The Fight Over Common Core Ain’t Over Yet

Emmett McGroarty and Jane Robbins Director, Senior Fellow, American Principles Project
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The passage of the new No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill (the Every Student Succeeds Act) hasn’t ended and, in fact, will intensify education debates in this country. In the coming months, we’ll see whether the state legislature leaders and governors like Doug Ducey (AZ), Pat McCrory (NC), Charlie Baker (MA), Asa Hutchinson (AR), John Bel Edwards (LA), Andrew M. Cuomo (NY), Earl Ray Tomblin (WV), and Matt Bevin (KY) fight on behalf of citizenry, or whether they spiral into disrepute like Jeb Bush and Governors John Kasich (OH), Mike Pence (IN), Scott Walker (WI), and Rick Scott (FL).

The issue on deck is the Common Core — a bellwether of gubernatorial trustworthiness and competence. In state after state, governors have bungled the Common Core issue and in so doing have broken faith with their constituents. Just as their brethren in Congress have done, they have catered to the political gadfly class — the parade of party apparatchiks and special interests (especially wealthy foundations and educational-industrial complex donors). They worry about backlash from the crony “capitalists” – those business interests who use government to gain advantage over citizens, smaller competitors, and businesses disfavored by elitists. They listen to the media, and fail to understand the concerns of citizens. Or they simply lack the courage and wisdom to fight for citizens against powerful interests.

Common Core is a bellwether because the standards are demonstrably and fatally defective. That is is the primary concern of parents – less the federal government’s involvement in Common Core adoption than the reality of the minimal, workforce-development standards now being imposed on their children. Yet some governors have bought into the propaganda and concluded that parents will be mollified as long as the same standards are served up on a state platter rather than a federal one. Some governors have even sunk to blatantly trying to deceive citizens.

Gov. Rick Scott provides a prime example.  In September 2013, with a strong grassroots movement against Common Core gaining momentum in Florida, Scott asked for advice from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who in turn sought the counsel of Jeb Bush. As BuzzFeed reported, Bush responded that Scott “[w]ants to stop using the term common core but keep the standards.” From there, rather than merely renaming the standards, Scott engineered a phony rebrand — making changes around the margins but keeping the overall structure so as to ensure the continuance of Common Core’s instructional emphases and slowed-down academic progressions and textbooks. Now he could claim that these were Florida-grown standards. Problem solved.

The interchange between Scott and Bush displayed the misunderstanding that parents’ only concern was federal overreach. In his reply to Duncan, Bush alluded to that by noting that he had asked Scott:

… if he had specifics [sic] things that the federal government is doing or perceived to be doing. He didn’t have them . . . .

Nonetheless, as BuzzFeed reported:

The very same day, Scott issued a press release detailing his plan “[t]o protect Florida from the federal government’s overreach in education policy.”

Jeb Bush himself once described the opposition as resting on the “myths” of federal involvement (although earlier this year he upgraded that as being the reality of federal intrusion). Likewise, in morphing from a Common Core supporter to an opponent, NJ Gov. Chris Christie argued that he is especially concerned with “the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things.”

Dr. Sandra Stotsky, professor emerita at University of Arkansas, has identified some of the Trojan Horse strategies of governors and legislators who betray their citizens.

Parents detest Common Core because of the defective quality of the aligned curricula. They find it repugnant that Common Core locks their children into a slowed-down progression that, with respect to math, puts them about a year or more behind their peers in high-performing countries by 8th grade and fails to prepare them for STEM studies and for admission to competitive universities. See here, here, and here. They despise Common Core’s fuzzy math and its jettisoning of traditional Euclidian geometry. They find irrational Common Core’s demand for a severe reduction in classic, imaginative literature in favor of less-demanding “informational texts.” See here and here. And they find the use of age-inappropriate standards as further proof of the overall lack of qualifications of the Common Core standards team.

In their Pioneer Institute white paper, Dr. James Milgram, mathematics professor emeritus at Stanford, and Dr. Sandra Stotsky concluded:

A gigantic fraud has been perpetrated on this country, in particular on parents in this country, by those developing, promoting, or endorsing Common Core’s standards.

In discussing the unexpected weakness and in some cases collapse of presidential candidates who were or are governors, Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard has drawn the connection between a governor’s support of Common Core and his political fortunes. Politicians who ignore the concerns of parents are rightly doomed. They may receive spiritual forgiveness, but they will never receive political forgiveness. They will never again have the public trust.

The next round of governors and legislative leaders now face the Common Core issue. One must wonder whether they understand that the current political upheaval is not confined to the presidential race. Neither party and no politician has immunity. We are in a political death fight for our children and for the country we will leave them. On an issue so clear and so important, those who do not fight will meet their Waterloo.