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On C-SPAN, a Civil Discourse on Common Core

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C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" program spent the better part of an hour Tuesday morning with a discussion of the Common Core State Standards.

The guests were Michael J. Petrilli, the president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, who is a strong supporter of the controversial standards; and Neal McCluskey, the associate director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, an opponent of the common core.

Moderator John McArdle explained that despite their differences on the issue, the two Washington think-tankers had co-written an op-ed in The Washington Times newspaper about the need to replace the acrimonious debate over common core with facts.

The pair wrote that they have differences about whether common, rigorous, state standards will improve educational outcomes and about the role for Washington, states, school districts, and parents in guiding classroom standards. But they agreed "on at least one thing: We must stop fighting over basic facts, and respectfully tackle these crucial questions."

The pair asserted that there has been a "detente" in the battles over common core, with key players on each side toning down their rhetoric. 

Fortunately, the TV discussion was lively (at least by C-SPAN standards), though remaining civil.

"How much is [common core] just standards—in other words, what you have to do—and how much of it is curriculum, saying how it will be done?" McCluskey asked. "I'd say it's predominantly standards, but it does begin to box in your curriculum. And it does ask you to do things in specific ways."

Petrilli said his view was that the standards are "going to help many more kids in this country get ready for college."

They debated whether the states had widely adopted the standards on their own or whether the federal government had been coercive through its Race to the Top grant program and its No Child Left Behind Act waivers.

"By and large, these are good solid standards," said Petrilli.

McCluskey said, "These were heavily influenced by the federal government."

Petrilli said "there's no doubt that the brand, the words 'common core,' now have been very much turned into a negative, particularly on the right."

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