Governor John Engler Of The Business Roundtable On Common Core
HH: Continuing now in my second week of the deep dive into the Common Core, yesterday with a state of Indiana representative who is leading the charge against it. Today, Governor John Engler served Michigan for a very long time, He’s now in Washington, D.C. as the chairman of the Business Roundtable. Governor Engler, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JE: Hugh, good evening, great to be with you again. It’s been a while.
HH: Good to talk to you, it has been a while, and I’d love for you to give me your perspective on the Common Core, because you really don’t have a dog in that fight, but on the other hand, as the leading spokesman for America’s largest corporations, you do.
JE: Well, that’s right, and actually, if you go kind of all the way back, I was active in the governors at the time when we were saying what on Earth are we doing to do to get these improvements? We knew, looking at some of the international data, one of the leaders of mathematics is a friend of mine from Michigan State University, Dr. Bill Schmidt, has done these TIMS, The International Math-Science studies, and you know, we can see we were slipping. And one of the things I always found as a governor that motivated people in Michigan is when they found out someone in Ohio might be doing something almost as goo.
HH: Well, that never actually happened, though.
JE: Well (laughing)…
HH: I’m from Ohio. I’m from Ohio, Governor. That actually never, ever happened, but you might have thought it happened, but you might have thought it happened, but I didn’t actually…
JE: Well, that’s right. I mean, the Tigers are showing the Indians right now.
HH: Oh, brutal. All right, okay, you got me.
JE: We shouldn’t go off there, but anyway…
JE: I really think that back, as I said, back then, we were talking as governors how, what do we need to do, because education is local and state. It’s not a federal, the federal money has always been just never really been more than 10%, never really been to even 10%. But as a nation today, in 2013, we’re spending about $650 billion dollars, and we need to do better, because today, you’ve got, I think, two to three million, and I think probably more than three million, actually, jobs open in the country where if people had the right skills, they could go to work. I was in the Detroit area yesterday. Automotive jobs are hot again, because people are buying cars and the products are better. They’ve got jobs open, can’t find people with the skills. So what am I saying? That in the Common Core standards, what’s Core? Well, there’s no question mathematics is core in today’s economy, in the 21st Century high-tech economy. I think literacy, reading, being able to communicate right is important, and that’s a core. And by common I mean, I think you’ve got to know that in Michigan or Ohio, or Wisconsin, or Mississippi, or California. I mean, you have to know these things, and the standards really say okay, when should you know how to add or divide or subtract or multiply? When should you be able to do an equation? How proficient, when in reading, by what age? And what do you compare yourself? It’s great, you know, it used to be good enough, really, just to say well, we can beat Ohio, or we’re better than Indiana. But today, people are saying are you better than Korea? Are you better than Indonesia? Are you better than India? China?
HH: And so…
JE: You’re really competing globally.
HH: In the course of the past ten days, I’ve talked to about a half dozen pros and a half dozen cons. Let me throw some of the criticisms up.
HH: It’s not a floor on which to build. It’s become a ceiling, and it’s causing some states to dumb down. States, for example, that used to teach algebra in the 8th grade now have to teach it in the 9th grade, that big data is being assembled, and the federal government’s taking over like they take over everything, and that ideology is creeping in. So let’s cover those three, Governor. How do you respond to them?
JE: Well, first of all, I just want to be able to know that kids can read. And take Long Island. New York’s just kind of come out with their, some recent test results, and this year, they changed some of the testing, raised the standards. And what they found is that their proficiency in mathematics in 2012, and gee, we’re, 64% of our kids are proficient. In 2013, they said it’s 31%.
JE: So cut in half, and I think I’ve seen similar numbers from Michigan where if you look at what the state says in proficiency and reading, it’s 60-some percent. You look at what the national test is, it cuts that in half. And basically, what I want to be able to do as a parent who’s just finishing kids going through both public and parochial schools, high school, is I want to know how the kids are doing in an absolute sense, and I’d like to know how they stack up against what they’re going to face in the competition. And I don’t think it’s at all about dumbing down. I mean, to me, it’s a problem. Nobody disputes that the NAEP test, the National Assessment of Education Performance, that’s administered under a federal program, but that’s pretty definitive. That has shown for some time that almost two-thirds of our kids are not proficient in reading when they finish the third grade. Well, those two-thirds of those kids are going to have an increasingly harder time in the 4th grade to 5th grade, and so on. We’ve got to get, we’ve got to up our game. And I hear a lot of excuses being made, but I say just show me the performance. And the one thing that Common Core standards are, they’re not the curriculum, they’re not the textbook, they’re not the lesson plan, they’re not the teachers’ marching orders. They’re simply saying look, here’s what you need to know by what time. This is in the 4th grade, you ought to be able to read proficiently, yes or no.
HH: So how about the second of the objections, which is the federal government is bullying in and pushing in, and taking over everything with their Race To The Top money?
JE: Well, look, the Race To The Top money, I mean, yeah, it’s millions of dollars. You know what? It’ s part of $650 billion. It’s a bucket in the ocean. It is, you know, and some schools, some states got some extra money. I wish the federal government hadn’t said gee, if you’re adopting Common Core standards, that’s a criteria for measurement, because it did kind of confuse people. And frankly, other people who aren’t confused just simply seized upon that as saying well, here’s a way I can discredit it. The Common Core state standards came from the work of governors and education people at the state level. It wasn’t a Washington deal at all. But once Washington said we’ll use this as a criteria for the Race To The Top, that was seized upon to do some discrediting. But I just think people, we’ve got an interesting right-left cross going on here. I mean, there’s certainly some who I think don’t want accountability because of what it reveals, and there are others who I think are so looking for a cause, almost an anti-…and I understand anti-Washington, believe me. I get it.
