Hillary Clinton on Common Core: ‘I Have Always Supported National Standards’

Hillary Clinton on March 23, 2016 in Stanford, California.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Democrat presidential candidate Hillary Clinton says she has always supported national education standards and that she wants to see the same set of common standards for all public schools across the nation.

“[W]hat I want to do, again, just like you were talking about Common Core and to set some standards, we need to have a common set of standards by which we judge all the schools, all the public schools, traditional, charter, magnet, whatever we call them,” Clinton said during an interview with Newsday about various policy issues.

Clinton adopted the narrative of the national teachers’ unions, the creators of the Common Core initiative, and other education and political elites backing the highly unpopular standards: that only the implementation of the Common Core has been problematic, not the standards themselves or how they originated.

In her discussion about Common Core, Clinton also articulated the false narrative that the standards have been “internationally benchmarked.”

“I have always supported national standards,” she said. “I’ve always believed that we need to have some basis on which to determine whether we’re making progress, vis-à-vis other countries who all have national standards.”

Clinton continued:

I know Common Core started out as a, actually non-partisan, not bi-partisan, a non-partisan effort that was endorsed very much across the political spectrum. Well, you have to ask yourself, what happened? I mean here was this process that seemed to be really on the way of making clear that yes, we have local control, but you parent, you teacher, you elected official in your local district, at your state level, you need to be sure that you are benchmarking to those standards. That’s why we need to have them.

What went wrong? I think the roll-out was disastrous. I think the way they rolled out the Common Core and the expectation you can turn on a dime… They didn’t even have, as I’m told, they didn’t even have the instructional materials ready. They didn’t have any kind of training programs. Remember a lot of states had developed their own standards and they’d been teaching to those standards. And they had a full industry that was training teachers to understand what was going to be tested. And then along comes Common Core and you’re expected to turn on a dime. It was very upsetting to everybody.

Clinton avoided a question about whether Common Core-aligned tests should be used to evaluate teachers. Teacher evaluations based, in part, on students’ performance on the tests was part of the original Common Core “package” states were required to accept in order to qualify for federal Race to the Top grants and waivers from the onerous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Teachers’ unions have now objected to this part of the initiative.

“I don’t think they’re good enough to make that determination,” Clinton sidestepped, pointing to the state of the Common Core-aligned tests.

Asked about parents opting their children out of the state tests, Clinton responded, “We have to do a better job of explaining why a common set of standards is really in the interests of the parents who are opting their kids out.”

“Because remember, it is parents who are opting their kids out,” she added. “And the parents are feeling like what is this about. This doesn’t have anything to do with educating my child. So clearly, we haven’t done a very good job of explaining it.”

Clinton also observed that the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – which replaced NCLB – still requires mandatory state testing.

Pressed about whether she would recommend to her daughter Chelsea that she opt out her child from state tests, Clinton replied, “You know, I would probably take the test, but that would be just without any specifics about what was going on, and what had happened during the year, and I mean without all of that.”

Clinton said the priority of the federal government’s role in education is “how do you teach disadvantaged kids.”

“We have got to have early childhood education, especially starting with low income disadvantaged kids, if we’re going to prepare kids to succeed when they get to elementary school,” she insisted.

Clinton acknowledged during the interview that she has “been involved in the past, not recently, in promoting such an approach” as Common Core. In fact, immediately following Bill Clinton’s election to the presidency in November of 1992, Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE), was involved in the early stages of what would ultimately become the Common Core standards reform.

With Clinton’s presidency secured, Tucker proposed his agenda to the new First Lady in his now well-known “letter to Hillary Clinton:”

I still cannot believe you won. But utter delight that you did pervades all the circles in which I move…

The subject we were discussing was what you and Bill should do now about education, training and labor market policy…

Our purpose in these meetings was to propose concrete actions that the Clinton administration could take — between now and the inauguration, in the first 100 days and beyond. The result, from where I sit, was really exciting. We took a very large leap forward in terms of how to advance the agenda on which you and we have all been working — a practical plan for putting all the major components of the system in place within four years, by the time Bill has to run again.

We think the great opportunity you have is to remold the entire American system for human resources development, almost all of the current components of which were put in place before World War II. The danger is that each of the ideas that Bill advanced in the campaign in the area of education and training could be translated individually in the ordinary course of governing into a legislative proposal and enacted as a program. This is the plan of least resistance. But it will lead to these programs being grafted onto the present system, not to a new system, and the opportunity will have been lost. If this sense of time and place is correct, it is essential that the administration’s efforts be guided by a consistent vision of what it wants to accomplish in the field of human resource development, with respect both to choice of key officials and the program.

Tucker continued with a description of his “vision of the kind of national –not federal – human resources development system the nation could have.”

He wrote:

This is interwoven with a new approach to governing that should inform that vision. What is essential is that we create a seamless web of opportunities, to develop one’s skills that literally extends from cradle to grave and is the same system for everyone — young and old, poor and rich, worker and full-time student. It needs to be a system driven by client needs (not agency regulations or the needs of the organization providing the services), guided by clear standards that define the stages of the system for the people who progress through it, and regulated on the basis of outcomes that providers produce for their clients, not inputs into the system.

As the Eagle Forum observed, Tucker’s plan was implemented in three laws passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1994: the Goals 2000 Act, the School-to-Work Act, and the reauthorized Elementary and Secondary Education Act. These new laws established the following mechanisms to restructure the public schools:

  • Bypass all elected officials on school boards and in state legislatures by making federal funds flow to the Governor and his appointees on workforce development boards.
  • Use a computer database, a.k.a. “a labor market information system,” into which school personnel would scan all information about every schoolchild and his family, identified by the child’s social security number: academic, medical, mental, psychological, behavioral, and interrogations by counselors. The computerized data would be available to the school, the government, and future employers.
  • Use “national standards” and “national testing” to cement national control of tests, assessments, school honors and rewards, financial aid, and the Certificate of Initial Mastery (CIM), which is designed to replace the high school diploma.

Tucker clearly saw Bill and Hillary Clinton’s advance to the White House as the start of the fulfillment of this “school-to-work” initiative, one that is now actively shared by many establishment governors of both parties, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and local state business and industry groups. The Common Core standards and the student data collected through the Common Core-aligned tests will serve as a vehicle to provide big business with a government-guaranteed labor force – a genuine planned economy.

The narrative that the Common Core standards have been “internationally benchmarked” was challenged in March of 2015 in a column at Breitbart News by former U.S. Department of Education senior policy adviser Ze’ev Wurman, who wrote that while some members of the Common Core Validation Committee who supported the standards “signed off on them being ‘comparable to the expectations of other leading nations’ in 2010,” most who did so were education bureaucrats and policy makers.

Wurman continued:

[N]ot all Validation Committee members were willing to attest that the Common Core is, indeed, internationally benchmarked and reflects college readiness. In fact, five of the 29 members declined to sign, even though one would be hard pressed to find any mention of that in the Common Core Validation Report. In fact, the situation is even worse, because among the five who declined to sign were the only two content experts on the committee – all others were education bureaucrats, education researchers, and policy makers. Perhaps the fact that among the 29 members only one was an actual reading expert (Dr. Sandra Stotsky) and only one was an actual mathematician (Dr. R. James Milgram) should have been a warning flag from the beginning.

“Common Core standards were never validated before being published, and every serious piece of research that has analyzed them since found them lacking,” Wurman concluded. “Parents are justified in their complaints about the strange and meaningless homework their children are bringing home, and they should distrust educators who uncritically praise them. More likely than not, those educators themselves have little experience and have been sold a bill of goods by Common Core’s Washington, D.C. promoters.”


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