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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Bill Bennett on the “Common Core”

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HH: Morning glory and evening grace, America. It’s Hugh Hewitt on this wonderful Monday when the Pope is making such big news. I could talk about that, but I’m not going to. It’s that time of the year when parents all over the United States are sitting down with their high school seniors, or about to be seniors, and saying okay we’ve really got to crack these college applications. And some people are sitting down, some teachers to learn the new Common Core standards. Education is everywhere so in this hour, I’m devoting it to education. The first half-hour of it being spent with the former Secretary of Education of the United States, the Honorable William Bennett, my colleague on the Salem Radio Network. At the bottom of the hour, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post joins me. Bill Bennett’s got a brand new book out called Is College Worth It? which I greatly encourage every parent of any potential college student this year or next, or even if they have a freshman in college who’s thinking about not going back, to go sit down and read Is College Worth It? You can get it on your iPad. Bill Bennett, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt show. Great to have you.


BB: Thanks very much. Say hi to Jay for me. He’s doing some interesting work, Jay Mathews.


HH: He is a terrific reporter. I mean I’ve always appreciated his willingness to go where the story is and I will do that.


BB: How long have you known him?


HH: Probably 10 years going back a few books.


BB: Okay. Well, you know what he did for me when I was Secretary, he found Hyman Escalante for me.


HH: No kidding?


BB: That’s how I got there and that’s how we brought him to Washington and had lunch with Reagan and it was a great day.


HH: Well, I will begin the bottom of the hour with that. Before I begin my conversation with you, I gotta, I’ve got to chide you about one thing. Over at the which is the place where all of our loot is, the Hugh Hewitt Show stuff and the Michael Medved Show stuff and the Bill Bennett Show stuff, I looked and I’m really disappointed in the Bill Bennett Morning in America mug. I do not believe that it’s ergonomically appropriate. It looks like it could topple over at any moment.


BB: Well, no, you’ve got to focus in the morning. You know, you’ve got to focus.


HH: [laughing]


BB: And it’s a challenge. We face a lot of challenges in the morning! What’s one more!


HH: And I like the travel mug. I figure that’s what your sucking on every time you leave and wherever you leave at o’dark hundred in the morning to trundle over to the studio


BB: You’ve got it.


HH: but ah, okay. It’s great stuff at the I just want to sell more stuff than Bill, America so help me out there.


BB: We go, we go into the Salem studio like those Seals going into Bin Laden’s house.


HH: [laughing] You’re arriving in the middle of the night and no one knows your there until Ka Bang!.  Okay, let’s talk about Is College Worth It? I want to get to the 12 hypothetical scenarios but first of all, this shocked a lot of people when it came out. The Secretary of Education, Bill Bennett, Mr. Education,


BB: Yeah, yeah.


HH: Mr. Ph.D., Mr. Dr., and JD and all that stuff, Is College Worth It?Already people in the education establishment weren’t talking to you. Are they talking to you yet again?


BB: Well, they hadn’t been talking to me for a long time. You remember, I’m the guy had 32 honorary degrees before I joined the Reagan Administration and then got 2 in the next 30 years.


HH: [laughing] I didn’t know that.


BB: Once I joined President Reagan it was over anyway, but we try to tell the truth there and the truth is to help people save time and save money and save effort, and the answer to the question isn’t no. The answer to the question is it depends. And you know when you come up with a statistic, Hugh, like the fact of all the kids who start out in 4-year colleges, 46% of them drop out. And that’s worth thinking about before you put money into that enterprise if your not even going to finish and that’s almost half.


HH: And even if you are going to finish, if you finish with the wrong major, from the wrong school, at the wrong amount of money. The statistics on debt in your book are stunning. A lot of kids emerge crippled for life from college without any value added.


BB: Yeah. Now I had a ton of debt when I got out. I finished law school and I got out in ’71 and I owed about $25,000 which would be about $150,000 now, right? Something like that


HH: Okay.


