Grading Candidates’ Common Core Fight
The Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates was issued in August by American Principles in Action, The Pulse 2016, and Cornerstone Policy Research Action. This report grades the Republican presidential candidates according to their willingness to protect the nation’s students from Common Core and its federally mandated provisions.
Candidates demonstrate their priorities and values by the choices they make regarding Common Core (CC). Do they listen to parents and value their input? Do they respect the Constitution and the legislative process? Or do they favor inferior standards imposed on states by a federal bureaucracy and education elites?
The report provides documented facts about the standards, outlines their inadequacies, and identifies the players involved in foisting the experiment on students.
One thing that candidates, and everyone else, should understand is the “nexus between the poor quality of the Common Core and federal involvement.” The report explains that:
In late 2008, private groups convinced the incoming Obama Administration to push the standards into the states with a carrot-and-stick approach. Those private groups then drafted the Common Core standards in response to the ensuing federal grants. They drafted the standards on the premise that they would be a monopoly. They did not draft them on the premise that the standards would have to pass parental muster or would have to be better than world-class standards like the old Massachusetts standards.
The Grading System
The Common Core Report gives each candidate a final letter grade, determined by averaging three subcategories that can be described as follows:
- Commitment to ending Common Core
- Commitment to protecting state and local decision making
- Commitment to protecting student and parental privacy
Authors of the report say that consideration was given to actions candidates have taken and that recognition is given that not all have been in a position to do much.
Governors have played a direct role in implementing, or refusing to implement, Common Core directly; senators have either seriously fought to restrict the federal intrusion in No Child Left Behind or have acquiesced to the federal power grab; and non-office holding candidates have only been able to make strong, general statements, which is a good first step.
The A Team
Starting with the good news, both Senators Ted Cruz and Rand Paul receive the grade of A- by the report’s authors. Both candidates supported Sen. Grassley’s 2013 and 2014 efforts to defund Common Core.
Senator Cruz was against Common Core from the beginning and has remained unwavering in his opposition. He says, “I think we should repeal every single word of Common Core.” He voted against S. 1177, the Every Child Achieves Act that is an unsatisfactory NCLB reauthorization written by Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA). He supported Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s bill seeking to impose parental authority to opt children out of CC testing. Cruz’s actions and his statements earn him the grade of A-.
Sen. Rand Paul “has paid more attention to the Common Core issue than most other candidates and has spoken forcefully against it,” according to the report. He wrote an op-ed opposed to S.1177 (Breitbart.com, 7-8-15) and voted against it. He supported the Lee bill that would increase parents’ freedom to opt their students out of testing. In campaign speeches Paul proposes dismantling the U.S. Dept. of Education. His privacy position is strong enough to warrant a B, making Paul’s overall grade an A-.
The B Team
Gov. Bobby Jindal has done much to halt Common Core in Louisiana, including supporting good anti-CC legislation and suing the Dept. of Education in federal court over its coercive and unconstitutional use of Race to the Top grants. In 2014, he signed laws that substantially increase parental rights and protect student privacy. The report says that “Jindal stumbled out of the gate on Common Core, but he has righted himself and has admirably pushed back against the federal overreach.” Jindal’s grade is B+.
Sen. Lindsey Graham’s presidential candidacy website portrays an anti-Common Core tenor. But Graham did not sign Sen. Grassley’s 2013 letter and claims he was not in Washington when he could have voted against S. 1177, the Every Student Achieves Act that some say effectively cements Common Core in place.
In February of 2014, Graham introduced Senate Resolution 345, which was co-sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz and others. It was “a resolution strongly supporting the restoration and protection of State authority and flexibility in establishing and defining challenging student academic standards and assessments, and strongly denouncing the President’s coercion of States into adopting the Common Core State Standards by conferring preferences in Federal grants and flexibility waivers.” SR 345 gained no traction. The report gives Graham a grade of B.
Sen. Rick Santorum’s grade shows the effect of ranking candidates on three levels. Santorum receives an A on Ending Common Core and a B+ on Protecting State and Local Decision Making. But he receives only a C+ on Protecting Student Privacy. The report says that Santorum was anti-Common Core before it became “fashionable.” In a speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention, Santorum said Obama’s education policy solution “has been to deny parents choice, attack private schools, and nationalize curriculum.” The report gives Santorum credit for attacking CC not just on the level of federal intrusion, but on the “poor quality” of the standards, something some candidates fail to address. The report gives Santorum the final grade of B.
Dr. Ben Carson has no Common Core track record. His campaign website and speeches show a grasp of the issues involved. He laments what he calls the “troubling trend of the U.S. Department of Education increasingly trying to dictate how children are educated in our primary and secondary schools.” Carson continues, “This must stop and Common Core must be overturned.” Speaking at Eagle Forum Council in September, Carson seemed to favor new technology that can measure students’ responses; it is hoped that he’ll further investigate the intrusion into students’ privacy that many feel this technology represents. The report gives Carson the grade of B-.
