Common Core on the Main Stage
We are now well into the 2015 state legislative season and Presidential aspirants are descending upon the early primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire with increasing frequency. Partly as a result of Common Core’s prominence in these high-profile forums, the Common Core discussion has been thrust onto the main stage of American political discourse.
To set the scene, Collaborative for Student Success Executive Director Karen Nussle lays out a review of the last election cycle, a status update in state capitols and on the changing narrative, and last, a consideration of what lies ahead:
The 2014 Midterms
For nearly two years, a small but vocal band of opponents has predicted the imminent demise of the Common Core State Standards. While many Americans have no opinion, it is true that the myths and intentional inaccuracies promulgated by opponents have slowly taken root, especially among the very conservative. Still, despite this effort, 43 of 44 states remain committed to high standards for all public school children through the Common Core.
Having been stymied legislatively in state capitol after state capitol, frustrated Common Core opponents turned their focus to the 2014 midterm elections, warning that support for Common Core would be a litmus test for conservative candidates in the November election. But as explained in a post-election analysis, those predictions never materialized: scores of candidates supportive of Common Core Standards won election and reelection.
As 2014 drew to a close, opponents of the Standards doubled down and claimed that repeal efforts would triumph in state legislatures in 2015, creating a domino effect that would spell the end for the Common Core.
States Are Sticking with Common Core
But state lawmakers appear not to be buying into the rhetoric and instead standing strong in their support of rigorous, comparable academic expectations – and the media is taking note. In Arizona, North Dakota and South Dakota – all Republican states – legislatures have voted down bills seeking to repeal the Common Core. Similar measures in Mississippi and Kansas face an unlikely future according to most reporting. It’s becoming evident most states that stuck with Common Core in 2014 are likely to continue its implementation this year.
“We feel very confident that we’re on the right track, that we’ve overcome most of the resistance [to Common Core]” Idaho Governor Butch Otter told reporters late last month. Otter, who represents one of the most conservative states in the country, concluded “We’re going to continue to resist any efforts to change it.”
In fact, new polling has turned conventional wisdom about the Common Core on its head. A recent study conducted for the Des Moines Register found 56 percent of adult voters in the all-important “First Caucus” state of Iowa have a positive perception of Common Core Standards, and support was even higher among those with children (60 percent) and voters under the age of 35 (65 percent). “Common Core education standards are a hot potato for some conservative activists in Iowa,” Jennifer Jacobs wrote. “But they’re seen as a good thing by the majority of Iowa adults.”
An NBC/Marist poll came to a similar conclusion. It found 57 percent of self-identified Republicans in the Hawkeye State do not regard the Common Core as a disqualifying issue in the 2016 election. “Among the possible controversial positions a Republican could take, Common Core was actually one of the least toxic,” reported Blake Neff of the Daily Caller. “In fact, [support for the Common Core] might even be a positive for Republican candidates vying to compete in the Iowa caucuses at this state of the race,” a Hot Air article noted.
Taking a Second Look
A new narrative is now emerging about the staying power Common Core Standards have garnered in some of the most conservative pockets of the country. As noted above, in the past three weeks, several state legislatures have turned back bills to repeal and replace Common Core Standards. These efforts are coming in Red states like Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota.
The fact many of the most conservative states in the nation are sticking with the Common Core speaks to the quality of the Standards and the promise they hold to better prepare students for success at each grade level and, ultimately, in college or a career. As Fordham Institute President Mike Petrilli wrote in December, “For all the hoopla, just a handful of states have proposed significant changes to Common Core, and none of them has written higher standards…[I]t’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.”
That may be why opponents have focused their efforts on stirring up confusion about what Common Core Standards really are. Opponents have thrown the kitchen sink at the Common Core, including accusations that Common Core promotes Islam and compares George Washington to Palestinian terrorists. A recent survey by Fairleigh Dickinson University found 55 percent of respondents believed the Common Core covered at least two subjects it does not, including sex education, evolution, global warming and the American Revolution. Seventy-seven percent who said they have heard “a lot” about the Standards incorrectly answered basic questions about them.
