Phi Beta Cons

Peter Wood Takes on Bill Bennett over Common Core

Recently, former education secretary Bill Bennett penned an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in which he argued that conservatives should support Common Core. Although Bennett has gotten some things right, most notably the malign effect that government financial aid for college has on the cost of going to college, I have never regarded him as a reliable voice of reason on an array of issues. His WSJ piece was, I thought, pretty shallow, falling for cliches about it rather than carefully analyzing it.

On Minding the Campus, Peter Wood has written an excellent rejoinder to Bennett’s op-ed. Wood writes, “The Common Core K-12 curriculum isn’t a congregation of gnats, but it is astonishingly experimental. It does not build on ‘essential’ knowledge. Rather, it ventures out on the thin, thin ice of conjectural innovation, as its highly unusual approaches to elementary instruction in math and its novel approach to geometry.” Bennett’s notion that Common Core is a step in the right direction that will raise the level of knowledge and skills for American students takes a mauling.

My own view is that Common Core is a big distraction. It’s a case or rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Public K-12 has deep problems, starting with the weak training that many teachers receive in our schools of education. On top of that, we have the problem of unionization and the rigidity it brings and the prevalent idea that schooling should serve a host of “social” goals. Common Core won’t treat the underlying pathologies. Instead of rearranging the deck chairs, we should encourage people to head for the lifeboats.

George Leef — George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

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