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August 19, 2013 3:23 PM The Race to Implement—Or Kill—Common Core Standards

By Ed Kilgore

I’ve argued off and on for a while that the steady and accelerating abandonment of standards-and-assessments-based education reform on the Right is one of the most under-reported stories of the year. And at the crucial point where states are on the brink of implementing the most ambitious “standards upgrade” initiative by far, the Common Core Standards endorsed by nearly all governors from both parties (see this Special Report from the May/June 2012 issue of the Washington Monthly for a thorough description), the withdrawal of conservative support is becoming an epidemic. The New York Times’ Bill Keller has penned a useful op-ed on the subject:

[T]he Common Core was created with a broad, nonpartisan consensus of educators, convinced that after decades of embarrassing decline in K-12 education, the country had to come together on a way to hold our public schools accountable. Come together it did — for a while.
The backlash began with a few of the usual right-wing suspects. Glenn Beck warned that under “this insidious menace to our children and to our families” students would be “indoctrinated with extreme leftist ideology….”
Beck’s soul mate Michelle Malkin warned that the Common Core was “about top-down control engineered through government-administered tests and left-wing textbook monopolies.” Before long, FreedomWorks — the love child of Koch brothers cash and Tea Party passion — and the American Principles Project, a religious-right lobby, had joined the cause. Opponents have mobilized Tea Partyers to barnstorm in state capitals and boiled this complex issue down to an obvious slogan, “ObamaCore!”….
In April the Republican National Committee surrendered to the fringe and urged states to renounce Common Core. The presidential aspirant Marco Rubio, trying to appease conservatives angry at his moderate stance on immigration, last month abandoned his support for the standards. And state by red state, the effort to disavow or defund is under way. Indiana has put the Common Core on hold. Michigan’s legislature cut off money for implementing the standards and is now contemplating pulling out altogether. Last month, Georgia withdrew from a 22-state consortium, one of two groups designing tests pegged to the new standards, ostensibly because of the costs. (The new tests are expected to cost about $29 per student; grading them is more labor-intensive because in addition to multiple-choice questions they include written essays and show-your-work math problems that will be graded by actual humans. “You’re talking about 30 bucks a kid, in an education system that now spends upwards of $9,000 or $10,000 per student per year,” said Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute.)
The Common Core is imperiled in Oklahoma, Utah, Alabama and Pennsylvania. All of the retreat, you will notice, has been in Republican-controlled states.

It’s hard to tell how much of the opposition is coming from conservatives who now oppose public education (or as an increasing number now call it, “government schools”) itself, or who think “national” standards will inhibit state-based or local efforts to undermine traditional public schools in favor of subsidies for private schools or home-schooling, but it’s clearly growing, and the heavy investment of the business community in Common Core is at best slowing down the revolt.

I strongly suspect opposition to Common Core will be a major theme for up-and-coming conservative state-level candidates in 2014, particularly for GOP primary challengers seeking to attract “base” activist support and/or to overcome suspicions of RINOism. In the race between Common Core implementation and efforts to stop it (and yes, there is opposition from the Left as well, and some concerns and misgivings across the spectrum, but nothing like what we are seeing on the Right), it’s currently a dead heat with the horse named “No!” gaining fast.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

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