5 questions for Rick Hess

In NRO today, Rick Hess explores “five half-truths” that he says supporters of the Common Core like to propagate. These spurred five questions of my own:

  1. You dispute that the Common Core standards are “evidenced based” because “what the Common Core’s authors did falls well short of what ‘evidence-based’ typically means.” By your definition, would any set of standards be considered evidence-based? Such as those previously in place in the states? Or any set of education standards one might develop in the future? (Or, for that matter, in myriad other fields?) If no, then what’s your point? Do you think we should abandon standards-based reform?
  2. Relatedly, would you consider elements of the Common Core to be evidence-based? Such as their focus on scientifically-based reading instruction in the early grades, or the demand for fluency in arithmetic, or the admonition to delay calculator use? Would you disagree that those decisions were based on evidence? Do you think states should go back to standards that don’t include these evidence-based expectations?
  3. You complain that the Common Core standards don’t include calculus. Do you think states should expect all students to learn calculus? If not, where would you set the bar for “college and career ready”? 
  4. You say that it’s hard to judge the “rigor” of standards. OK. So do you think other standards are more rigorous than the Common Core? Ohio, for example, is having a debate about whether it should repeal the Common Core and deploy the old Massachusetts standards instead. Do you think the old Massachusetts standards were more rigorous than the Common Core? Or is it impossible to know?
  5. You call us at the Fordham Institute “avidly pro-Common Core.” Do you think it’s possible that we are “avidly pro-Common Core” precisely because we think the standards are so strong? We also support the concept of national standards for science, but we’re not “avidly pro-Next Generation Science Standards.” We’ve recommended that states not adopt those standards because they are mediocre. How would you explain that position?


Rick’s post is a fun (and characteristically witty) exercise, though one that could have been written in 2010. What it doesn’t acknowledge is that in the intervening years, millions of educators have been hard at work preparing for the new standards and tests, updating curriculum, training on new methods, and aiming for higher expectations.

The debate today is not whether to adopt the Common Core—that ship has sailed. The actual debate in states like Ohio is whether to repeal the Common Core and adopt something else instead. I’m confident that Rick would acknowledge that any other set of standards that states might adopt will face the same uncertainties and shortcomings as the Common Core.

Yet changing standards now comes with great costs, financial and otherwise. It disrupts four years of momentum. It precludes states from using the “next generation” assessments that are finally coming into reality. It hurts teacher morale. It sets back textbook preparation. As one Ohio school-board member put it, such a move appears totally baffling to those on the ground.

Rick writes that “advocates should be challenged to offer more than stirring rhetoric and grandiose claims.” Fine. I accept the challenge.

At the same time, opponents should be challenged to offer more than bellicose rhetoric and semantic complaints. They must offer concrete alternatives that make sense in the real world, for real classrooms, for real kids. Or else they should acknowledge that the Common Core, while surely not perfect, is far from the enemy of the good. And that’s the whole truth.

Michael J. Petrilli
Michael J. Petrilli is the President of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.