Jeb Bush threaded the needle on education in Thursday night’s Republican debate, defending his statewide record on education without repudiating his long-established support for Common Core English and math standards. Bush was helped along by his Republican opponents, who declined to talk about the issue almost completely.
Education came up about halfway through the debate, as Bush was asked to clarify his support for Common Core, which every other GOP candidate except John Kasich opposes, and whether he thought opposition to it was from a “fringe group.” (RELATED: Education Will Make Or Break Jeb Bush)
Jeb said he didn’t think opposition was fringe, but also didn’t back off his support, arguing that only 30 percent of American high schoolers leave school ready for college or a career, and that high school standards, including Common Core, are key to changing that trend.
Bush also moved quickly to forestall criticism by saying he opposed any kind of federal control in education.
“I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards,” Bush said. “[But] I’m for higher standards, measured in an intellectually honest way.”
After hastily addressing the matter of Common Core, Bush moved rapidly to tout his other accomplishments in education. He said he created the “first, second, and third” statewide school choice programs in the U.S., and touted a large increase in the graduation rates of lower-income students in Florida during his tenure as governor. His explanation appeared to be mostly successful, as his remarks earned cheers from the Ohio debate crowd.
The Fox News moderators then turned to Marco Rubio, asking whether he disagreed with Bush’s Common Core position. Rubio said if Common Core is allowed to survive, eventually the federal government will force it upon states.
“The Department of Education, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied,” said Rubio. “They will turn it into a mandate.”
Bush, perhaps anticipating this argument, emphasized that if he were president, he would never allow the federal government to dictate school standards.
“If states want to opt out of Common Core, fine. Just make sure your standards are high,” he said. Several states have already done so, such as Oklahoma and Indiana.
Neither Bush nor Rubio spent any time discussing the specifics of Common Core. There was no argument over whether Common Core was in fact created by the federal government, or instead by the states. There was no discussion of incentives offered by the federal government to adopt Common Core, nor whether such incentives should be explicitly banned (a proposal currently under consideration in Congress).
Bill Bennett, a Common Core supporter who served as Secretary of Education under Ronald Reagan, told The Daily Caller News Foundation after the debate that there actually appeared to be very little disagreement between Rubio and Bush, at least when it came to how the two would act as president.
“They did not attack the fundamental [idea] of Common Core, which is shared standards, learning standards shared among states,” Bennett said. He acknowledged, though, that Bush’s desire to quickly get past the issue of Common Core showed that the name itself remains a big issue for Republicans.
“The term ‘Common Core’ is toxic,” he concluded.
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