Common Core yet to emerge as major issue in presidential campaign

Credit: Louis Freedberg / EdSourceCredit: Louis Freedberg / EdSourceEdSource plans to track the Common Core’s role in the 2016 presidential campaign. The following is the first of our occasional reports. 
So far, at least, the Common Core has not become a major issue in the early stages of the 2016 presidential campaign.
One reason is surely the result of the near total eclipse of most substantive policy discussions in the GOP presidential contest by the presence and pronouncements of Donald Trump.
But it is also true that it has not come up as a significant point of discussion in the two major GOP forums in recent weeks – the candidates’ forum in New Hampshire on Aug. 3 and the debate dominated by Trump in Cleveland on Aug. 6. Nor has it emerged as a significant issue among Democratic candidates.
In both GOP events, moderators asked Jeb Bush, the candidate who has most explicitly supported the Common Core in the past, about his position, and he deftly sidestepped the question.
On both occasions, Bush did not directly endorse the Common Core standards; nor did he come out against them. Instead, he said he supports higher standards but is against the federal government imposing them – a reference to the assertion that the Common Core was in effect imposed on states because the Obama administration gave states that adopted them extra points in the competition to get Race To the Top funds beginning in July 2009.
“I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards,” Bush said in response to a question by moderator Bret Baier in the Cleveland debate, virtually the same response he made in New Hampshire.
Without mentioning the Common Core by name, he pivoted away from discussing the standards  to emphasizing his support for a GOP policy staple – offering parents more choices, which usually includes choices outside public schools. “I’m for higher standards, measured in an intellectually honest way, with abundant school choice, ending social promotion. And I know how to do this because as governor of the state of Florida I created the first statewide voucher program in the country, the second statewide voucher program in the country and the third statewide voucher program in the country.”
For overview of candidates’ positions, see Keeping Score “scorecards” by The Seventy Four
Six GOP candidates’ views on education at an “Education Summit” in New Hampshire in Aug. 19 hosted by The Seventy Four
Baier then asked Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to respond. Rubio predicted that the U.S. Department of Education would simply turn the Common Core into a federal mandate.
Bush was then asked to respond to Rubio’s comments, and for the first time in the debate directly referred to the Common Core.  He made it clear that he felt the Common Core should be voluntary, not a federal mandate. “If states want to opt out of Common Core, fine. Just make sure your standards are high,” Bush said. “If we are going to compete in this world we’re in today, there is no possible way we can do it with lowering expectations and dumbing down everything.”
This was a more nuanced position than the one he took last November when he explicitly backed the Common Core standards and stated that they should be a “minimum standard.”
“There is no question we need higher academic standards and — at the local level — diverse, high-quality content and curricula,” he said. “And in my view, the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in classrooms. For those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: Aim even higher . . . be bolder . . . raise standards and ask more of our students and the system.”
Bush seems to be avoiding using the term Common Core wherever possible. At the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 14 from the Des Moines Register Soapbox he allowed why: “The term ‘Common Core’ is so darned poisonous, I don’t even know what it means,” he said.
At an “Education Summit” in New Hampshire hosted by Campbell Brown, the founder and editor-in-chief of The Seventy Four on Aug. 19, Bush joked “What’s that?” when he was asked by Brown about his views on the Common Core. (See this video with Bush’s comments on Common Core beginning at 15:54.)
He again approached the subject gingerly, sticking to his talking points. “It needs to be about real accountability, school choice, high standards,” he told Brown. “If people don’t like Common Core, fine. Just make sure your standards are much higher than the ones you had before. We can’t keep dumbing down standards.”
One reason that the Common Core has not become a major issue so far may be that Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, has never made support for the Common Core a part of her education agenda. In fact, she is not on the record as clearly expressing views in the pro-Common Core camp. Instead, her major focus has been on early education and preschool. In August she added another issue – a major proposal that would allow a loan-free college education.
One occasion when she addressed the  Common Core publicly was in April during her first campaign appearance in Iowa after announcing her candidacy. In a round-table discussion with a small group of staff and students at Kirkwood Community College, Diane Temple, a high school teacher and composition instructor at the college, described the Common Core as “ a wonderful step in the right direction of improving American education. And it’s painful to see that attacked.”
The question gave Clinton an opening to come out clearly in favor of the Common Core. But she chose not to. Instead, she gave a long response that basically said she supported a “core curriculum.” She praised the Iowa Core, which the state adopted in 2008 before the Common Core was drawn up under the aegis of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Iowa subsequently adopted the Common Core standards in 2010, after educators there concluded that there was a “high level of similarity” between the Iowa Core and the Common Core.
Clinton did say she found the fact that the Common Core had become a partisan issue “very painful.”  She spoke favorably about the rationale behind the Common Core that she said was originally intended “to come up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was, that there wouldn’t be two tiers of education. Everybody would be looking at what was to be learned and doing their best to try to achieve that.”
However, she too moved quickly away from talking about the Common Core to stressing the importance of providing opportunities for every child — a longstanding theme throughout her political career — which included her early support for No Child Left Behind.
Transcripts of recent comments on the Common Core
Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio on the Common Core in the Fox News debate with GOP presidential candidates in Cleveland on Aug. 6, 2015 (Excerpted from the full Washington Post transcript here):
BRET BAIER (MODERATOR): Governor Bush, you are one of the few people on the stage who advocates for Common Core education standards, reading and math. A lot of people on this stage vigorously oppose federal involvement in education. They say it should all be handled locally. President Obama’s secretary of education, Arnie Duncan, has said that most of the criticism of Common Core is due to a, quote, “fringe group of critics.” Do you think that’s accurate?
