Avid Common Core supporter and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-FL) met in Nashville Wednesday with U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Gov. Bill Haslam (R-TN), for a roundtable discussion that was sponsored by the pro-Common Core Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Tennessee Business Roundtable.
The event, which was held at the Hermitage Hotel in Nashville, was closed to the general public and available only to invited guests and media. The invitation announced the title of the event as “Tennessee’s Jobs Plan: Education, Graduation, Career Readiness.”
Breitbart News called the event’s press contact, Elizabeth Duffey, several hours before the event about attending but the call was not returned.
According to the Associated Press, Bush urged state officials to press on with the Common Core Standards despite what he referred to as an “avalanche” of criticism from opponents. He said that the standards were essential to improving educational achievement in the nation.
“This is a real-world, grown-up approach to a real crisis that we have,” Bush said. “And it’s been mired in politics.”
“Trust me I know,” he added. “There are not a whole lot of people who are standing up to this avalanche.”
Bush ascribed the criticism of Common Core to “myths” that the standards are part of a federal takeover of education.
“I know it’s hard when you go back to your districts when you hear these things,” he said. “You’ve got to stay the course on higher standards and higher expectations.”
In contrast to appearing at the pro-Common Core event with Bush, Alexander, a former governor of Tennessee and U.S. education secretary, has both voiced support for education initiatives that are state-led, and also introduced measures that seek to keep federal waiver decisions from being contingent upon participation in initiatives like Common Core.
“Washington, D.C. should keep its sticky fingers off state education standards,” he said.
Common Core critics note the standards have never been tested or proven to make American students globally competitive, as supporters argue. For example, the standards have never been internationally “benchmarked.” No one knows if the standards are “rigorous,” for the very same reason: they have never been tested or proven.
The Common Core K-12 standards were developed by three private organizations in Washington D.C.: the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and progressive education company Achieve Inc. All three organizations were privately funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
There is no official information about who selected the individuals to write the Common Core standards. However, none of the writers of the math and English Language Arts standards have ever taught math, English, or reading at the K-12 level. In addition, the Standards Development Work Groups did not include any members who were high school English and mathematics teachers, English professors, scientists, engineers, parents, state legislators, early childhood educators, and state or local school board members.
Bush’s visit to Nashville comes as Common Core supporters–many of them Republicans–are stepping up an intense national campaign to salvage the standards from extreme criticism by grassroots groups of parents, students, teachers, and taxpayers.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which last year received $1.3 million in funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to promote the Common Core, has launched an ad campaign with other business groups. At the same time, Gates, who has spent upwards of $170 million on implementation of the initiative, has been interviewed on national television to defend the controversial standards.
As Breitbart News reported Wednesday morning, the roundtable event comes in the midst of a fierce battle in the Tennessee General Assembly over the Common Core standards. The state House voted last week, 82-11, to delay the controversial standards for two years through the use of a parliamentary procedure, despite Gov. Haslam’s warning to his GOP colleagues that repealing or delaying the standards would be “exactly the wrong thing to do.”
The vote was considered to be a rebuke of Haslam and Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, who have argued that Tennessee must move forward with the Common Core standards in order to keep up with other states. Haslam told state lawmakers that a repeal or delay of the standards “would be a disruptive and costly endeavor for the state as well as the districts, schools and teachers that have been implementing the standards for some time.”
For his part, Haslam quickly put together a tour of school visits around the state to create some support for the Common Core initiative.
On Monday, Tennessee’s state Senate was less enthusiastic about delaying the standards’ implementation than the House. The Senate addressed the state’s sovereignty over education standards, the privacy of student data collected, the state’s textbook commission, and the need for public hearings prior to the adoption of Common Core standards in additional subject areas, such as science and social studies.
State Senate leader Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R), however, had no interest in delaying the Common Core standards.
On WWTN’s Nashville’s Morning News with Ralph Bristol, which was guest hosted by state Sen. Jack Johnson (R), Ramsey expressed his displeasure with the House’s vote to delay the standards in Tennessee.
