The PJ Tatler

Megyn Kelly Asks Jeb Bush Softball Questions on Common Core

Megyn Kelly interviewed former Governor Jeb Bush on Monday and took the opportunity to ask him about his support for the Common Core education standards. Unfortunately, she asked the wrong questions and didn’t follow up when Bush gave a glib and weaselly little speech about how he’s a firm believer that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in education standards.

Kelly noted that Common Core is wildly unpopular with Republican voters. According to the latest Gallup poll, 58% of Republican parents have a negative view of it and only 19% favor it. “They say it makes no sense. It forces teaching to the test. They say kids are in tears over it. Are they wrong?” Kelly asked.

Bush responded:

Common Core means a lot of things to different people, so they could be right based on what’s in front of them. I respect people having a view, but the simple fact is we need higher standards. They need to be state driven. The federal government should play no role in this, either in the creation of standards, content or curriculum. That’s what I believe. And if we don’t have high standards and assess to them faithfully, we get what we have today which is about a third of our kids being college and/or career ready. And by the way, we spend more per student than any other country in the world other than two or three countries.

But the federal government does play a role — a huge role — in the Common Core standards and Bush knows it.

The next logical questions should have been, “You say you don’t believe the federal government should have a role in education standards, but it’s been well-documented that the federal government has been an integral driver of the adoption of the Common Common standards and we know they are playing a significant role in driving the testing which has caused considerable consternation to parents and teachers across the country. Some say your position on this doesn’t square with the facts about Common Core. How do you respond?”

But Kelly didn’t press Bush on his inconsistency. She didn’t ask him how the federal coercion that resulted in near-national standards aligns with his view that the feds shouldn’t be involved in standards. Instead, she asked him about those confusing math lessons.

“It sounds good. Like higher standards sound good. But what they seem to be complaining about is that in practice, it’s irritating,” Kelly said. “The kids don’t like it, the parents don’t like it, the teachers don’t like it.”

Bush responded, “I hear legitimate complaints about it changing, which is a dramatic change as it relates to math, where you’re not just memorizing a multiplication table or an addition table, but you’re also…in the classroom, you’re challenging kids to explain why you got to — “

“You’ve got to understand it now,” Kelly interrupted.

Bush went on to explain that the standards would enable kids to eventually take “higher order math.”

Kelly asked him how he expected to get the GOP base to support him when they disagree with him on this issue. Bush said that he would stand on his record of success as governor of Florida — ending social promotion, expanding school choice, and increasing graduation rates.

But that was all before Common Core. Everything changed in 2009 when 46 states agreed to implement common standards in exchange for a chance to compete for federal Race to the Top funding.

I wrote in February:

Ultimately, the buck stops at the tests. Testing drives everything from publishing, to local hiring decisions, to the way math is taught in kindergarten. Advocates of the Common Core standards claim there will be no erosion of local control and deny there will be any federal influence on state and local decision-making. But it won’t be local teachers and school board members — or even states — deciding what will be on the high-stakes tests, and within a few years those tests will be the primary driver of what is taught in most of the classrooms across the country.

The Common Core standards will eventually lead to a one-size-fits all, top-down education with little opportunity for individual choice or state innovation because all children will have to pass the same tests. As Common Core takes root in local districts and classrooms nationwide, local control and state innovation will be abandoned as schools move increasingly toward a nationally directed approach to education with decisions overseen by officials at the Department of Education.

It’s a shame Kelly didn’t ask Bush about that. In fact, after the interview aired, she discussed the subject with Mark Theisen and seemed to defend Bush’s positions.

“It’s seen as a federal takeover of the education system,” Theisen said.

 “But it’s not!” Kelly exclaimed.

Sigh. I hope the next time Bush sits down for an interview someone thinks to ask him about something more substantive than those irritating math lessons, because the most serious charges Common Core opponents levy against the standards are not about individual math problems, but about the federal takeover of our education system.