Last week, Chester Finn and Michael Petrilli—Fordham’s dynamic duo—joined a Cato Institute debate on Common Core, going up against Neal McCluskey of Cato and Emmett McGroaty of the American Principles Project.

Here are the key arguments that Checker and Mike made in defense of the Common Core:


In his opening remarks, Checker explained that “most of the discussion about the Common Core isn’t actually about education or about what kids learn; it’s about politics.” Indeed, Common Core has become the ball in a political kickball game. Many, perhaps most, Common Core critics have not read the standards themselves, nor do they want to engage in a debate over whether students are learning the rigorous content and skills they need to be prepared for what lies ahead.


State standards are not new. Prior to the Common Core, each state set academic standards for English language arts and math. But those standards were vague or low-level. Worse, the tests that states used to judge proficiency tested low-level knowledge and skills and had unacceptably low proficiency cut scores. The Common Core are clear and rigorous. That they are common is less important than the fact that they are high quality.

Improved outcomes

No Child Left Behind—and state testing programs before it—demonstrated that we could boost the achievement of the lowest performing kids by setting a low bar and demanding that schools help our most disadvantaged students get over it. Now we are embarked on a more ambitious project: to better align state standards and testing with college and career readiness and to get far more American children over that much higher bar.


It’s time to tell the truth. With the low standards and easy tests under NCLB, we have been sending false signals to parents that their kids were doing fine. But when students entered the real world and went to college, they weren’t ready. Too many kids were sent to remedial education. Common Core will give parents a reliable benchmark on how their kids are really doing.


Data and Common Core are not bosom buddies. If a state pulls out of the Common Core, it won’t change their data-collection or privacy policies one bit. In particular, McGroaty struggled to explain the direct link between Common Core and the data-privacy issue.

It was indeed a great debate; you can watch it yourself here.

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