The PJ Tatler

What Conservatives Hate About Common Core, and Why They're Not Alone

Paula Bollard and Leon Wolf talk Common Core at Red State Gathering 2015

Red State’s Leon Wolf interviews P JMedia’s Paula Bolyard at the 2015 gathering of conservative activists in Atlanta.

Question: When it comes to Common Core, are conservatives concerned about the content of the curriculum, the publishing/testing monopoly it spawned, or the specter of the federal government reaching into your local classrooms to indoctrinate your children?

Answer: Yes.

PJ Media’s own Paula Bolyard, who directs the PJ Parenting page, took to the stage at RedState Gathering in Atlanta Saturday for a discussion with Red State’s Leon Wolf about the impact of Common Core, and what can be done to minimize its deleterious effects.

Bolyard says opposition to Common Core has made strange bedfellows.

“Parents don’t like what they see coming home in backpacks…weird math lessons, too much testing with too high stakes,” she said.

And though a lot of good teachers are “trying to make it work” they grow frustrated as the government comes along every three years and says, effectively, “everything you’re doing is crap.”

Teachers’ unions, interested in protecting teachers’ jobs, worry about the accountability structure of the program.

“They don’t mind standards,” Bolyard said, “but don’t want jobs to be at stake as a result of the testing.”

Teachers, likewise, don’t like the standards as a basis for career advancement, preferring tenure and personal educational development as prerequisites to higher pay.

“It’s hard to get rid of Common Core completely,” Bolyard said. “I spoke with Gov. [Greg] Abbott, who said they built a border fence around Texas to keep Common Core out. But the ACT and the SAT [tests] are aligned to Common Core.”

Nevertheless, some states have found more or less success in minimizing the harm, she said. In Ohio, they’ve limited the testing. In Oklahoma, they got rid of Common Core.

Leon Wolf noted that, “If you object, you can homeschool, but since standardized tests are keyed to it, your children may still have to meet Common Core standards.”

Bolyard, a homeschooling Mom, said, “My kids did fine on the standardized tests. But a classical education won”t necessarily help you do well on the ACT or SAT anymore,” and yet, “good schools — my son went to Hillsdale — are always looking for good students.”

Many universities are diminishing the importance of standardized testing and giving more weight to other measures, such as academic portfolios.

Bolyard also sees a positive, if unintended, result of Common Core.

“People are going to school board meetings,” she said, and some even know their state education board commissioners.

She encourages concerned parents and other citizens to run for local school boards, and effect change in even smaller ways day to day.

“It’s not that difficult to get elected,” Bolyard said. “There are plenty of organizations that can teach you how to run an effective campaign. Those local boards hire teachers. If you have a good teacher you can minimize the damage Common Core can do.”

She recounted an over-heard conversation at a beauty shop between two Moms talking about Common Core, and she says that’s the way a movement can start and effect change.

“You don’t have to be a legal or policy expert,” Bolyard said. “You can just talk Mom-to-Mom, Dad-to-Dad. I have never seen anything as crazy [meaning ‘vigorous’] as the Common Core opposition, and it’s left a lot of elected officials flatfooted.”

She said, “[Ohio] Gov. [John] Kasich can post on Facebook, ‘What great weather we’re having’ and someone will comment, ‘Stop Commie Core.’ This issue will not go away.”

Another positive side-effect of a generally negative program, Bolyard said, is that activists triggered by Common Core tend to get interested in other issues in local government.

Wolf agreed, adding, “There are a lot of those people in the middle that don’t care about politics…but this is an issue where you’re messing with their kids.”

Bolyard said, “The Mama bears care about this issue. They will vote for people who say, ‘I will get rid of Common Core. I will fix your school and get rid of those weird math problems’.”

One of the challenges with framing elementary and secondary education from Washington, D.C., is that all kids learn differently, she said. Despite the heavy hand of Washington, “if you have a good teacher, she’s going to find a way to work around it.”

Unfortunately, not everyone has such teachers.

Common Core opponents face attacks from the federal educational establishment, and well-meaning public school supporters, but often these are based on misinformation — intentional or malicious.

“It bothers me when people say if you’re not for Common Core you’re for low standards,” Bolyard said, to applause from the RedState crowd. “Can we not walk and chew gum at the same time?”

Like Obamacare, one of the problems with Common Core was the rapid nationwide deployment, without prototype testing. She compared it to her husband’s job as a software engineer who rolls out new software to a few stores first, before implementing it at all 5,000 retail outlets.

Stephanie Loomis, an educator in the audience, said she has read the Common Core standards for English and Language Arts, grades 7-12, and the big problem is that one publishing company is selling all the textbooks, and the testing materials. It’s a monopoly.

Bolyard said, “I’m passionate about two things in education, choice and competition. Parents know what’s best for their own children and they ought to be the ones deciding.”