Common Core in the First Republican Presidential Primary Debate

While the term “Common Core” may still rally a subset of political activists, the first and only question about education reform in tonight’s Republican presidential debate reinforced that high, comparable education standards is a principle conservatives endorse. After more than three years of targeted attacks based on half-truths and discredited talking points, the national dialogue seems to be moving past the rhetoric.

Tonight two candidates engaged in a discussion over Common Core, and even while debates are created for the purpose of identifying differences, neither candidate fundamentally disagreed with the other.

In the end, one candidate defended the Common Core State Standards by name and the other candidate disparaged the brand, but both strongly supported the underlying fundamental principles of the Common Core: higher standards and local control.

Governor Bush did so when he said, “I’m for higher standards, measured in an intellectually honest way,” while Senator Rubio agreed on the need for education reform, calling it “critically important.”

Additionally, both agreed on the necessity of local control. Governor Bush said that “states ought to create the standards,” while Senator Rubio asserted “education policy belongs [at the state and local level] because if a parent is unhappy with what their child is being taught in school, they can go to the local school board or the governor and get it changed.”

In the end, Governor Bush closed with a vociferous defense of higher standards: “Make sure your standards are high, because today in America, a third of our kids, after we spend more per student than any other country in the world other than a couple rounding errors, to be honest, 30 percent are college or career ready. If we are going to compete in this world today, there is no possible way we can do it with lowering expectations and dumbing down everything. Children will suffer and families’ hearts will be broken that their kids won’t be able to get a job in the 21st century.”

Tonight’s debate proves what the Collaborative has written for several months: despite any misgivings about the phrase “Common Core,” political leaders are coalescing around the main principles of the Common Core.

Five years after the states initiated the creation of Common Core State Standards and then voluntarily adopted them, the debate over whether the standards will survive appears firmly settled: the efforts of Common Core opponents to derail the standards have failed, and Common Core, or something very similar, remain the math and English language arts standards most states choose.