Rigorous, Consistent Education Standards Are Still Good Conservative Policy


Although the Common Core State Standards were initially met with broad bipartisan support, “much has changed since then,” suggests Matt Barnum, columnist for the site the74Million.org. “Republican supporters of the Common Core have all but evaporated in response to political pressure.” That shift, Barnum acknowledges, was largely driven by “conspiracy theories and misconceptions,” but, the piece adds, Republican support for the Common Core has all but soured.

To be sure, opposition campaigns have been successful in tarnishing the Common Core as a brand. Unfortunately, such attacks have most often been based on misleading or altogether false information. “Dishonest critics have decided that the Common Core is a pestilence on the land and have so characterized it. It is not,” Bill Bennett wrote last year. “It is time for integrity and truth in this debate.”

Even while opponents have managed to politicize the term “Common Core,” support for rigorous and consistent education standards remains strong. Polling reaffirms that parents and teachers support comparable learning goals that fully prepare students for college and careers—no matter what label is attached.

By the same measure, state and local leaders across the country have weighed the evidence and overwhelmingly redoubled their commitment to the Common Core. Zero states have passed a full-scale repeal of the standards this year, marking the second consecutive year in which policymakers have shrugged off pressures to get rid of the learning goals. “If there were any question remaining, it seems to be firmly resolved: states are sticking with higher standards based on the Common Core,” Jim Cowen wrote earlier this year.

The Common Core’s staying power is due largely to the fact that the standards are based on the best evidence of what students need to know and do to succeed at high levels of learning, and ultimately to graduate high school prepared for college and careers. Mike Petrilli, president of the Fordham Institute, put it plainly: “It’s impossible to draft standards that prepare students for college and career readiness and that look nothing like Common Core.”

The outcomes from the few states to take the ill-fated “repeal and replace” course reaffirm that premise. Indiana, Oklahoma and South Carolina—the only states to replace the Common Core with substantially different learning goals—ended up with standards either closely resembling, or inferior to, the Common Core. Those states’ experiences demonstrate the dangerous effect of critics’ opposition campaigns, and reaffirm the impossible challenge of producing college- and career-ready standards that bear no resemblance to the Common Core, a white paper by the Collaborative notes.

It’s worth noting the Republican policy platform stops shy of calling for a repeal of the Common Core, likely because the standards are a state-led initiative and there is no federal statute to “repeal.” Moreover, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which has been called a “huge win for conservatives,” ensures state and local leaders have full control over education standards and the assessments that measure them. As Bill Bennett wrote previously, those guardrails should alleviate conservatives’ concerns. “Common, voluntary standards are a good, conservative policy.”