BB: and the first thing I did was start to pay it off, so I knew I couldn’t get married. Ah, and you know I didn’t get married until my mid-30s and I knew I couldn’t buy a house. I just had to pay off the debt.  And you know, I wish I had, we had 5 sons rather than 2 so it makes a difference these choices. I wouldn’t trade my education for a lot of things. I probably would trade it for 3 more kids. So, um, you know there’s those choices, but what we’re trying to get people to do is to focus on what they are deciding to do and why, and what we’re seeing is that a lot of people about 2/3 of the people who decide to go to 4-year schools should probably do something else. And that would mean either take a job, join the military, try community college, think about a for-profit, other things to look at. Look carefully and choose wisely as they say in Indiana Jones.


HH: You know, I very much appreciate it. I’ve got friends over at the University of Phoenix and then at Corinthian and a few of the for-profit schools, no one every pays them any attention when this conversation comes up, but they often work harder and longer to give you more for the dollar that you are spending.


BB: They work hard and they work long and they work with the population that’s often been burned and people who, you know, don’t have a lot of resources and this is their last shot, their best shot. So, yes, I do give them credit. There’s problems in all sectors, but I think people need to take a close look. What you don’t want to do it seems to me, is just go along with the crowd and say everybody is going to 4-year school, I will to, because that is a way to get lost and a waste of your time.


HH: Now, I want to read for you America, from Bill Bennett’s Is College Worth It? he has a whole bunch of great stuff in it but especially 12 hypothetical scenarios. This is scenario number 1: You went to a public high school and you made the National Honor Society. You scored in the top 10 percent on your SATs and were President of Student Government. Your family can give you $15,000 per year to go to school, but you really like politics. You’ve been accepted to George Town, a school that can run upwards of $50,000. Your brother has studied marketing, just moved back in with your parents after graduation and he owed $40,000 in student loan debt and your scared of that situation and you don’t want to give up on a great opportunity you’ve worked hard for. Bill Bennett, what’s the verdict in that situation?


BB: Well, you take, take a good close look at the situation. If you think it’s worth it and you want to get into that level of debt that’s okay, but go into it with your eyes open. You got into a great University. You can borrow the money if that’s really what you want to do fine, but learn from your brother’s situation too.


HH: That’s what I love. The answer is cross your fingers. Georgetown can give you a private sector grants or scholarships to help with the costs. It goes on to talk about that and that’s real world advice. I think the point, what I like about Is College Worth It?, Bill, is it all depends upon the individual whether or


BB: Yeah.


HH: whether they’ve been a game of valor game playing junky, eating potato chips in the basement


BB: Right


HH: or their an App store wizard who’s already got a few Apps to their credit and to their bank account. It all depends.


BB: Hugh, what you’ve got to do is pierce through a few things and the problem is that there is so many lies. The lies that have been told to you about who you are and what you know, and you’re the greatest thing since sliced bread, and you’ll never have a problem getting a job. The odds are that a young person going to college has maybe not been told the truth by his teachers, by guidance counselors and others. That isn’t always the case, but it’s often the case. The other lie is that what is called College Catalog Copy and it’s a lot of PR and go for the stars and this is it, and boy, you are on way to the greatest future and you’ll be on top of the world. And not true, often. So find out who graduates? How many people graduate? What do they owe? Where do they get jobs? What’s their employment? We have some stuff in there called the return on investment. PayScale put this together, and it is the return over lifetime or over 30 years for various institutions, you know when institutions pay, what don’t. If you get into Harvey Mudd College, go


HH: yep


BB because it’s the single best investment in America. If you get into the South Dakota, the School of Mines, go. If you get into Stanford, go. It’s a sensible choice, but a lot of other things maybe not.


HH: I also want people to realize in Is College Worth It? which, by the way, is pretty inexpensive if you get it as an iPad app as well. Just run out and do it


BB: Yep


HH: because you will not find it. I went and looked in the Barnes and Nobel at my studio, Bill Bennett, there are probably a 100 books on college. Is College Worth It? is not stocked there, and I thought to myself, isn’t that just, just perfect.


BB: Come on. . .


HH: The one book that might actually help them. So, go get it on your iPad or your Kindle. You list under religious schools, your first school that is worth it, Biola University. My friends Cor—they are all going to love that at the start of this, so you do actually break it down into here are some schools if you’re looking to start right now, to look at where to apply. You give them a good long list.


BB: You know Biola, uh?


