid by a lobbying firm for his continued work in support of the controversial standards.
Bennett’s admission, reported by Politico, that the public relations, lobbying, and business consulting firm DCI Group paid him to write the op-ed perhaps explains why it doesn’t sound much like the writing of the Reagan appointee who agreed with his president that there was no real necessity for a federal Department of Education.
But not only does Bennett not adhere to true conservative principles in his piece, he also doesn’t seem to know much about the Common Core standards that he’s being paid to sell to the American people.
For starters, Bennett writes to conservatives, “First, we can all agree that there is a need for common standards of assessment in K-12 education.”
Apparently out of touch with “we, the people,” if Bennett is a “conservative,” he would know that most of them believe the individual states, and not the federal government, should decide their own education standards.
Neal McCluskey, writing at Cato, responds as well that Bennett provides no evidence that “we” can “all agree” on the need for common standards.
“[E]ven loaded polling questions find that only about two-thirds of Americans support generic standards ‘that are the same across states,'” writes McCluskey. “And I, for one, think there needs to be competing standards in order to see what works, what works better, and what works for different subsets of the unique individuals we call ‘children.'”
As evidence of why the Common Core standards have a basis in conservative philosophy, Bennett writes:
When I was chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities in the 1980s, I asked 250 people across the political spectrum what 10 books every student should be familiar with by the time they finish high school. Almost every person agreed on five vital sources: the Bible, Shakespeare, America’s founding documents, the great American novel “Huckleberry Finn” and classical works of mythology and poetry, like the Iliad and the Odyssey.
“That’s the fundamental idea behind a core curriculum: preserving and emphasizing what’s essential, in fields like literature and math, to a worthwhile education,” he continues. “It is also, by the way, a conservative idea.”
Sorry, but the Common Core ELA standards don’t include those readings thought to be essential by Bennett’s survey participants. After citing these “vital” books, however, Bennett then goes on to say, “a myth persists that Common Core involves a required reading list. Not so.”
So, which is it? Bennett believes the Bible, Huck Finn, and classical literature are “vital” books that should be “common” experience for American students, but then asserts as a Common Core “plus,” that there is no “required reading list?” McCluskey writes:
Here we see a basic problem for Core supporters: they want the public to believe either that the Core is rich and rigorous, or that it is empty and just a floor, depending, it seems, on whom they are trying to convince to support it. So in one breath they’ll talk about the obvious need for core content, and in the next they’ll protest if anyone says the standards have, well, core content. This may be because there actually is no unanimous agreement on what students should read.
Regarding Bennett’s “common knowledge” argument, Peter Wood, writing at Minding the Campus, points out that Bennett makes the mistake of proceeding “as though ‘common knowledge’ and ‘The Common Core’ are one and the same. They’re not.”
Wood says a true “core curriculum” does focus on what’s “essential,” rather than on what’s incidental, but notes, “that doesn’t mean that everything that hoists the flag of ‘core curriculum’ really is ‘core curriculum.'”
“Look around American higher education today, and you can barely help crashing into ‘core curricula’ that are barely distinguishable from swarms of intellectual gnats,” Wood points out.
In Politico Bennett is cited as responding to critics that he was merely suggesting that such literature makes up the “intellectual roots” of the Common Core, but that curriculum or required reading lists are “a decision that ought to be made at the local level.”
Bennett seems to be either just towing the pro-Common Core line (that’s his paid job), or doesn’t understand the Common Core 101 connection between the Core and the textbooks and the testing. Students will take Common Core-aligned multi-state standardized, federally-funded tests, and their school districts have chosen Common Core-aligned textbooks and instructional materials that tell them what they will read and learn in order to pass the consortia’s tests.
Unfortunately, Bennett’s piece is steeped in the same old, same old pro-Common Core talking points.
“Governors, state education administrators and teachers used these principles as a guide when they developed a set of common standards that were later presented to the country as Common Core,” he writes. “Forty-five states signed up originally.”
Critics accused President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan of dangling federal money to encourage states to adopt the Common Core. The administration never should have done this. It made a voluntary agreement among states look like a top-down directive from the federal government. But remember: The original Common Core standards were separate from the federal government, and they can be separated once again.
“Let’s be clear: States adopted the Core, in the vast majority of cases, only after the federal government all but said they had to in order to compete for $4 billion in Race to the Top money,” writes McCluskey. “Federal force was further applied by the No Child Left Behind waiver program. And all this occurred in the context of federally driven standards and testing since at least 1994.”
Additionally, the Obama administration did in fact lure states into the Common Core standards with promises of money and freedom from federal restrictions, and those who developed and hoped to implement the controversial standards wanted that incentivization as part of the deal.
Perhaps the statement in Bennett’s piece that suggests the least amount of integrity is the following:
Call it Common Core or call it something else, as Arizona has done by renaming its standards “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards,” but public schools should have high standards based on a core curriculum that is aligned with tests that are comparable across state lines.
Is Bennett advising deception of the American people? The parents, teachers, and activists who have fought hard against the Common Core for the past several years have educated themselves about the standards and how they came to be adopted by most of the states. There’s no doubt favorability of the Core is plummeting, and Bennett appears to be suggesting that putting lipstick on the pig will make it all look good.
Perhaps Bennett is earning a lot of money for promoting the Common Core standards, but he sure isn’t bringing “conservatives” into the fold with his thinking.