Fresh attacks on Common Core ahead after GOP wave

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New Repub­li­can majori­ties in state leg­is­la­tures across the coun­try are prepar­ing to launch a fresh assault on Com­mon Core edu­ca­tion stan­dards after sweep­ing to pow­er in November’s midterm elections.

Strate­gists involved in the state-by-state fight against the nation­al K‑12 math and read­ing bench­marks S, rather than sin­gle bills aimed at dis­man­tling the whole pro­gram all at once.

In Maine, con­ser­v­a­tive leg­is­la­tors are craft­ing leg­is­la­tion like­ly to be filed next week that will attack Com­mon Core in three chunks: One would for­mal­ly with­draw the state from the nation­al stan­dards. A sec­ond would change test­ing require­ments imposed by an ear­li­er leg­is­la­ture. Anoth­er would pre­vent the state from shar­ing edu­ca­tion data with fed­er­al sta­tis­ti­cians. Sim­i­lar bite-sized mea­sures are like­ly to appear elsewhere.

Most of this leg­is­la­tion is being bro­ken up,” said Noah Wall, direc­tor of grass­roots at the con­ser­v­a­tive Free­dom­Works, which oppos­es Com­mon Core. “There’s been a tremen­dous amount of move­ment that we’ve seen in a num­ber of states.”

Leg­is­la­tors and gov­er­nors in 46 states, plus the Dis­trict of Colum­bia, ini­tial­ly adopt­ed the Com­mon Core stan­dards. In the past year, Indi­ana, Okla­homa and South Car­oli­na have dropped out of the nation­al stan­dards.

The edu­ca­tion stan­dards, ini­tial­ly a prod­uct of the bipar­ti­san Nation­al Gov­er­nors Asso­ci­a­tion that was then embraced by the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion, have split Repub­li­cans out­side the Belt­way. There are few issues — per­haps even includ­ing the Afford­able Care Act — that angers the con­ser­v­a­tive base as much as Com­mon Core, which most Repub­li­can gov­er­nors still support.

It has divid­ed the par­ty. You’ve got [for­mer Flori­da gov­er­nor] Jeb Bush and [for­mer edu­ca­tion sec­re­tary] Bill Ben­nett on one side sup­port­ing Com­mon Core, good con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans, and you’ve got [Louisiana Gov.] Bob­by Jin­dal and oth­ers on the oth­er side say­ing this is the devil’s spawn,” Utah Gov. Gary Her­bert ®, a Com­mon Core backer, said in an inter­view. “If there’s ever been a pro­gram that’s been more poor­ly rolled out than Oba­macare, which didn’t have a very illus­tri­ous begin­ning, it’s Com­mon Core.”

The vast major­i­ty of school super­in­ten­dents — about nine out of 10 sur­veyed by the pro-Com­mon Core Cen­ter for Edu­ca­tion Pol­i­cy in a recent poll – say the stan­dards are more rig­or­ous than their ear­li­er ones. Three quar­ters said they expect stu­dent skills to improve under the new regime.

But Her­bert says he rou­tine­ly hears from Com­mon Core oppo­nents who believe the pro­gram is an effort to make mon­ey for Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder whose foun­da­tion is sup­port­ing the high­er edu­ca­tion standards.

Is this the guy who’s worth $60 bil­lion you’re talk­ing about?” Her­bert said he asks the activists.

Nonethe­less, Her­bert is one of the gov­er­nors who will be play­ing defense on Com­mon Core this year. Con­ser­v­a­tives in the Utah leg­is­la­ture, and in states like Ohio, Ten­nessee, Wis­con­sin, West Vir­ginia, Geor­gia and Maine, are like­ly to try to repeal all or part of the stan­dards. Neva­da Gov. Bri­an San­doval ® and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead ® both said they expect to see con­ser­v­a­tives try their own repeal bills.

Repub­li­cans who sup­port the tougher stan­dards have been tak­en aback by the response from con­ser­v­a­tives both nation­al­ly and in their own states. Some have attempt­ed to rebrand the stan­dards to escape the stig­ma of a nation­al edu­ca­tion pro­gram: Ari­zona Gov. Jan Brew­er ® stripped the words “Com­mon Core” from her state’s edu­ca­tion stan­dards. Iowa renamed the pro­gram the “Iowa Core,” though the stan­dards remain identical.

I don’t care if it’s Com­mon Core, Wyoming Core, Rocky Moun­tain Core or Ida­ho-Wyoming Core, when we think about the repub­lic, when we think about our coun­try, when we think about our work­force, it’s not accept­able to me to say that we’re going to accept mid­dle-of-the-road in terms of edu­ca­tion,” Mead said. “The idea of high stan­dards is uni­ver­sal­ly accept­ed. It’s how do we do it.”

Even sup­port­ers have bowed to pres­sure from Com­mon Core oppo­nents. Her­bert said there is legit­i­mate con­cern about shar­ing edu­ca­tion data with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment; Utah will take steps to pro­tect stu­dent pri­va­cy and data, he said.
Wall said estab­lish­ment Repub­li­cans who have defend­ed Com­mon Core stan­dards are try­ing to avoid debate. In Utah, Her­bert ordered a review of Com­mon Core stan­dards, which was con­duct­ed by the state attor­ney gen­er­al. That, Wall said, allowed heat from the debate to dissipate.

A lot of state House Speak­ers and gov­er­nors have more been try­ing to sweep it under the rug, to avoid dis­cus­sion of Com­mon Core,” he said.

Else­where, Repub­li­cans who back the pro­gram are tak­ing a more active role. Ida­ho Gov. Butch Otter ® has brought both Bush and Ben­nett to his state to help edu­cate leg­is­la­tors on the impor­tance of Com­mon Core. He also touts a let­ter from Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can, in which Dun­can said the Edu­ca­tion Depart­ment was not involved in craft­ing the standards.

There have been elec­toral con­se­quences for Repub­li­cans who back the stan­dards. In Ari­zona, for­mer Peo­ria school board mem­ber Diane Dou­glas ® oust­ed incum­bent state Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary John Hup­penthal ® in the Repub­li­can pri­ma­ry. Dou­glas nar­row­ly defeat­ed the pro-Com­mon Core Demo­c­ra­t­ic nom­i­nee, David Gar­cia, in November.

Okla­homa Super­in­ten­dent of Pub­lic Instruc­tion Janet Bar­resi ®, who spent more than $1 mil­lion of her own mon­ey seek­ing re-elec­tion, lost her job to for­mer state Board of Edu­ca­tion mem­ber Joy Hofmeis­ter ®, in a race that revolved around Barresi’s sup­port for Com­mon Core.

The debate is like­ly to play a role in the race for the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in 2016, too. Jin­dal, who said as recent­ly as 2012 that Com­mon Core would “raise expec­ta­tions for every child,” now calls the stan­dards an exam­ple of “big gov­ern­ment.” Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walk­er ® has gone from favor­ing anoth­er look at Com­mon Core stan­dards to back­ing out­right repeal.