HH: Oh, very well.


BB: Yeah, I don’t know it well, but given what people that do know it well said that we just had to recommend it. A lot of these schools are schools that I don’t know, but we just sampled a lot of opinion people whose views we trust, looked at the records and were impressed.


HH: Along with places like the Franciscan University of Stubinville which I have never set foot on even though it’s in the great state of Ohio, but I know it by reputation, Catholic University, Patrick Henry College, the University of Dallas. There are a lot of good choices so I want people to understand Is College Worth It? is not a vendetta against higher education. It is an appeal for sweet reason as they start this process and they should look now before they file one application, Bill.


BB: Yeah, this is your life your talking about. This is your life, your money, your resources, maybe your parents resources, your time, your opportunity and it’s important to make the best choice you can.


HH: When we come back from break, I’m going to turn my attention with former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett over to the question of the Common Core. What is it? And then I’m going to continue the conversation at the bottom of the hour with Washington Post’s education writer Jay Mathews. I have been getting so many questions about the Common Core and I’m ignorant of it. I’ve really have just begun to dive into the subject, and I thought since I’m going to get smart, I’m going to start with one of the guys that I trust most on issues of this sort. You can hear him every single morning on most of these radio stations across the United States. You ought to have his app on your iPad. You ought to have his brand new book on your Kindle, Is College Worth It? by Bill Bennett. I’ll be right back America. It’s the Hugh Hewitt Show.




HH: With my friend and colleague on these radio stations, the Honorable William Bennett, former Secretary of Education. He is, however, my competitor at the If you go to yu can see all his wonderful featured items, but then make sure you shop in the Hugh Hewitt store and get the better stuff. Ah, Bill Bennett,


BB: We just didn’t think we should put ashtrays up there!


HH: No! Well, you know what? We should have done that, provided it was only for cigars!


BB: [laughing]


HH: I thought that would have been appropriate. The best loot that President Nixon used to give away was the White House ashtray. I doubt very much they are even made anymore, the White House ashtray.


BB: I’m sure that’s true. Alright, Bill Bennett, what started me off today and what will continue after the break with Jay Mathews is, I got another question this weekend about the Common Core and I said I have go to figure out whether I’m for it or against it, and I started reading and, boy, I just thought I’d call you up and ask. What do you think of this process, its pluses and its minuses?


BB: You were theoretically for it, practically you may not be. The idea of the Common Core is simple. The idea that all American students should have a common basis of knowledge in various subjects such as math and English, that there are books we should all read, be familiar with and that these help in the attainment of cultural literacy, numeracy, in math, Algebra and the like. Not a very controversial idea. When I was Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, before Secretary of Education, I asked 250 people what 10 books should everybody be familiar with by the time they finish high school. This was across the spectrum, Hugh, and the interesting thing was the consensus on 4 or 5 books. The Bible, Shakespeare, Founding Documents of the American Republic so it seems to me that the Claremont Institute all the time– Shakespeare, and the great American novel which is Huckleberry Finn going west to find out the meaning of life. Anyway, not a bad curriculum, then.


HH: Yep.


BB: Lincoln was mostly educated on the Bible and Shakespeare. He did pretty well.  That is at its core the idea, the idea of a core, a common core or a core curriculum, but its become as a series of readings and a series of standards, set of standards, developed out of the states by Governors and others which have now been presented to the country. Forty-five states have signed up saying they want to do it. However, there has been some contamination of the process. The federal government has got its big foot into it. Um, there’s been big money made available to people in the states, something called “race to the top” if they subscribe to the Common Core, and some of the work that’s been done particularly in the science standards and the history standards does not look so good. So, there is now a very popular rebellion, a lot of our folks, tea party folks who say no, no, heck no, we won’t do this. We don’t want any part of it. So, where it stands now is, is the question. Could states, last thought here, good states, states that have really gotten their act together and one has to acknowledge Massachusetts here when it comes to standards, we don’t really need to go the Common Core because they’ve transcended it. They’ve bypassed it. However, simply having good standards doesn’t mean you have good performance. Your state, California, has some excellent standards. The problem is they are not implemented. They are not put into place. They just sit there in a glass jar.


HH: Uh.


