Why Common Core Opposition Isn’t Necessarily an Easy Win Issue for Politicians


Reporting on a campaign speech delivered by Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, Washington Post contributor Chris Cillizza claims Mr. Trump’s pledge to repeal the Common Core is among the “easy-win issues for him in the eyes of Republican voters… Conservatives hate the idea of the federal government dictating to them on how best to teach their children.”

However, polling shows that conservative and progress voters alike strongly support high, comparable education standards – no matter what labels are attached. Two-thirds of parents favor college- and career-ready education standards that are consistent from state to state and school district to school district, which represents an increase over past years, according to the latest annual Education Next national survey.

Support for high-quality assessments is even more robust. Nearly 80 percent of voters favor yearly assessments, and 73 percent support assessments that are comparable among states and districts – which is really only possible when states have a shared baseline of academic expectations.

Objective analyses, education experts, and political commentators from both sides of the aisle, even Mr. Trump’s own supporters, have repeatedly rejected his promise to “get rid” of Common Core if elected. That’s because implementation of high, comparable education standards remains a state-led effort – there is no law to repeal. Moreover, the Every Student Succeeds Act ensures the federal government has no influence over states’ standards or assessments.

“The Common Core was never a program of the federal government,” the Daily Caller reported in March. “It’s not possible for Trump, as president, to repeal or otherwise get rid of it, because there’s nothing to repeal.”

Washington Post columnist Lyndsey Layton wrote in January, “States decide academic standards. That has been true for years but was spelled out explicitly by the [Every Student Succeeds Act].”

Mr. Trump’s “clamor about ending the Common Core is both obsolete and irrelevant,” Jim Cowen explains. “The standards succeeded in raising the bar in nearly every state in the country. Now parents, students and teachers are focused on meeting these new goals to better become college and career ready.”

As Cowen points out, the Common Core has largely achieved its purpose: Most states have adopted higher standards and there is greater comparability – which was always the purpose of the standards. They were meant to set a floor, not a ceiling, for student achievement, and states have used them as such.

Importantly, states are now beginning to see the impact of raising the bar for students. A majority of states improved proficiency in math and reading in the second year of assessments aligned to higher standards. Some of the biggest gains were made by third-grade students, who have spent most of their educational careers learning to meet higher standards. By implementing high-quality assessments, states have begun to provide more accurate information to parents and teachers.

Those kinds of accomplishments are a big win for parents and represent improvements that voters of both parties can support. Leaders at every level would be wise to articulate the importance of sustaining that momentum by maintaining a high bar for students, rather than regurgitating a narrative that’s been repeatedly disproved.