(AP) — More than five years after U.S. governors began a bipartisan effort
to set new standards in American schools, the Common Core initiative has
morphed into a political tempest fueling division among Republicans.
The U.S. Chamber
of Commerce leads establishment voices — such as possible presidential
contender Jeb Bush — who hail the standards as a way to improve student
performance and, over the long term, competitiveness of American workers.
archconservatives — tea party heroes Rand Paul and Ted Cruz among them —
decry the system as a top-down takeover of local schools. The standards
were developed and are being implemented by states, though Common Core
opponents argue that President Barack Obama's administration has
encouraged adoption of the standards by various parameters it set for
states applying to get lucrative federal education grants.
officials and candidates want to delay the standards or abandon them
altogether in at least a dozen of the 45 states that adopted some part of
the guidelines. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence on Monday signed the first Common
Core repeal to make it through a legislature.
"Common Core is
like Obamacare: They passed it before they knew what was in it," said
William Evers, a Hoover Institute research fellow and lead author of a
California Republican Party resolution denouncing Common Core.
To a lesser
extent, Democrats must deal with some teachers — their unions hold strong
influence within the party — who are upset about implementation details.
But it's the internal GOP debate that's on display in statehouses, across
2014 campaigns and among 2016 presidential contenders.
continues as students in 36 states and the District of Columbia begin this
week taking field tests of new assessments based on the standards,
although the real tests won't be given for another year.
Republican senator from Kentucky, has joined seven colleagues, including
Texas' Cruz, to sponsor a measure that would bar federal financing of any
Common Core component. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio isn't among the eight, but
he had already come out against the standards. So has Rick Santorum, a
2012 presidential candidate mulling another run.
On the other end
of the spectrum is Bush, the former Florida governor and Rubio's mentor.
"This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have,
and it's been mired in politics," Bush said last week in Tennessee, where
he joined Republican Gov. Bill Haslam at an event to promote Common Core.
Haslam, who is
running for re-election this year, is trying to beat back a repeal effort
in the Tennessee legislature. "These are simply guidelines that say a
fourth grader should be learning the same things" regardless of where the
student lives, the governor said recently. "Historically, we haven't been
good at setting high standards."
Governors Association and state education superintendents developed Common
Core. Among other things, the framework recommends when students should
master certain skills. For example, by the end of fifth grade, a math
student should be able to solve complex problems by plotting points on x
and y axes. A high school sophomore should be able to analyze text or make
written arguments using valid logical reasoning and sufficient evidence.
presents a delicate balancing act for some governors. Bobby Jindal's
Louisiana and Scott Walker's Wisconsin initially adopted the new
standards. Now both men — possible presidential candidates — watch as GOP
lawmakers in their states push anti-Common Core bills.
Jindal, who was
an NGA member during Common Core's development, won't say where he stands
"When it comes to
specific bills, when they get to the issue of standards, we'll sit down
with the authors and provide our thoughts about it. But in general when it
comes to standards, we don't want to weaken the standards," he told
reporters last week.
lawmakers convened, Walker announced support for rethinking Common Core.
In both states, however, the anti-Common Core measures linger late in
Republicans in Georgia, meanwhile, derailed a repeal effort in favor of a
"study commission" empowered only to make recommendations. Alabama GOP
leaders have held off a repeal measure, as well.
political consequences of the disputes aren't clear. GOP officials and
strategists say any fallout for them is dwarfed by Democrats' struggle
with Obama's health care law. In the meantime, conservative candidates use
Common Core as a symbolic rallying cry.
Rep. Joe Carr, a long-shot primary challenger to Republican Sen. Lamar
Alexander, insists Common Core "is just one more overreach of a federal
government that wants to insert itself into everything." An Alabama
congressional hopeful, Scott Beason, casts Common Core as liberal
indoctrination. In Georgia's crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate,
Rep. Paul Broun declared in a recent debate, "I want to abolish the
Department of Education and get rid of Common Core forever." His first
goal wouldn't necessarily accomplish the second.
perplex the politicians most responsible for the plan.
Jack Markell of Delaware told The Associated Press that opponents
mistakenly equate a coalition from across the nation with a federal
government initiative. Markell co-chaired the NGA's Common Core panel with
Republican Sonny Perdue of Georgia.
Perdue, who left
office in 2011, said Common Core actually began as a pushback against
federal influence because of the No Child Left Behind law, the national
education act signed by President George W. Bush. Perdue said it was
"embarrassing" for governors of both parties that Congress and the White
House pushed higher standards before state leaders.
the outcry against Common Core to Obama's backing: "There is enough
paranoia coming out of Washington, I can understand how some people would
believe these rumors of a 'federal takeover,' try as you might to persuade
people otherwise. I almost think it was detrimental ... for the president
to endorse it."
Evers, who was a
top Education Department appointee during the Bush administration, says
it's unfair to reduce opponents' concerns to partisanship. He notes
insufficient training for teachers expected to use new teaching methods,
and he criticizes specific components. For example, some math courses are
recommended for later grade levels than in standards already adopted in
leading states like Massachusetts and California.
forward, Evers argued, because of competition. "It's by emulation and
rivalry that we have always seen advances in public education," he said.
National standards, he added, "will close the door on innovation."