BB: So, it doesn’t do the kids any good in California.


HH: Now, when I read that Jeb Bush was one of the prime movers behind it, but that Marco Rubio has come out swinging against it, something obviously is worrying the center-right conservative base, and I think it’s probably the long arm of central government combined with the never ending agenda of progressive elites when it comes to education policy. You’ve been battling these people for years.


BB: Yeah, no, that’s it.  That’s exactly right. That’s exactly what people are upset about and so we have some, take a figure like Mike Pence, who is a guy I admire very much; good guy, smart guy, very sympathetic to the idea of the Common Core. He’s put it on hold now in the State of Indiana, partly because of pure political resistance, the tea party, other, other folks. But, yes, that fear of the federal government getting involved and there is reason to worry about because of what I just talked about, the race to the top and the federal government has been pushing it so that is a problem. You’ve got everything else going on in the federal government. All the things that are causing people to worry, anxiety even disgust and this is not a great time to make a sale on what’s regarded as a national curriculum.


HH: But you know what’s interesting? One, one of the best teachers that I know, her name is Kate. She’s middle school teacher. I mean she is a truly great American and an extraordinary woman. She love’s the Common Core. She teaches the Common Core to people so I’m not telling folks who come up at the microphone at events that I’m breathing fire about it, because it seems to me that a lot of smart people like it.


BB: Well, you know, what she probably teaches is Core Knowledge, E.D. Hirsch. Is this familiar to you?


HH: Oh, yeah, yeah.


BB: Okay, okay it’s the Core Knowledge of E.D. Hirsch’s work in which he says, look, vocabulary, science is great predictor of success in school, in college and employment and vocabulary side depends on reading, reading books, reading in context, not just memorizing words, and reading certain kinds of books, and we know if people read great books, then they are likely to get a lot smarter and a lot quicker.  And, therefore, a lot of teachers like Kate are dedicated to this and, I think they are right, and that’s what I wanted my kids to read and that’s what my kids did read. Should the federal government be getting behind this? Should it be incentivizing people to do this? What kind of intrusions under the curriculum would the federal government make? That’s the kind of worries that people have.


HH: So, let me ask you this to wrap it up. A lot of school board members listen to this show. I’m sure they listen to your show as well, depending east coast and west coast. If they are a school board member, what do you think they ought to be doing asking and implementing when it comes to this subject, especially when during that 3-minute comment period at the beginning of the board of education meeting, some angry person stands up and says, if you dare impose the Common Core that’s a loss of local control and I’ll vote you out.


BB: Well, how about we impose the Common Core with local control. How about we persuade you to vote for it by showing you what’s inside it. It’s all in the implementation. As Jay will tell you, having those standards themselves doesn’t do much. It’s all in the implementation. Yet, make the case. Say here’s the material. Here’s what we are going to teach your child. Do you want your child to read this or not?


HH: And so if they say Bill Bennett says X on the Common Core, they are not correctly quoting you unless they say what?


BB: Unless they say, trust but verify.


HH: Huh! [laughing]


BB:  Okay. You’ve got to read details. You’ve got to, if someone says, it’s the Common Core, you just don’t lay down. If someone says you oppose the Common Core, you got to say, what are you putting in its place?  If you’re in Massachusetts you don’t want to trade for the Common Core, because you’ll be trading down. They have a better curriculum.


HH: William Bennett, that is why I called and why I asked. Thank you my friend and have a great, great trip. I know you are headed west next week and from the land of the very, very sultry and hot to the land of breezes and wonderful time. Enjoy it out west. Is College Worth It? is Bill Bennett’s brand new book. Make sure you go and order that over at ITunes or you can get it at Kindle. It’s in bookstores everywhere, America. When I come back I’m going to be joined by the one and only Jay Mathews. Jay Mathews, of course, a national Washington Post education correspondent who wrote the book Work Hard. Be Nice. which I probably talk about it odnosi um here, making you people all crazy about it, and check in during the break at the and, while you’re at it, if you want to help Duane. If you want to help Duane in getting his treatment and making sure that everything is gong well in his life, head over to, a brand new website that went up from friends of Duane over the weekend.  Make sure you check that out as well, and then over to and finish off with Is College Worth it?


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