JE: I get the sentiment, and a lot of people are unhappy. But this isn’t being happy with Washington. This isn’t from Washington.
HH: All right, and the last objection, which, and I run into this all over the country when I’m out talking. I’ve given 20 speeches a year, maybe more.
HH: Hey, they’re taking the big data, it’s all that NSA thing, and they’re taking our kids’ data, and they’re going on the permanent record, and the permanent record’s going to D.C., and our kids are being sliced and diced and categorized. It is, to a certain extent, Hofstadter’s paranoid impulse in American politics showing up again.
HH: But on the other hand, paranoids have enemies, and data collection goes on.
JE: Well, all true. I just finished, as I said, kids coming through high schools, so now we’ve got three college freshmen coming up starting in about two weeks. We start dropping the girls off.
HH: Hold off one second, and let me go through the break, and I’m going to come back and continue to talk with you.
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HH: So Governor, what about that?
JE: Well, listen, what I said is that the data collection of these girls who applied to colleges had to cough up was stunning. I mean, so you’re going to give a lot of data to the colleges. You’re going to give a lot of data to your employers. What you want is that data to be good. And I think when we see the military struggling to take somebody who’s got a high school diploma and be able to bring them and train them up, where you see an employer struggling with somebody who walks in and says I’ve got a credential, and as soon as they start looking, do they really have the skills? No, they don’t. So it’s kind of an interesting, in other words, I think we end up, if we’re seeking employment, having to provide a lot of information about ourselves. And it ought to be good, and it ought to represent our success. This is all masking the big problem that we’ve got too many kids who are finishing school, getting a diploma, and it represents little more than their attendance. We’ve got some kids who are getting into college, when they arrive, they need remedial courses in order to be able to even stay in the school. And we’ve got way too many in places like Detroit who drop out and never even finish high school. And in today’s economy, there just aren’t jobs. So I think we need to be honest with parents. The employers know this, the military knows this, and the universities know it. And those are the three places that kids when they leave high school age kind of head off to. So I mean, I like to have a party and feel good and say hey, let’s slap ourselves on the back and say we’re doing great, but we are not. And we’re sure not going great…I used a little example, Hugh, in an article in the Washington Times, it was just on solving, it was a question of actually multiplying fractions, how to do it. Well, it turns out about 30% of the kids in America can do this at the 8th grade level. But almost 90% of the kids in Korea can do it.
JE: You know what? I think American kids can be as good as Korean kids in mathematics and probably at multiplying fractions. But the way we teach it today, and when we teach it, it’s not adequate.
HH: That’s…all right, a last subject. This is a political question, really, more than anything else.
HH: I’m sort of like the referee between the Dylan Panthers and the Dylan Lions. I’ve been digging into both sides here, and I’m here to tell you the Dylan Lions, if they represents the anti-Common Core, are winning. They are everywhere, organized and sort of advancing. I had Governor Jeb Bush on last week and talked to him about it. He was immediately followed by Marco Rubio. Those two are pals. They’re sort of mentor and mentee and colleagues. And Bush is big pro-Common Core, and Rubio is big anti-Common Core. And where I go, the energy is on the anti side. Do you think there’s any kind of organized effort to push back? And who’s leading it? Who’s going to try and make the argument to parents and teachers and children, because they won the administrators, and they won the governors and the chief education officers of the states, but they haven’t won the hearts and minds of American parents. What do they have to do?
JE: Well, I don’t know. I mean, we’re certainly trying to speak out. Tom Donahue and I authored an article jointly speaking up on behalf of business. But you’re right. There’s a lot of energy, and it’s really easy, and I think there’s always more passion on the anti side. But here’s what I’m pro, and I think this is the question. Where are the schools in America where every child is reading? Where are the schools in America where every child is doing well in math? Those schools are out there. And yes, there are some that have done it without Common Core, but how come we’re having such difficulty in replicating those schools? Why can’t every child, whether they’re in a rural area or in an urban setting, be in a school where everybody’s learning how to read, and everybody’s learning how to compute? And shouldn’t that be the debate? It should certainly not be about money. We’re spending way more than anybody else in the world. That’s $650 billion dollars on a per student basis. It’s as much, and I think of the Washington, D.C. area, of nearly $30,000 dollars per kid per year.
JE: So we just need the results. And for all the critics, I mean, you tell me. I mean, if their kids are reading, if their kids are doing math, more power to them. But they’ve got a lot of kids, and they aren’t their kids, they’re somebody else’s kids. They’re in the community, they’re in their state, they’re in other states. And they’re not doing well. What are we going to do to turn this around?
HH: Great question.
JE: Because you and I both know if we go 20 years, and 30% of our kids can do math and 90% of some other country’s kids can do the math, who’s going to be working for who down the road?
HH: Governor Engler, thank you. We also both know, I’m not even sure the Wolverines are going to show up with Urban Meyer at the helm, but my condolences in advance, Governor. Thanks so much for joining us, John Engler, president of the Business Roundtable.
End of interview.