The Uncommon Controversy Around "The Common Core"

Hugh Hewitt
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Posted: Aug 01, 2013 9:14 AM
The Uncommon Controversy Around "The Common Core"

A few months ago at one of the many speaking events I do around the country, an earnest questioner asked for my assessment of “the Common Core.”

I confessed then that while I had heard the term and knew generally that it was an education reform sweeping the country, that I was unfamiliar with its particulars. I quickly transitioned to the glories of public charter schools in places like Phoenix where I am on the Board of Great Hearts Academies and knew a bit about the subject matter of the particular education reform initiative I was talking about.

As the months went by and the speaking engagements continued, so did a rising tide of questions and comments on “the Common Core.” Again and again I punted, until an opening in the radio schedule allowed me to devote some serious time to the subject, and to do so by searching out voices both pro-and-con.

That discussion got underway this week, with extended on air talks with former education secretary and my Salem radio Network colleague Dr. Bill Bennett and Washington Post education writer Jay Mathews on Monday, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and current Florida United States Senator Marco Rubio on Tuesday, and Wednesday with Common Core analyst and expert Michael Q. McShane of theAmerican Enterprise Institute.

Transcripts of all of those conversations are posted at the“Transcripts” page at my website, and more conversations and transcripts willfollow Thursday and Friday.

Midway through my first week of digging –and a pile of emails that are overwhelmingly negative—I would say I think the Common Core was a well-intention effort at reform that took off like a rocket, was commandeered by the federal Department of Education with the consequence that it is now perceived as having taken a hard-left and deeply ideological turn to the left.

I stress “perceived,” for there are clearly some places and some cases where this has not happened, but judging from the reaction of activists, “Common Core” is going to end up as popular as the Department of Education and Title IX with center-right education reformers and especially with parents and voters on the Republican side of the red-blue divide.

Proponents of “Common Core” seem to have suddenly woken up to the fact that the set of reforms they helped birth and nurture is suddenly on the brink of a branding that will be next to impossible to reverse absent radical and quick action. A new website, HigherCoreStandards.org has been launched to push out the view that the CommonCore is a vitally needed first step, and the equally crucial message that localschool districts retain control over curriculum and that the Department ofEducation ought not to be allowed to take over the reform effort.

Jeb Bush was particularly blunt with me. The idea of a national curriculum would give him “a rash,” and federal control is a nightmare, but the governor most identified with thorough-going ed reform during his time in office will have to work overtime to engage and persuade the growing chorus of critics on the right.

Some of those critics are the folks who see one-world government lurking behind every telephone poll, but others are savvy critics of big government’s push for big data mining of all federal programs, like the estimable Michelle Malkin. For defenders of the “Common Core” to turn the tide back in its favor, it will have to sit down with the most credentialed of the critics and listen, think and then respond. At a minimum, "Common Core" will have to make the case that these standards of achievement will help guide and energize all teachers, new and old, in the continuing quest to rekindle achievement in our public schools.

This seems to be happening, but does it come too little too late, and if so, what will be lost in the U-Turn away from the “Common Core? “ Watch this space, but not the MSM, which seems, again, to have missed the biggest education reform story of the year.