Grand Old Common Core

, Malcolm A. Kline, 2 Comments

Attempts by the Republican establishment to address educational and cultural issues are never pretty.

They either try a ham-handed, top-down approach to “make things right” or invest prevailing, and often dubious, approaches with a Republican imprimatur. Somewhere between the two is the emotional investment former Republican governors have made in the Obama Administration’s Common Core education reforms.

A quintet of one-time GOP governors was on display on Wednesday, May 21, 2014 at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce to “confront the myths about Common Core.” Leading the five was former Michigan governor John Engler. Engler noted that on a recent international exam, an alarming number of American students missed a question they should have had the correct answer to.

The question was 1/3-1/4=?. The correct answer from a multiple choice menu was 4-3/4×3. That’s true, but to get there you need to do an old-fashioned function: find the common denominator. Thus you have to multiply 1/3×4/4 and 1/4×3/3 to come up with 4/12-3/12.

Governor Engler avoided this crucial step by which generations have arrived at the right answer. Meanwhile, he and his co-panelists dismissed the claims of Common Core opponents that CC math questions frequently border on the inane.

The governors alternately argued that:

  • Attaining the standards and implementing them were separate issues; and
  • Those questions were not part of Common Core, although the ex-governors barely touched on what was in CC.

Governor Engler, meantime, dismissed the Standards of Learning (SOL) exam given students in Virginia as “a pretty useless test.”  For the record, as the parent of three children who have taken the SOLs in Virginia, I would dispute the governor.

For example, the third grade SOLs actually test whether third-graders know their times tables. By way of contrast, the math page on the Common Core mentions trigonometry but not multiplication or division.

Parents such as this writer have begun to recognize the Common Core patina in our children’s homework. The suspect assignment questions generally read like non-sequiturs: “How many ways can you arrange six things?”

By the way, Governor Engler’s co-panelists were:

  • Gov. Jim Douglas (R-VT), Member, Governors’ Council, Bipartisan Policy Center;
  • Gov. Linda Lingle (R-HI), Member, Governors’ Council, Bipartisan Policy Center;
  • Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-GA), Member, Governors’ Council, Bipartisan Policy Center; and
  • Gov. John McKernan (R-ME), President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

All of them admitted to “rebranding” Common Core when it became controversial. Gov. Douglas joked that “we should have called it Freedom Core,” an ad lib that resides somewhere in that twilight zone between the Orwellian and the oxymoronic.

Incidentally, Governor Engler currently presides over the Business Roundtable which has partnered with the U. S. Chamber of Commerce to promote Common Core.