Six Republican presidential contenders met Wednesday at the New Hampshire Education Summit in the early-voting state to discuss education issues, including the hotly debated Common Core standards initiative.
The education summit was moderated by former CNN news anchor Campbell Brown, co-founder of The Seventy Four, a new “online education newsroom” that seeks to drive conversation about America’s education system.
A key sponsor of the forum was the American Federation for Children (AFC), a charter school promotion group chaired by major Republican donor Betsy DeVos–who is also a board member of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Bush and his foundation have served as champions for the Common Core standards reform.
AFC sponsored a conference in May, as well, keynoted by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker–also in attendance at the New Hampshire education summit. During his address in May, Walker came out in full support for school vouchers, claiming them to be a “moral and economic imperative.”
Brown herself is a supporter of the Common Core, as well as school choice. In a recent interview with Breitbart News, she said one of the primary ways the American education system has failed is in “institutional inequality.”
The founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice, Brown said, “Parental choice in this country is only available to people who have resources. And so there’s inherent discrimination in the system.”
“I’m in a position because I’ve been lucky in my life, because I get to choose where my kids go to school. … I can afford to send them there,” she said. “But that’s not the case for most people. And sadly, the education we get is largely defined by our zip code and the neighborhood we live in.”
In most states, children are now returning to school to education standards called “Common Core,” a label that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee referred to as “toxic,” and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush just recently termed “poisonous.”
In addition, former Bush administration education senior policy adviser Ze’ev Wurman wrote recently that Common Core is “dead,” while Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey, in reviewing new poll numbers, described the education reform as “crashing.”
Not to be outdone, the Boston Globe acknowledged last month that the federally funded Common Core test consortium known as PARCC is in a “death spiral.”
Though these are ominous descriptors of the name of the academic initiative awaiting America’s children in their classrooms, it is true that GOP presidential contenders are running for their political lives from Common Core.
The newly published 2015 Education Next poll shows support for Common Core continuing its decline, down to 49% of the public. Among Republicans, however, support has plummeted to 37%, a rather threatening figure to Republican candidates who have been staunch supporters of the reform.
Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, both avid champions of Common Core–and somewhat cranky toward those who oppose the reform–continued their support at the forum, though Bush seemed to distance himself, perhaps still sensing their “poisonous” grip on his candidacy.
“If people don’t like Common Core, fine,” Bush said. “Just make sure your standards are much higher than the ones you had before. We can’t keep dumbing down standards.”
Bush’s warning accentuates his persistent failure to acknowledge the reason why Common Core is not acceptable to the conservative base of the Republican Party. The Constitution provides states with oversight of education, not the federal government. No state is required by the Constitution to have standards “much higher than the ones you had before.” Consequently, if states do not pursue high education standards on their own–sad as it may be–it is their right to do so.
Bush’s statement also suggests he believes the Common Core standards are “higher” than others, though no independent studies have demonstrated that claim. In fact, the independent studies that have been done suggest the claim is invalid.
Kasich continued his open support for Common Core at the forum, emphasizing its primary purpose of providing the same opportunities across the country for all children.
“We should have high standards,” he said, indicating also that curriculum should be decided locally, a feat that is not likely to be accomplished if students must take standardized tests aligned to the Common Core standards. Teachers cannot teach a “local” curriculum when their students are being tested on the nationalized Common Core standards.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Bush and Kasich have earned a grade of “F” on the newly released “Common Core Report Card” published Wednesday at The Pulse 2016 by conservative groups American Principles in Action and Cornerstone Policy Research.
Republican candidate Carly Fiorina, however, took a different approach at the forum, pointing out the U.S. Department of Education has continued to receive more taxpayer funds each year for several decades–supposedly to address the achievement gap–with little to show for it.
Regarding Common Core, Fiorina said, “What it’s turned into is a program that is being overly influenced by companies that have something to gain–testing companies, textbook companies.”
Fiorina earned a grade of C+ on the Common Core Report Card.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal flipped his view of Common Core and has largely attempted to fight against the initiative in his state over the past year, even to the extent of taking the Obama administration to court.
Comparing Common Core to Obamacare, he said, “I liked the concept” of what he was told Common Core would be, though it did not turn out in that way. “Philosophically, I’ve never believed in a federal government role” in curriculum, he said, and added that he felt decisions should be made at a local level.
Jindal earned a grade of B+ on the Common Core Report Card.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker again promoted school choice during the education forum, and observed the barriers to good education presented by teachers’ unions as he highlighted his fight against the unions in his state.
Though Walker defunded the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced test in his state, it was replaced by another Common Core-aligned test, an action that does not encourage Wisconsin school districts to actually choose their own “local” standards since their students will be judged on a Common Core test.
“I want high standards,” said Walker, who earned a grade of D+ on the Common Core Report Card. “I just want them set by people at the local level.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie–who has only recently considered abandoning Common Core in his state, said, “It doesn’t work. I tried four years of Common Core in New Jersey.”
Christie, who also earned a grade of D+ on the Common Core Report Card, said he fought against Common Core opponents for four years, as well. “When something doesn’t work that we try, we have to change it.”