These kinds of general misunderstandings are fed by some leaders who now find themselves misaligned with the public on high education standards as they compete to out-pander each other in an attempt to connect with vocal, partisan activists. For example, last month one likely Republican presidential candidate criticized the Common Core “history curriculum,” saying American exceptionalism would be replaced with victimization. The only problem is, there are no history standards in the Common Core; the Standards only set benchmarks in math and English language arts. Such misrepresentations aren’t new, but they seem to be becoming more frequent.
But reasonable conservatives are getting wise to the fact they may be hearing only one side of the story – an unbalanced, deliberately misleading side. Recently, William F. Buckley’s own National Review described a panel discussion at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) thusly: “bad,” “misleading,” “misrepresentations,” and “disservice.” “A Common Core panel at CPAC that respected both sides of the debate could have been a great opportunity,” wrote the author. “Higher standards are a longstanding priority of education reform, a movement that’s been, as a policy and political matter, one of the most successful conservative ideas in recent years.”
While states are renewing their commitment to Common Core Standards, the fight is far from over. As Politico reported at the end of last month, after failing to repeal the Standards outright many opponents are turning to “sabotage” – seeking to subvert assessments, funding and resources for teachers. “Common Core foes say the array of tactical maneuvers they’ve introduced in statehouses shows the movement is maturing and digging in for a long fight,” Stephanie Simon wrote.
As the 2016 presidential primaries heat up, the Collaborative for Student Success, alongside our allies, is addressing these subversion strategies head on.
Last week we unveiled a print, digital, and radio campaign in Iowa featuring President Reagan’s former Education Secretary, Bill Bennett. In the ads – previewed in the Wall Street Journal – Secretary Bennett urges that “these sound academic standards are worth fighting for. Let’s go back to the original, conservative understanding of Common Core.”
Other supporters are ramping up their outreach as well. The Chamber of Commerce’s “Business for the Core” recently released its latest in a series of videos highlighting the importance of high standards in the classroom. In Illinois, the National Urban League has begun raising awareness about the importance of the Common Core to help close achievement gaps among low-income and minority students. We are proud to work in tandem with them to amplify these messages at a critical time.
As the presidential primary season heats up, we will continue to ask national and local leaders to address the hard questions of exactly how they would back up their calls to repeal and replace the Standards. In a recent memo, “10 Questions for Candidates Pandering on Common Core,” I laid out several issues any presidential hopeful who opposes the Common Core should answer. They include among others:
- Have you read the entire Standards document yourself?
- Are you satisfied with the academic standards states were using before Common Core came along?
- Given that Common Core is a state-initiated effort, what specific federal steps would you take as President to repeal the Standards in the 43 states that have voluntarily adopted them?
As we’ve stepped up to set the record straight, so have countless others at national, state and local level.
Last week, five recent recipients of Arizona’s Teacher of the Year award reiterated the education community’s support for the Common Core. “The positive impact of these standards can be seen in Arizona classrooms every day,” they wrote in the Arizona Republic. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor and founder of the Partnership for Educational Justice, took to the Washington Post to call out several likely presidential candidates whose political recalculations on the Common Core “border on the absurd.” And retired Army Maj. Gen. James “Spider” Marks underscored the value rigorous, comparable education standards for military families and military preparedness.
We are proud to work with the many state leaders and our partners across the country – groups like Expect More Arizona, We Raise NJ, and Climber Higher Colorado, to name just a few – who are fighting tirelessly to ensure students get a high quality education and the best chance at the future they deserve. Right now, we are entering the thick of the state legislative season: nearly half of state legislatures have passed the deadline for filing new bills and about one-third of state legislatures would require a bill to pass one chamber by the end of March. Therefore the weeks and months ahead will remain a pivotal time for Common Core in states across the country as opponents’ attacks are likely to intensify.
The Collaborative for Student Success looks forward to continuing to work with our partners in states and the broad coalition of advocates, from teachers, parents, students, business leaders and others to make the case for why lawmakers should support the Common Core.