Political Animal

Blog

November 25, 2013 4:07 PM Update on the GOP Retreat From Common Core

By Ed Kilgore

At the conservative site The Federalist, Joy Pullmann has an interesting update on Republican attitudes towards the implementation of the Common Core Standards initiative from the point of view of someone who very badly wants it to fail. She’s annoyed that a fair number of GOP pols (particularly the state-level who spent years backing Common Core on a bipartisan basis) aren’t reacting quickly enough to “grassroots” conservative pressure to kill the initiative:

At least a dozen states have held hearings reconsidering the initiative in just 2013. Such hearings routinely need overflow rooms to contain abnormally large audiences of moms, dads, grandparents, and teachers who attend during work and school hours. New York and Ohio are right in the middle of such hearings, following Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Michigan, Tennessee, and Indiana in just the past two months. Opponents’ concerns include lack of public input, costs, further centralization in education, lost teacher autonomy, crony capitalism, academic quality, and experimental testing….
Even so, knowledge of Common Core is relatively low among the general public, so many politicians have seen this as an opening to disregard or ignore it. That’s a dangerous move.
As a sampling of the disregard politicians have bestowed on thousands of ordinary people agitating against Common Core as it rolls out into schools in advance of the tests, consider the following.
Before one of these hearings in October, Ohio House Education Chairman Gerald Stebelton (R-Lancaster) told reporters Common Core critics “don’t make sense.” He also called opposition a “conspiracy theory.” In Wisconsin the same month, state Sen. John Lehman (D-Racine) told a packed audience their hearings were “crazy” and “a show,” and asked, “What are we doing here?” When Michigan’s legislature reinstated Common Core funding after several hearings, State Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Saginaw County) said, “[W]e’ve marginalized, quite frankly, the anti-crowd into a very minute number….”
Then, there’s Florida. Former Gov. Jeb Bush has said those who object rely on “conspiracy theories.” At a recent conference by Bush’s education nonprofit, education blog RedefinED reported, “political strategist Mike Murphy said polling shows most of the public still isn’t familiar with Common Core. The heaviest opposition, he said, comes from Republican primary voters, who, when they’re first asked about the standards, are opposed 2-to-1. ‘They think it’s a secret plot controlled by red Chinese robots in the basement of the White House,’ he said….”
Governors in Maine and Iowa issued essentially do-nothing executive orders blustering about how states can still control their education policies despite being under contract with the federal government to implement Common Core, at risk of federal education funds and sanctions. Florida’s board of education approved a motion allowing school districts to ignore already optional appendices to Common Core. Alabama’s board of education voted to withdraw a non-binding letter of support for the initiative the state superintendent signed in 2009.

To Pullmann, of course, these are all outrageous examples of elitist GOP office-holders trying to cram a dubious federal education initiative down the throats of unhappy constituents (and Republican voters), and the arguments that the latter are buying the abundant conspiracy theories circulating about Common Core are insults. But fortunately (from Pullmann’s POV), there’s a presidential cycle coming on soon, and Republican elected officials thinking of playing in that sandbox are paying much closer attention to “the base” on Common Core:

A number of Republican governors likely to try for the 2016 presidential nomination have seen this issue as important enough to modify their positions or attempt a dodge: This includes Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Indiana’s Mike Pence, and Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal. In fact, the only GOP presidential likely who strongly supports Common Core is Jeb Bush. Walker and Pence both took months of grassroots pressure to take stances, given Common Core’s strong support among the business lobby, but Walker eventually said “Wisconsin can do better” and Pence keeps repeating, “Indiana needs Indiana standards.” Indiana’s House speaker, who previously blocked anti-Common Core legislation, just publicly agreed with Pence. Jindal is in a tougher spot given Louisiana’s decrepit education system, so he has largely taken a pass on the issue, referring it to the state school board and superintendent for review. A staffer for a prominent GOP governor told me, “This has turned into a pitchforks versus elites conversation that is dangerous politically. There are a lot of states, specifically red states, that are very, very scared right now. Our legislators are getting beaten up by constituents.”

I don’t know who’s going to win the race between Common Core’s long-established implementation schedule and the efforts to claw it back before it’s “too late.” But I absolutely guarantee you that if Jeb Bush runs for president in 2016, he’s going to pay a big price for failing to smell the coffee and beat a hasty retreat on Common Core.

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.

Comments

(You may use HTML tags for style)

comments powered by Disqus