Leaked DNC Emails Underscore the Politicization of the Common Core


Emails released by WikiLeaks ahead of the Democratic National Convention indicate members of the party’s communications team identified the Common Core as a “third rail” that should be avoided, Education Week’s Andrew Ujifusa reports.

“Common Core is a political third rail that we should not be touching at all,” wrote Eric Walker, deputy communications director at the DNC. “Most people want local control of education…Would get rid of any reference to [Common Core].”

Implicit in the singular email is the suggestion that Common Core and local control are somehow at odds. The state-created standards were adopted by individual states, and emphasize the importance of local control explicitly. Districts, schools and teachers are encouraged to create and implement their own curricula in the classroom, and teachers across the country have shown how creative they have been as they implement the standards.

Importantly, support for the Common Core is not eroding among Democrats, a point that opponents quickly trumpeted. More appropriately, however, the email exchange indicates the extent to which critics have politicized the issue of rigorous, consistent education standards.

Elected leaders can support a policy and recognize that it has been politicized. That’s the nature of politics. And, sadly, opponents have eschewed honest debate in favor of exaggerated claims and misinformation campaigns. In fact, a report by the Southern Poverty Law Center notes opposition to the Common Core “is being fueled by far-right propaganda that relies heavily on distortions, outright falsehoods and demonizing conspiracy theories.”

Leaders on the right acknowledge that to be true, as well. Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett wrote last year, “Lies, myths, exaggerations and hysteria about what the Common Core means and does have dominated the ‘debate’ and the real issues have been obscured. Dishonest critics have decided that the Common Core is a pestilence on the land and have so characterized it. It is not.”

Despite opponents’ targeted and concerted attacks, state and local leaders have largely seen past the rhetoric and recommitted themselves to rigorous, comparable education via the Common Core. This year, zero states passed full-scale repeal of the standards, marking the second consecutive year in which leaders snubbed critics’ claims of an imminent widespread undoing of the Common Core.

What speaks loudest is the success that states – that chose to adopt and implement the standards – are having through implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Multiple studies indicate states have raised classroom expectations through the Common Core, helping students become college and career ready and giving parents better information about how well their students are doing.

This week, Delaware released results from assessments aligned to the Common Core. Across nearly every district students showed improvements over the previous year in math and English language arts. In Tennessee, an early adopter of the Common Core, college remediation rates have decreased steadily over the past four consecutive years and in 2014 the state made the largest improvement in college readiness rates in more than a decade.

While opponents have been successful in politicizing the term “Common Core,” parents and teachers remain firmly supportive of rigorous, consistent education standards that fully prepare students for college and careers. That is a takeaway that both political parties would be wise to take heed of going into November’s elections.