by Emmett McGroarty
As predicted, former Governor Jeb Bush has stumbled badly with the Republican base over his support for the Common Core national standards. Trying to regain his footing, he now decries federal overreach into state standards and curriculum. This is what Bush told Sean Hannity at CPAC:
And here’s, here’s where I think conservatives and myself, all of us are deeply concerned, with this President and this Department of Education, there’s a risk that they will intrude, and they have as it relates to Race to the Top. What we should say quite clearly in the reauthorization of the K-12 law . . . is to say that the federal government has no role in the creation of standards either directly or indirectly. The federal government has no role in the creation of curriculum and content. The federal government should have no access to student ID or student information. That the role of the federal government, if there’s any, is to provide incentives for more school choice. Take the Title I money and the IDEA money and if the states want to innovate their own programs, give them the money to let them create their own programs. That is a better approach.
This “new” Jeb says he won’t even talk about Common Core, which has become “poisonous.”
The old Jeb talked about Common Core, a lot. As Stanley Kurtz lays out, Gov. Bush was a consistent and vocal supporter of the national standards right up to the time he hit the campaign trail. His current distaste for “federal involvement” in standards and curricula is diametrically opposed to what he said in a 2011 appearance on Morning Joe:
I think Secretary Duncan and President Obama deserve credit for putting pressure on states to change, particularly the states that haven’t changed at all. They’re providing carrots and sticks, and I think that’s appropriate.
What Bush has never acknowledged is the truth about the origins of Common Core and, in Kurtz’s words, “the profoundly undemocratic process by which Common Core was adopted.” Common Core emerged not from the states and the governors but from private entities that were tightly allied with Arne Duncan’s Department of Education (USED) — entities that in fact invited the federal government to, as Bush puts it,“intrude.” The current narrative that Common Core was a state-led process that was hijacked by USED is false both in terms of having been “state-led” and having been “hi-jacked.”
Bush has never addressed the fact that Common Core was adopted by desperate state executives in order to score points on a grant competition with other states. He has never acknowledged, much less expressed concern with, the almost complete elimination of state legislatures from the process. He never speaks of the total exclusion of parents — who didn’t even know this education revolution was happening until it was a fait accompli.
Nor has Bush ever answered the obvious question raised by his constant mantra of “higher standards”: What is his evidence that the Common Core standards actually meet that definition? In fact, all the credible evidence shows that the standards are significantly inferior to many of the state standards they replaced (and with respect to the English standards, perhaps to all of them). Is Bush really satisfied with standards that stop short of even a full Algebra II course, that admittedly will not prepare students for future STEM studies, and that minimize classic literature in favor of government manuals and newspaper articles? One might almost conclude that Bush is “comfortable with mediocrity” — a charge he leveled at Common Core opponents back before he needed them to vote for him.
By shying away from the term “Common Core,” Bush evades having to address whether the standards and the aligned tests are of high quality. However, the processes by which those products were developed and ushered into the states perverted good government practices and enabled the Common Core proponents to evade the checks and balances that serve to weed out poor public policies. Bush enthusiastically served as the lead Republican champion of the Common Core initiative and, in so doing, recklessly disregarded the validity of those processes. This is an important election issue, and Bush should be held accountable.
Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APIA Education.