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Former Intel CEO And Current Chair Of The Board Of BASIS Schools, Dr. Craig Barrett, On Common Core

Thursday, March 20, 2014

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HH: You know, I’ve covered the Common Core controversy quite a lot, with Governor Jeb Bush and with Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, critics like Marco Rubio and others. One of the advocates of the Common Core is Dr. Craig Barrett. He is in fact the chairman of BASIS Schools, chairman of the board of BASIS Schools. He was formerly chairman of the board of Intel, and he joins me now. Dr. Barrett, welcome, it’s great to have you here.

CB: Good to be with you, Hugh.

HH: Common Core is engulfed in controversy. Did you see this coming?

CB: I don’t think anybody saw this delay/backlash that we’ve seen. You know, the original standards came out about four years ago, adopted by 45 states or so at that time, and relatively well-ordered, adopted by states’ boards of education, embraced by the governors, created at the local level, approved at the local level. Nobody heard a word about it. It’s now become a national issue.

HH: It’s becoming toxic. In fact, when I had Governor Bush on, he made the statement that if he thought the federal government was taking over Common Core, he would have opposed it. And I recently talked to an acquaintance of mine, Ira Glasky, who is running for school board down in Orange County, California, about this, urging him to listen very carefully to what the critics of Common Core are saying in order to save it. How are you encouraging people to engage in this debate?

CB: I encourage them to look at the state of education in the U.S. today. You’re in California, I’m in Arizona. Both our states are mediocre in K-12 education, bottom 20% of the U.S. We can do a lot better than that. If you look at any good education system around the world, or in the U.S., it has three components – good teachers, high expectations, and some accountability. Right now, we have standards or expectations which are too low in the great majority of our states.

HH: A lot of people of the critics of Common Core, and again, I’ve tried to have both sides on this show so that people hear the debate. One of the criticisms is that it’s dumbing down curriculum, that algebra’s been postponed to the ninth grade as opposed to the eighth grade. I’m sure you’ve heard all of these things, Dr. Barrett. How do you respond to that?

CB: Well, I’m sure that most of the people that are now criticizing the Common Core have no idea what their state standards were before. But now they’ve been given some speaking points by some people. The mathematics standards have been aligned to be effectively the best in the world. The U.S. currently ranks near the bottom of the O.E.C.D. countries in mathematics. So if people think we’re dumbing down from where we are, my goodness gracious, we’re at the bottom of the barrel already. The Common Core folks have got the best minds in the United States, they looked internationally to see what the best education systems in the world do and how they do it, and they put some standards in place to achieve that. Now remember, these are standards, what kids should know. The curriculum has been left to the local school districts, to the states, as it should be, as we do in the United States. These are just standards of the expectations of what kids should learn. Exactly how they’re taught and how they learn is still left to the local level.

HH: You and I both serve on boards of public charter schools. Yours are the BASIS Schools, I’m on the board of Great Hearts of Arizona, and cherish K-12 education and the revision of it that’s going on. But I do hear the concern that ideology will creep into these standards, and that is pervasive. How do you respond to that, Dr. Barrett?

CB: The standards were, again, generated by input from across the U.S. from education experts, from the public. They are approved by the state boards of education, so it’s not something that’s handed down from the U.N. or Bill Gates or Arne Duncan. It’s approved at the local level. The curriculum is where I would think most people would be concerned about ideology coming in, which is the curriculum of what the teachers teach. That is still locally controlled, and will maintain local control after Common Core is adopted.

HH: Now what you just said signaled to me that you’re deep into the controversy, because you mentioned U.N., Bill Gates and Arne Duncan, and those are three talking points of opponents of the Common Core, that the Gates Foundation has funded it, that Arne Duncan is mandating it, that the United Nations, that’s a little bit black helicopterish. That doesn’t actually enter into it too much. But how about the marketing? Why not respond substantively to those issues about the federalization and the rush to the top competition to get the federal government out of this so that people’s concerns are allayed?

CB: Well, some of us conservative Republicans in meetings with Secretary Duncan suggested to him over the last couple of years to stay out of this. It was a state issue, a local issue, created by the states, approved by the states, implemented by the states. The feds looked at it like hey, this is a good idea…

HH: Yup.

CB: …let’s jump on it. You know, it’s unfortunate when something is created at the local level, and just because the feds look at it and say hey, this is a good idea, we’ll support it, that that then turns off a segment of our population. You know, Duncan had nothing to do with this. Common Core, as you know, was started not under Bush, but during the Bush administration. Obama and Duncan had nothing to do with it other than to say hey, it’s a good idea, and they put it perhaps unfortunately into the race to the top funding criteria, but only as a good idea.

HH: Then Arne Duncan came out and perhaps unwisely, but certainly controversially, slammed suburban moms in what was perhaps the least elegant criticism of critics I’ve seen. Was that unfortunate in your view, Dr. Barrett?

CB: Sometimes, I think that he’s better on the basketball court than he is in pushing something which is good for the country, and good for all the states, which is this generalized Common Core curriculum.

HH: So you’ve got mom driving right now. It’s drive time on the West Coast, and it’s a home schooling mom, or it’s a mom that’s suspicious, or it’s a Christian mom or a religious mom of any sort. What do you say to them to persuade them that Common Core is really good for their kids?

CB: Any mom or dad should want their kid to have a world class education. If you look at what we have today in California, in Arizona, across the country, is a substandard education. Every test that you put on an international basis, you compare U.S. kids to kids from around the world, other O.E.C.D. countries, we come in near the bottom. Parents can’t want that for their kids. They have to want their kids to be competitive, to have a competitive education so they can compete with young people from China, India, Germany, Russia, from wherever. So parents should want the best education for their children. The standards in the Common Core raise the expectations of what that education should be for the child. You know, parents don’t want their kids if they play football or basketball to be substandard. Why should they want them to be substandard in math and the language arts?

HH: Dr. Barrett, we’re out of time. I’d love to continue this conversation. I’m curious, if, I’ve got a pretty good reputation on both sides of this aisle. If I brought, say, Michelle Malkin on the air, would you be willing to debate her about Common Core?

CB: Anytime, my good friend.

HH: That is, make a date. We will set that up. Dr. Craig Barrett of BASIS Schools, former chairman of the board of Intel, thank you so much.

End of interview.

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