Memo to 2016 Candidates: How to Debate the Common Core Standards

AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

In a debate with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), radio host and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett showed he has not gained much understanding of the Common Core standards since September, when he admitted he is paid by a lobbying firm to spin the controversial standards to conservatives.

As Breitbart TV reported, Fox News Channel host Chris Wallace asked the two men to present their views on the education initiative that is sure to be a major issue of the 2016 presidential campaign.

Still hawking pro-Common Core talking points, such as “Common Core is just standards,” and mocking opponents of the initiative as evil oddballs, Bennett said:

Common Core’s been vilified. … A whole mythology is built up around Common Core. Common Core are state standards for math and reading by grade. That’s all they are. Anybody who questions what they are should read what the standards say. And they say such tendentious things as kids should fix on arithmetic in the early grades, learn how to count, multiply, divide and subtract. In reading they should emphasize phonics, the meaning of words, and good, clear expression.

Switching to Abbott, Wallace seemed to be adopting the pro-Common Core position with his transitional phrase, “Gov. Abbott, there’s another myth about this. Contrary to widespread public belief, this program wasn’t started in Washington; in fact, it was started by the nation’s governors and the nation’s state education chiefs.”

For his part, Abbott mostly said Common Core is bad for the country because governors who bought into it now have “buyers’ remorse.” Not a very cogent argument for a conservative governor who should be able to articulate why the now tired talking point that Common Core “is just standards” is one of the largest “myths” on the entire subject.

Ze’ev Wurman, a visiting scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and former senior policy adviser with the U.S. Department of Education, told Breitbart News that both Bennett and Abbott engaged in talking points and clichés, rather than deepening viewers’ knowledge about the Common Core.

“Abbott did not articulate the real problems with Common Core, other than point to the fact that states themselves are rebelling,” Wurman said, “and, as a result, Bennett came across more convincing because of Abbott’s lack of detailed knowledge to rebut.”

“When Bennett argued that Common Core is not a federal program because it was started by ‘local’ states and governors,” he continued, “Abbott should have pointed out that the National Governors Association (NGA), education nonprofit Achieve, and millions of dollars from the Gates Foundation are not the same as ‘local states.’”

Wurman also observed that Abbott failed to argue Bennett’s point that, without Common Core, individual states have no way to measure their education progress.

“That is what the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been doing for over 25 years,” Wurman noted. “In fact, NAEP is what allowed Bennett long ago to observe that some states have higher expectations and some have lower. Yet, this is their right – and NAEP already informs us which is which.”

“So, Common Core is nothing but an effort to force every state to jump the centrally set bar,” he added. “Nothing ‘local’ about it.”

Wurman explained that while the federal government did not write the actual Common Core standards, it did fund the assessments that would ultimately “police the states to walk the Common Core line.”

“And the feds have a standing committee to review the assessments, and the power to object if they don’t like what they see,” he observed.

“To say the Common Core is ‘just standards’ is to ignore also their many specific deficiencies that dictate pedagogy, so Bennett was indeed not challenged by Abbott on those words,” Wurman said.

Similarly, Kirsten Lombard, editor of Common Ground on Common Core: Voices from across the Political Spectrum Expose the Realities of the Common Core State Standards (available at, observes that it is precisely because of the federally funded interstate test consortia–Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia (SBAC) and Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)–that Common Core is not “just standards.”

“SBAC [or PARCC] assessments are the enforcement mechanism for the Common Core standards,” Lombard told Breitbart News. “Using SBAC [or PARCC] consequently ensures that the standards will drive curriculum. It’s a closed loop.”

“When you look at the standards themselves, they’re not just telling you what students need to know, but how they need to know it; there’s a definite approach embedded in the standards, and that’s why they’re not ‘just standards,'” she added.

It’s not unusual to hear people who call themselves “conservatives”–including Jeb Bush and Bill Bennett–pitching the pro-Common Core talking points. But what if true conservatives actually study up on the reasons why Common Core is bad for America’s children, parents, and teachers?

And what if members of the media actually started asking the tough questions of pro-Common Core guests, such as “Why don’t you show us the independent research that’s been done to prove Common Core is more ‘rigorous’ than any other standards?” (Hint: There is none).

As it turns out, grassroots parents and teachers are light years ahead of media “talking points” debates.

Last June, Louisiana anti-Common Core grassroots activist Anna Arthurs could not have explained it better when she commented to Breitbart News, “Proponents of the Common Core initiative try to deny a federal overreach into education. However, this overreach is undeniable with PARCC (and SBAC) testing.”

“The federal government exclusively funds the test consortia. It provides curriculum frameworks to assist teachers in curriculum development. This is in direct violation of the General Education Provisions Act,” Arthurs continued. “In the cooperative agreement between the U.S. Department of Education and PARCC member states, it mandates that the participating states ‘make student-level data that results from the assessment system available on an ongoing basis.’”

“Since teachers are forced to ‘teach to the test’ with high-stakes assessments, the federal government will have more control over the resulting curriculum than the local school districts,” she concluded.


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