Ramsey accused House members of taking a bill to ensure Tennessee students learn about the Constitution and “loading it up like a Christmas tree” with amendments about the Common Core standards. He said procedures like that would never have happened in the state Senate.
The lieutenant governor added that Tennessee has “made great strides” with education within the recent year, “and just to punt and say, ‘Oh, gosh, we’ve got a problem here, we don’t like this, let’s just put this off for two years,’ that is not contributing to making things better.”
Ramsey also charged that the state House’s vote to delay Common Core is “playing right into the union’s hands.”
“What does the union want? They want it delayed,” he asserted. “So that gives them time to work behind the scenes to try to kill the tenure reform that we put in place, and the new evaluations.”
Ramsey said that he admits that “Common Core has problems, there’s things that I don’t agree with,” but added, “There are ways to address this. You look at what other states have done – Jeb Bush was just here yesterday – and in Florida, they adopted their own standards, and called them Florida standards, and that’s perfectly okay with me.”
Facing strident criticisms, several states have moved to change the name of the program.
As Breitbart News reported in February, the state of Florida dropped the name “Common Core” and replaced it with another name, “the Florida Standards.”
Similarly, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) used an executive order to delete the words “Common Core” from the standards in her state and replace them with “Arizona’s College and Career Ready Standards.” Iowa, too, renamed the Common Core Standards as “The Iowa Core.”
The “rebranding” came at the urging of Common Core supporter Mike Huckabee, former Republican Arkansas governor and Fox News host, who, while speaking at a CCSSO conference last fall, acknowledged that Common Core had become “toxic,” and encouraged state school officers to “rebrand it, refocus it, but don’t retreat.”
Breitbart News reached out to Ramsey’s office for further comment, in particular to ask him to specify which “problems” he actually had with Common Core, but received no return phone call.
“The tide is beginning to turn against Common Core in Tennessee and it was my hope that Senator Alexander would join conservatives and help us work to defeat it,” said state Rep. Joe Carr (R), who is challenging Sen. Lamar Alexander in his reelection bid. “Instead, it appears Senator Alexander is once again joining with the political establishment, this time fighting to save Common Core.”
In an interview with Breitbart News, Carr commented on Ramsey’s remarks on WWTN earlier in the day.
Regarding Ramsey’s charge that the state House’s procedure to pass the delay of the Common Core standards was inappropriate, Carr defended the House’s move.
“The House responded to the people in an overwhelming vote of 82-11,” he asserted. “The House is listening to the people, and the voters don’t want D.C.-style education that looks like ObamaCare. We don’t want a federalized education program when D.C. is so broken itself. It’s up to the states to decide education. The House responded to the will of the people.”
Carr compared the idea of changing the name of the Common Core standards, as was done in Florida, to what public reaction would be to simply changing the name of ObamaCare.
“ObamaCare is the result of an unholy alliance between government and the insurance companies,” he said. “Common Core is the result of the same between government and The U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Changing the name does nothing.”
With regard to Ramsey’s accusation that, by delaying Common Core for two years the state House was simply playing into the hands of the teachers’ unions, Carr said, “The lieutenant governor is flat out wrong.”
“I’ve never met a teacher who’s opposed to being evaluated,” he continued. “But the Common Core standards and the PARCC tests are unproven. There’s no research behind them. Teachers are opposed to being evaluated based upon unproven tests aligned with these controversial standards.”
Carr added that he was “shocked” at Ramsey’s comments because “the lieutenant governor had once been a strong opponent of Common Core.”
“With his attack on the House, I can only believe he’s carrying the water for the governor and the Chamber of Commerce,” Carr said. “Ramsey has had a strong history of conservative values, so I’m shocked at this change.”
“But the battle is not over,” Carr told Breitbart News. “We are not deterred. Common Core is not good for children, parents, teachers, and the state of Tennessee.”