Common Core: Response to Joy Pullman

Americans have a right — indeed a duty — to make reasoned, fact-based criticisms of the Common Core State Standards. But the critics don’t have a right to invent their own facts. Unfortunately, Joy Pullman’s attack on the article about Common Core by Kathleen Porter-Magee and myself is riddled with errors of fact and logic.

Pullman starts out by claiming that Common Core is “a threat to the American tradition of individual liberty and limited government” and harks back to that claim at the end of her piece, yet she produces not a shred of evidence to support that incendiary charge. Kathleen and I — like other conservative supporters of Common Core such as ex-governors Jeb Bush and Mitch Daniels — are as committed to individual liberty as Pullman is. And, in any event, there isn’t a word in the standards about the issue of liberty. As for limited government, it’s understandable that conservatives are concerned about federal overreach in education. We are among those concerned conservatives. But the fact is that George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind created much more federal meddling in the states’ education decisions than Common Core. Nevertheless, most conservatives enthusiastically supported NCLB.

Contrary to Pullman, there is no federal control over teacher training because of Common Core. In fact the nation’s education schools, dominated by progressives, have always opposed strong national standards and a coherent grade-by-grade curriculum. I went to Pullman’s link purportedly backing up her claim about teacher training. It is a long article about Common Core, but it contains not one statement about “federal control over teacher training.” On the other hand, the article does conclude with the following statement: “The common core standards are just the beginning of a brighter future for the nation’s youth.”

There is also not a word in Common Core about “teacher hiring and firing.” And to suggest that Common Core will lead to national control of “classroom worksheets” is simply mind boggling. How exactly could the federal government control student worksheets in every classroom in the country, and why would the feds even want to try anything so silly? 

Pullman doesn’t understand how Common Core’s new aligned assessments will work. Participation in one of the two federally funded assessment consortiums is entirely voluntary for the states. That’s why even some states that have adopted Common Core have decided to go it alone on testing. More will undoubtedly follow. And they will lose no federal money if they do.           

Yes, Kathleen Porter-Magee is on a committee of independent experts providing feedback to the testing consortia on their progress. Isn’t the federal government well within its rights to track the programs it funds and to monitor its own spending? What’s wrong with that? I suppose that if there weren’t such a committee, critics like Pullman would be complaining about lack of oversight of federal programs.

Finally, Pullman seems to have no understanding of the structure of the Standards document. She complains that the excellent texts our article cited “appear not on the actual standards, but on accompanying lists of book suggestions — such as California’s — that also include piles of trash schools can teach instead.” It’s hard to pack so much error and confusion into one sentence. The list of fiction and non-fiction exemplar texts is definitely part of the standards. It is simply put into one of the document’s appendixes, so as not to interfere with the flow of the grade-by-grade standards. It is true that California’s education department decided to draft its own list of 800 texts, and it’s also true that the list includes lots of trash. But this interesting fact just disproves Pullman’s argument that states have lost their educational independence because of Common Core. It also shows that scuttling Common Core and leaving decisions on the content of standards solely in the hands of the states would result in lots of stupidity. 

Sol Stern — Tim Worstall is an occasional Times contributor and freelance writer whose work has appeared in TCS Daily, The Press Gazette, The Daily Telegraph, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and other publications.