Anyone who teaches in an American college or university and is over fifty knows—but may not admit or confess–that the average freshman, just arrived from secondary school, is below–often far below–what was average even as recently as twenty years ago. The deficiencies are in math skills, history, knowledge of science and, of course, in the ability to write or comprehend real English. Nor are theses deficiencies necessarily corrected by the time the freshman has become a senior.
The “Common Core” movement is the latest panacea and is financially backed by the federal government. It is in operation in some states and debated, with increasing anger, in all of them. Here, drawing from the recent book in which they debated whether the common core should be implemented or discarded, are two leading conservative observers of the educational scene. On the pro-side is Sol Stern of the Manhattan Institute. On the con-side is Peter Wood, President of the National Scholars Association. The disagreement is intense and the stakes are very high for a country that spends more than any other on education and yet is exceeded in educational attainment (and, perhaps even in the essential skills of literacy) by half of the rest of the world.