After lurking beneath the surface for several years as it was quietly implemented in over 90 percent of the country, Common Core surged to prominence in the past two year to become a major issue in dozens of primaries and state-level races around the country.
While 2014 was the first election where a candidate’s support or opposition to Common Core was of great importance, neither side won a decisive victory. Instead of indicating whether Common Core is here to stay or on the way out, Tuesday’s results only indicated that 2015, like the previous year, will be a hotly-contested one in the field of education standards.
Unsurprisingly, Common Core was most prominent as an issue in the country’s many races for public schools superintendent, and it was in these races that Common Core foes found the most celebrate about. Their most notable win was in Arizona, where upstart Republican candidate Diane Douglas squeaked out a narrow win over Democrat David Garcia despite running essentially no campaign. Douglas’s only policy position was a total and absolute opposition to Common Core, and her only other major asset was the R next to her name on the ballot. Two former Republican superintendents endorsed Garcia, as did the the state Chamber of Commerce, but it wasn’t enough. Garcia rode Tuesday’s Republican wave all the way to the superintendent’s chair.
Georgia was also a win for anti-Common Core forces, as Republican Richard Woods easily defeated Democrat Valarie Wilson. Woods says he wants to replace Common Core with Georgia-specific standards as part of a broader platform of making things easier for teachers. He doesn’t have Douglas’s single-minded commitment to seeking repeal, but his victory is still of major importance in a state that, to this point, has been one of the red states most willing to stay the course on implementation.
Other superintendent races were favorable for Common Core foes as well. In South Carolina, Republican Molly Spearman won the seat. South Carolina has already acted to replace Common Core, but Spearman’s win means the new standards are more likely to be meaningfully different from the old ones. Lastly, in Wyoming, Republican Jilian Balow’s victory puts into office a leader who has said she’s willing to review Common Core, although unlike other candidates she is has not committed to seeking a full repeal.
While pro-Common Core superintendent candidates had a rough night, the national situation is more balanced after taking into account gubernatorial races, argues Karen Nussle of the Collaborative for Student Success, a group that defends the standards. Common Core was a central issue in four races, she said in a memo given to The Daily Caller News Foundation, and in three of them the pro-Common Core candidate came out ahead. In New York and Colorado, incumbent Democrats Andrew Cuomo and John Hickenlooper defeated Republican challengers who had targeted their support for Common Core. In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, Democratic Core supporter Tom Wolf unseated Republican Tom Corbett, who reversed his past support of the standards in the run-up to the election and had pledged to seek a full repeal if re-elected. Only in Arizona, where Doug Ducey won an open-seat race against Fred Duval, did a Common Core opponent carry the day in a race where the standards were a significant issue, Nussle said.
Common Core also benefited from the outcomes in other contests where the standards were less central to the race. In New Hampshire, incumbent Maggie Hassan’s victory prevents a promised push to uproot the standards by Republican Walt Havenstein, and John Kitzhaber’s win over Dennis Richardson does the same for Oregon.
Overall, Nussle argued, 2014 was “a net zero-change election insofar as the politics of Common Core is concerned,” a draw that she characterized as a major moral victory. “For the better part of this past year, opponents of Common Core threw everything but the kitchen sink at candidates who support high standards, but in the end, the Standards once again demonstrated their resiliency.”
Nussle’s optimism was expressed by other Common Core backers. Michael Petrilli, president of the pro-Core Fordham Institute, published a blog post assessing the midterm results in which he predicted 2015 would see the standards survive in a substantial majority of states, even if some like Arizona plunge off the wagon.
“We should expect another round of bruising legislative fights this spring all over red America, particularly in states with emboldened Republican legislatures,” Petrilli wrote. “But it won’t change the fundamentals: The vast majority of states, I predict, will continue to move ahead with these higher standards.”
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