Common Core Q&A with Former Michigan Gov. John Engler

3 years ago

Supporters of Common Core State Standards hope to level the playing field of the American public education system nationwide, touting the notion that educations attained under the new standards would be equal in preparing students for college and careers.

But reactions to Common Core have been mixed, keeping PolitiFact busy separating fact from fiction.

Presently, a total of 45 states, the District of Columbia, and four territories have adopted the Common Core State Standards and are working to implement those now.

Common Core was dreamed up by state governors and nonprofits fed up with a fractured system. They came together in the hopes of making the system more robust in clearly laying out the standards for success to all concerned: students, parents, teachers and the public.

Plenty of questions remain.

I recently conducted an interview via email with Common Core proponent and former Michigan Gov. John Engler with the Business Roundtable to discuss the issues surrounding this new educational standard. The Michigan Senate recently took steps toward implementing the standards, but tensions over the issue abound.

BlogHer: California adopted Common Core standards, but parents in my area tell me they neither knew about Common Core nor see a difference. Should parents see and feel a difference in their child's educational experience?

John Engler:The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers led the effort to develop the standards. It’s important that you let parents know the standards do incorporate feedback from parents and teachers across the country. The bottom line is we continue to see U. S. students fall behind their peers in other nations. It’s not good enough to be average. Common Core provides the first opportunity in a generation to turn that around. More direct to your question, parents should see a difference in their child’s experience. Students will be expected to meet standards higher than a majority of states. More noticeably, they will be asked to demonstrate their understanding of the standards on new tests that will be first administered in Spring 2014. These tests will ask students to apply that content in real-world settings.

BH: Right now, five states have not adopted Common Core. Does Common Core work without all 50 states participating? The idea of setting an apples-to-apples comparison across the states appeals to many. Is it reasonable to expect educations in California and Massachusetts to be the same?

JE:With 45 states having adopted the standards, we now have an opportunity to make fairer comparisons among the participating states. Parents should be guaranteed that the quality of the education they receive does not depend on their zip code, either within or across states.

BH:There's some high-minded theory behind Common Core - applying analytical thinking and practical application to lessons. How will the educational system be held accountable for making sure students are learning the state standards with this new application?

JE: All states have accountability system in place to make sure all students are meeting the standards. At the same time, it will be important to make sure teachers receive the support (e.g., high quality professional development) they need to transition to teaching to a set of higher standards much higher than existing state standards.

BH: Since Common Core ideally creates a unified standard for student achievement, does that then establish a baseline for teacher quality?

JE: All teacher preparation programs should ensure future teachers have demonstrated their knowledge of the content they teach. One way to do this is by assessing teacher knowledge and, equally important, establishing a high watermark for what constitutes “passing the test.”

BH: (Follow-up) And if so, would the next step be to establish a national teacher assessment "Common Core" standard?

JE: As you know, states led the development of the Common Core State Standards. They should do the same on developing teacher evaluation systems. That said, the Common Core presents an opportunity for states to consider working together on this difficult and political issue.

BH: The achievement gap widens by the school year nationwide as found in a June 2013 study. What should parents with struggling students expect from Common Core?

JE: It will be important for states and school districts to put systems in place (e.g., academic and non-academic supports) that will ensure all students meet the expectations laid out in the standards.

BH: As in all things education, the politics surrounding Common Core has critics from both sides. The right believes it's just more government overreach in public schools while the left see it as another way to push more high-stakes standardized testing. Why do you support Common Core?

JE:The standards are important for several reasons. First, they send a clear message that educating all students is a fundamental right in the United States. We have a moral obligation to help ensure all students have a fair shot at the opportunities this country provides to it’s citizens. Secondly, the data are clear. Students will not be able to take advantage of the high-skilled jobs, many of which require strong analytical and math skills, that are available today and will continue to grow. Lastly, the United States will not maintain its competitive edge unless we make sure more students, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are equipped to succeed in college and the workplace.


Erica Holloway is a BlogHer editor for the News & Politics Page. Learn more about her at

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