Lies, Damned Lies, and the Common Core

By 02/10/2014

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If you want to understand why supporters of the Common Core are frustrated—OK, exasperated—by some of our opponents’ seemingly unlimited willingness to engage in dishonest debate, consider this latest episode.

On Monday, EAG News published an article entitled, “Common Core math question for sixth graders: Was the 2000 election ‘fair’?

Would you ever consider the question ‘Whom do you want to be president?’ to be asked of your third grader during a math class (or any class)?

Would you expect your fourth grader to be asked to create a chart of presidents along with their political persuasions? Or, how about a discussion on whether the 2000 presidential election resulted in a “fair” outcome? Or, what if the teacher for your sixth grader was advised to “be prepared” to discuss the “politically charged” 2000 election – all during math.

Common Core aligned, of course.

This was picked up by the Daily Caller’s Eric Owens on Wednesday, who piled on via his article, “Common Core MATH lesson plans attack Reagan, list Lincoln’s religion as ‘liberal’”

Another week has gone by and, like clockwork, some more hilariously awful Common Core math lessons have oozed out of the woodwork.

And the story jumped to cable news this morning on a Fox segment, “Common Core lesson lists Abraham Lincoln as a liberal.”

So this is pretty damning for the Common Core, right?


Let’s start with the lesson about the 2000 election. What is its connection to the Common Core? It’s one of thousands of lessons posted on Illuminations, an NCTM website. Like many lesson-sharing sites, this one appears to have little by way of quality control, though it does attempt to allow teachers to “align” these lessons to standards, including the Common Core. But was this lesson written to the Common Core standards? That seems unlikely—since it’s copyrighted from 2008. Ahem, that’s two years before the Common Core standards were written!

Or what about the now-infamous “Lincoln was a liberal” lesson? This one was copyrighted in…2009! Oh, and the website that listed Abraham Lincoln’s religion as “liberal” (before it was “quietly updated”),, has absolutely zero to do with the Common Core.

This is like the Kevin Bacon game: six degrees of separation from the Common Core.

So let’s get this straight: EAG News found a couple of ridiculous lesson plans on an NCTM website, lesson plans written before the Common Core, and calls them “Common Core math questions.” (Ironically, the author of the article, Renee Nal, claims in her tag line that “her main objectives are to expose media and academic bias and to contribute to a positive shift in culture; where integrity, honesty and independent thought are held in high regard.”)

Then the Daily Caller pushes the story further, which then jumps to Fox News. And nowhere in this chain of events do the “reporters” tell their audience that (a) the lessons were written before the Common Core; (b) the lessons don’t even claim to be Common Core aligned; (c) even if they were claimed to be Common Core aligned, that doesn’t necessarily make them so; and (d) nothing in the Common Core itself promotes this stuff.

And so this morning, millions of people woke up to these claims about the Common Core on Fox News (this is the actual transcript):

Elisabeth Hasselbeck: Was Abraham Lincoln a liberal? That’s what one Common Core-aligned math lesson is set to teach your kids. Take a look. In a recommended link to Lincoln’s biography, which is supposed to provide key facts about him, it lists his religion as liberal. Joining us now with her take on this is the executive director of the Eagle Forum, Glyn Wright. Certainly something shocking to see when kids are supposed to be learning history. Oh wait, but this occurred under a math curriculum?

Glyn Wright: Right, right. This is just more evidence of the poor quality of education found with the Common Core. And even if this were conservative rhetoric we would still be opposed because the root of our opposition lies in the fact that this is a top-down, federally-controlled approach to education. It has started with standards that have already led to national testing which will soon lead to a national curriculum. Can you imagine if these were mandated even to our good teachers?

And it goes on from there.

I agree with my friends on the Right that there are principled reasons to oppose the Common Core. But I hope my friends will understand that a principled debate is not what we’re actually having today—and that this sort of dishonesty deserves to be called out as way, way out of bounds.

– Mike Petrilli

This first appeared on the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog.

Comment on this article
  • Tim Macdowall says:

    Mr Petrilli:

    Do you stand to financially benefit from a successful corporate takeover of our schools? Have you, or any organization you are affiliated with, ever received grant money from The Gates Foundation? You want full disclosure & transparency? Start by looking in the mirror.

  • Kevin Kelly says:

    Mr Petrelli, are you affiliated with the Fordham institute? The same institute that accepted Gates Foundation money to promote common core? While the examples you bring up may or may not be directly linked to the CCSS, they certainly are indicative of the liberal bias in all education policy. Whatever happened to teaching facts?

  • Steve Lambert says:

    Mr. Petrilli,

    The tone of your blog, along with the title of this particular post, seems as vitriolic as the articles that you are taking to task. While a modicum of passion is good, I have learned over the years that highly impassioned writing such as yours usually points to something suspicious. Perhaps you can promote a more measured and factual debate by being more transparent and measured yourself.

    Steve Lambert

  • karen dickinson says:

    One of the things I find strange about educational debates, is there is very rarely an educator who can speak to the merits or lack there of of an initiative on the panel. When matters of law or medicine are discussed, not only are the credentials of the speaker shared with the audience, but these are people whose background is easily researched. Not so for those who speak about education. For example, one of the speakers on the education circuit is Diane Ravitch. She has not taught children in decades. Just because she writes about education, does not make her an expert. As 28 year education who has used the CCSS with 3 year olds and 18 year olds, I am in a position to state they are a vast improvement in our public education system. If anyone truly seeking to understand why would like to ask me a genuine question, I would be happy to answer it. However, my answers will not polarize, so I happily go back to my work with teachers who are wonderful hard working people who deserve better than the crazy banter on TV or in some blog.

  • Lane says:

    I am a National Board certified high school math teacher. I use the K-8 math standards to remediate my students. The progressions for fractions and ratio reasoning is nothing short of genius. My high schoolers are asking why they did not understand fractions like that before…good question!

  • Laura says:

    Karen, Lane, we need more voices like yours in the CCSS conversations! Thank you for weighing in, and I only wish that national media outlets would be wise enough to ask the experts: teachers like you.

  • Larry Sizemore says:

    There is nothing wrong with the tone of the post or the title. I find the denial laughable when one is forced to squirm under the scrutiny of a factual information. It reminds of children who have been caught in a lie. I am a teacher with no stake in Common Core other than the best interest of kids, giving them an opportunity to compete for technical and science oriented careers. We have lost that edge to cultures who have progressed beyond ours to a place where they value thinking and reasoning as much as answer getting and rote memorization. I am a teacher who has watched our Common Core babies rise out of second grade with more number sense and problem solving capacity than many adults. The sad thing is that most opponents, including Faux News, are willing to sell out their kid’s futures over a political philosophy. I can only speak to math, but I know the standards are what kids need. I regret how they were implemented, how they have become politicized, but they are good for children because thinking and reasoning are good for children, and that is good enough for me.

  • Tara Sherry-Torres says:

    Larry, Laura, Lane & Karen,

    Given your expertise as a teacher and experience with the Common Core, I’d love for you to share your knowledge with our network of teachers. Here is a link to a live conversation that teachers are having around the Common Core. The goal is to collect opinions in one location in order to increase the visibility of teachers voices.

    Best, Tara

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