Republican presidential candidates Jeb Bush and John Kasich worked hard to defend their continued support for Common Core education standards, while also trying to assuage the fears of Republican voters who view the standards as a federal takeover of education.
Six Republican candidates met in Londonderry, N.H. for a summit on education sponsored by the American Federation for Children. The six participating candidates were Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, John Kasich, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker. Each had a 45-minute one-on-one interview with Campbell Brown, a former CNN reporter who has become a leader in the education reform movement.
Bush, the first candidate to appear, was asked about Common Core at length, and while he didn’t disavow it, he did distance himself from some of its key aspects, including the “Common” part of its name.
“The commonality [of standards] is not as relevant as the highness of them,” he said. Bush said that states should feel no pressure to remain a part of Common Core.
“If people don’t like Common Core, fine – just make sure your standards are much higher than the ones you had before. We can’t keep dumbing down standards,” Bush said.
Brown pressed Bush to explain how standards could be classified as high or low without some kind of centralized standard. Bush suggested it wasn’t hard at all.
“It’s not like pornography where you know it when you see it, but clearly low standards, you know it,” he said.
Common Core has emerged as a key vulnerability for Jeb Bush in his quest to achieve the Republican nomination. The shared math and English standards were adopted by almost every state with very little initial controversy, but in the last three years opposition has begun to surge from Republicans who argue the standards are a Trojan horse giving the federal government a stranglehold on education.
The surge in opposition to Common Core has claimed almost every Republican candidate except for Bush. Jindal, Christie, and Walker were all Common Core backers initially, and each in turn has turned against it over the last two years. In refusing to join them, Bush has left himself vulnerable to attacks on the issue. (RELATED: Education Will Make Or Break Jeb Bush)
One of Bush’s only allies on Common Core is Kasich, who also defended his support for Common Core Wednesday.
Earlier this year, Kasich was critical of Republicans who jumped ship on Common Core, saying they were turning against it solely to get votes. Wednesday, he took a similar approach, and was even firmer than Bush in refusing to attack Common Core or apologize for backing it. (RELATED: Kasich Says Fellow Republicans Are Lying About Common Core)
“I’m always willing to change my mind, if somebody can present a case to me on why my position is wrong,” Kasich said. “I’m not gonna change my positions because there’s four people in the front row yelling at me … None of this finger in the air stuff for me.”
Kasich said that, as far as he could tell, Common Core’s only role in Ohio was to increase standards he said used to be too low. It didn’t control how teachers actually teach, he said.
“I don’t write the [curriculum,] President Obama doesn’t write the [curriculum],” said Kasich.
Still, Kasich was similar to Bush in that he avoided the phrase “Common Core” itself.
“I don’t know about the term,” he said.
Kasich’s explanation didn’t draw boos, but it didn’t draw cheers either. In contrast, Carly Fiorina draw cheers from the audience when she denounced Common Core as “a federally-mandated program [about] how to teach and how to learn, with money attached to it.” Common Core has never been federally required (four states have never participated in any capacity), but the Obama administration did encourage its adoption through the Race to the Top program, which has fueled criticism that the government was coercing states to take part.
Otherwise, there weren’t tremendous differences between the six Republicans. Each was eager to tout their support for school choice, each spoke well of empowering states rather than the federal government, and each was critical of the role played by teachers unions in American education.
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