Feb 05, 2015 - 9:00am

Reagan Education Secretary: “There's a tremendous amount of misinformation about Common Core”

Senior Manager, Communications, Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

This post originally appeared on the U.S. Chamber Foundation's blog.

If you were too busy prepping for the big game on Sunday to watch the morning talk shows, you missed an insightful debate by two conservatives on the Common Core State Standards. Now, it didn’t have the fireworks that Katy Perry’s halftime show provided or a jaw-dropping , “I don’t believe it!” moment like the last-second interception on the goal line did, but the debate between former U.S. Secretary of Education Bill Bennett and current Texas Governor Greg Abbott showcased some lively back and forth.

In one corner, Secretary Bennett, a supporter of the standards, argued that Common Core simply, “are state standards for math and reading by grade. That’s all they are.” 

In the other corner, Governor Abbott, a critic of Common Core, was firm in his belief that “we're dealing with a one-size-fits-all national standard being pushed down from the top, from the Obama administration.”

Two great conservatives. Two different takes on Common Core. The question  is, who’s right?

The answer? Secretary Bennett.

Unfortunately, Governor Abbott relies on the usual myths about Common Core as the basis for his arguments. Let’s address his quote above. The standards in reading and math are hardly a “one-size-fits-all” national standard being pushed by the Obama administration. In fact, as Secretary Bennett said, they were developed locally and administered locally.

If they were being directed by Washington, usurping local control, then why is it that Texas doesn’t have Common Core? As Secretary Bennett rightfully pointed out, “You just said you want local control. You’ve got local control. You decided Common Core won’t be in Texas, so it’s not in Texas.”

If Common Core was a federal mandate, then wouldn’t ALL states be required to implement the standards? They aren’t and they don’t.

Let’s examine another point made by Governor Abbott. The governor criticizes Common Core by addressing the way math is being taught in many classrooms. “When you plug in ‘nine plus six Common Core’ in Google, you'll find it’s going to take you more than a minute to see how a teacher teaches a student to learn how to add nine plus six,” said Abbott.

But there is a reason for this. Teaching different ways to answer a math problem eliminates simply memorizing rules and helps students understand why they got an answer. Don’t worry, teachers are still teaching math the way you and I learned it. But, they are also teaching students to problem solve and learn other ways to arrive at the same answer. This helps kids develop a deeper understanding and apply this type of thinking throughout their lives. Essentially, it ‘makes math make sense.’

Ironically, as University of Arizona mathematics professor Bill McCallum points out, "Texas follows exactly the same progression at exactly the same grade levels. And for good reason: math is math whatever state you are in."

Governor Abbott also says that Common Core “violates the four core principles of education: parental involvement, excellent teachers, student engagement, and adaptability for the uniqueness of each particular student.”

Regrettably, he doesn’t provide any evidence of this.

Is the governor saying that the standards demand there be no parental involvement? Do the standards say that they must be taught by mediocre teachers without any student engagement? 

Of course not.

To rebut, Secretary Bennett said, “I’ve been for those principles since before Governor Abbott was born.”

To settle this debate, Secretary Bennett encourages viewers to read the standards for themselves to decide. 

“Here’s what the audience can do—download the standards themselves,” said Bennett. “Not what someone said the standards were. Not what Google reported. Not what some citizens group decided was Common Core, but the actual standards themselves.”

Which brings me to a key question to ask yourself. Did you ever notice how Common Core opponents NEVER ask you to read the standards for yourself to decide? They always want you to take their word for it.

I recommend reading the standards.  Then you can make up your own mind. 

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About the Author

Mark D'Alessio
Senior Manager, Communications, Education and Workforce, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation

D’Alessio manages all aspects of the program’s communications, including the website, blog, social media, marketing, internal communications, and strategy to promote the Center for Education and Workforce's initiatives.