Donald Trump says, “Common Core has to be ended. It’s a disaster.” Like Carson, Trump has no Common Core track record so voters must decide if they choose to believe or distrust his campaign pledges. The authors say, “Citizens view him as having the courage and will to stand and fight, something that many GOP candidates have seemed to lack in years past.” Trump could further increase his lead if he spoke out more often about Common Core and the issue of federal intrusion into education. The report gives Trump the grade of B-.
The C Team
Carly Fiorina did run for office and has made statements related to CC, although like the other outside candidates, she has no definitive Common Core track record. She now calls Common Core “a really bad idea,” but in 2010, when she was a California senate candidate, she praised Race to the Top grants, the federal “carrot” the Obama administration used to entice states to sign on to Common Core. At that time she also used Common Core code words like “internationally benchmarked standards and assessments” and “robust data systems.” More recently a Fiorina spokesperson called Race to the Top grants “just the latest example of the federal bureaucracy caving to the powerful interests in Washington and abandoning its original goals.” The report gives Fiorina the grade of C+.
Gov. Mike Huckabee has what the report calls “a checkered past on the issue of Common Core.” He originally called it a “governor-controlled states’ initiative,” which it never was. In 2013, Huckabee suggested that Common Core be “rebranded” and that states should not “retreat,” which “gut-stabbed” grassroots opponents at the very time they were gaining traction, according to the report.
Huckabee’s campaign website states, “I oppose Common Core and believe we should abolish the federal department of education.” The report’s authors hope he means what he now says but based on his past actions they give him the grade of C.
Sen. Marco Rubio’s Common Core position is complicated. In 2011, before Common Core was even on most people’s radar, Rubio “wrote a letter to Secretary Duncan questioning the legality of using federal No Child Left Behind waivers to drive policy changes, like the adoption of Common Core, in the states.” But at the August Fox News debate, Rubio answered a question in a manner that indicates he missed an episode of CC. He said that the U.S. Dept. of Education might “begin to say to local communities, ‘You will not get federal money unless do you things the way we want you to do it.’”
As the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey commented:
Rubio is right to be concerned about what the federal government might do because, well, it has already done those things.
Sen. Rubio gets kudos for voting against Sen. Lamar Alexander’s S.1177 and for voting for Sen. Cruz’s proposal to return accountability to the states, particularly because he “faced intense pressure from Republican leadership to do the opposite” on both occasions. The authors express concern about Rubio’s commitment to student privacy since he co-sponsored the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act (S. 1195), which would create a federal database on students for at least 15 years after they enter the workforce.” The report gives Rubio a C.
Earning a D
Governor Chris Christie is keeping New Jersey strapped to Common Core-aligned PARCC tests, while implementing a “review” of Common Core standards in the state. Similar reviews in other states have led to name changes in an effort to rebrand CC rather than to eliminate it or to make substantive changes. Indeed, changes can’t be made to the copyrighted standards, which allow only 15% alteration by any state. (That’s about enough flexibility to add back cursive handwriting.)
Keeping PARCC Common Core-aligned tests means CC will be taught in classrooms. As New Jersey’s Seton Hall University education professor Chris Tienken says, “What gets tested, gets taught.” The report gives Christie the grade of D+.
Gov. Jeb Bush is a longtime and unabashed supporter of everything Common Core. Ever since he began the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is “heavily funded by the Gates Foundation,” it has promoted Common Core. (Bush is no longer affiliated with FEE, but the report calls it his “legacy.”) Although not turning away from CC, Bush has recently tried to diminish his support of federal involvement in education. To some this represents more a campaign ploy than a change of heart. The report says, “He has propagated the false narrative that the Common Core standards are merely learning goals and are of high quality.” They give him the grade of F.
Gov. John Kasich is the other candidate who gets an F for being “an unapologetic cheerleader for the Common Core.” The report says, “His only response to the large and active anti-Common Core grassroots operation in Ohio is to make fun of them.” It’s effectively too late for Bush or Kasich to back away from Common Core. It would be nothing but political posturing.
The Common Core Report suggests that Republican presidential candidates’ opposition to the standards should be a bigger campaign issue than it is. (Common Core was only mentioned one time in the second debate; it was a brief comment by Trump criticizing Bush.) The authors state:
Rather than championing the big issue and truly demonstrating their presidential mettle, some candidates are making it into a small issue. They are parsing out the issue in order to voice opposition to some aspect of the problem but fail to address the overall concerns of parents. These candidates actually favor Common Core, they do not understand the issue, or they hope that the small approach will save them from offending Common Core proponents.
The full report can be found at ThePulse2016.com in the Report Card section.