JEB BUSH: No, I don’t. And I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum or content. It is clearly a state responsibility.
I’m for higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way, with abundant school choice, ending social promotion. And I know how to do this because as governor of the state of Florida I created the first statewide voucher program in the country, the second statewide voucher program, in the country and the third statewide voucher program in the country.
And we had rising student achievement across the board, because high standards, robust accountability, ending social promotion in third grade, real school choice across the board, challenging the teachers union and beating them is the way to go.
And Florida’s low-income kids had the greatest gains inside the country. Our graduation rate improved by 50 percent. That’s what I’m for.
BAIER: Senator Rubio, why is Governor Bush wrong on Common Core?
MARCO RUBIO: Well, first off, I too believe in curriculum reform. It is critically important in the 21st Century. We do need curriculum reform. And it should happen at the state and local level. That is where educational policy belongs, because if a parent is unhappy with what their child is being taught in school, they can go to that local school board or their state legislature, or their governor and get it changed.
Here’s the problem with Common Core. The Department of Education, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied. They will not stop with it being a suggestion. They will turn it into a mandate.
In fact, what they will begin to say to local communities is, you will not get federal money unless do you things the way we want you to do it. And they will use Common Core or any other requirements that exists nationally to force it down the throats of our people in our states.
BAIER: And do you agree with your old friend?
BUSH: He is definitely my friend. And I think the states ought to create these standards. And if states want to opt out of Common Core, fine. Just make sure your standards are high.
Because today in America, a third of our kids, after we spend more per student than any country in the world other than a couple rounding errors, to be honest with you, 30 percent are college- and/or career-ready.
BUSH: If we are going to compete in this world we’re in today, there is no possible way we can do it with lowering expectations and dumbing down everything. Children are going to suffer and families’ hearts are going to be broken that their kids won’t be able to get a job in the 21st Century.
Jeb Bush’s Comments at Candidates’ Forum in New Hampshire  Aug. 3, 2015
JACK HEATH  (MODERATOR): Governor Bush, Common Core curriculum has been controversial here in New Hampshire, standards remain controversial… Should state and local school boards reject any so-called national educational standards?
BUSH: They should.  They should.  States ought to create standards, they should be high, they should be state-driven and locally implemented. The federal government should have no role in the creation of standards, no role in the creation, indirectly or directly, in the creation of content or curriculum.
The federal government’s role in education ought to be to provide support for states that want reform. Governor Jindal has created some amazing reforms in Louisiana, but yet his Title I money can’t be used to enhance those reforms. So the federal government should not have any say as it relates to standards, but we need higher standards, we need robust accountability, school choice, ending social promotion, a comprehensive plan to make sure that more than just a third of our kids are college-and-career-ready.
See the full video of the event here. (Bush’s comments are 2 hours, 2 minutes from the start of the video.)
Hillary Clinton’s comments on the Common Core when she met with students and staff at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa in April 2015. (Read the full exchange courtesy of the Washington Post.)
DIANE TEMPLE (HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR): I think the Common Core is a wonderful step in the right direction of improving American education. And it’s painful to see that attacked. I’m just wondering what can you do to bring that heart back to education? What can we do so that parents and communities and businesses believe in American education and that teachers are respected and our schools are respected and our colleges are respected? And we offer a quality education to all Americans throughout the United States?
HILLARY CLINTON: Wow. That is really a powerful, touching comment that I absolutely embrace. When I think about the really unfortunate argument that’s been going on around Common Core, it’s very painful, because the Common Core started off as a bi-partisan effort — it was actually nonpartisan. It wasn’t politicized, it was to try to come up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was, that there wouldn’t be two tiers of education. Everybody would be looking at what was to be learned and doing their best to try to achieve that. Now I think part of the reason why Iowa may be more understanding of this is you’ve had the Iowa Core for years, you’ve had a system, plus the Iowa Assessment tests. I think I’m right in saying I took those when I was in elementary school, right — the Iowa tests. So Iowa has had a testing system based on a core curriculum for a really long time, and you see the value of it. You understand why that helps you organize your whole education system. And a lot of states, unfortunately, haven’t had that, and so don’t understand the value of a core in this sense  a common core that then – yes of course you can figure out the best way, in your community to try to reach.
But your question is really a larger one. How did we end up at a point where we are so negative about the most important non-family enterprise in the raising of the next generation, which is how our kids are educated? And there are a lot of explanations for that, I suppose. But whatever they are, we need to try to get back into a broad conversation where people will actually listen to each other again, and try to come up with solutions for problems, cause the problems here in Monticello are not the same problems that you’ll find in the inner cities in our biggest urban areas – that’s a given – we have to do things differently. But it should all be driven by the same commitment to try to make sure we do educate every child. That’s why, you know, I was a senator and voted for Leave No Child Behind because I thought every child should matter and it shouldn’t be you’re poor or you have disabilities so we will sweep you to the back, don’t show up on test days so we don’t want to mess up our scores. No, every child should have the same opportunity. And so I think we have got to get back to basics and we have to look to teachers to lead the way on that.
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