Common Core opens a Republican rift over education standards

Apr 19, 2013 by

The Common Core system is meant to unify K-12 education standards in states across the nation.

It’s having the opposite effect within the Republican Party, as a rift grows between supporters including high-profile figures such as Jeb Bush, Mitch Daniels and other Republicans who had a hand in crafting it and those who fear it’s a well-disguised federal takeover of schools.

Concern from conservatives has reached a boiling point, leading the Republican National Committee last week to adopt a resolution condemning the standards.

More than 100 parent groups and other organizations held a “Twitter rally” this week to galvanize opposition to the standards. Pundits such as Michelle Malkin and Glenn Beck are leading the charge against Common Core, and that effort is spurring action in state capitals.

Republican lawmakers in Alabama this week are introducing legislation to get their state out of Common Core, which has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

The backlash and RNC resolution are major setbacks for what had been, until recently, widely accepted as a significant step forward for the nation’s public schools. It also was seen as a rare bipartisan accomplishment.

“This would be a huge political mistake for the Republican Party to repudiate its long-standing commitment to high standards,” said Michael Petrilli, a Common Core supporter and executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank.

“It’s a tragedy. It was really Republicans and conservatives that were the first ones to push for high standards. I understand the federalism concerns, but this is getting caught up in a larger anger against President Obama,” he said.

Indeed, the Obama administration strongly supports Common Core, though it didn’t have a hand in crafting it. The standards which do not establish specific curricula, but instead set English and math benchmarks for students at each grade level were the joint effort of the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers.

They’re already in effect in Kentucky, and are scheduled to go into effect in other states this year or next. Sitting Republican governors, such as Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, Tennessee’s Bill Haslam, still fully back Common Core and are preparing their states for implementation.

But other Republicans see it as another step in the slow erosion of local control over education. That concern drove the RNC to address the issue last week, passing a resolution blasting Common Core as a “one-size-fits-all” system and “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.”

RNC members see their resolution as a response to growing outrage within the party over Common Core, and some argue that Republican governors simply aren’t responsive to what average citizens want.

“Whatever we do as a party must reflect the wishes of the grass roots,” said Solomon Yue, the RNC committeeman from Oregon. “As governors, they might take a position that will get them re-elected. As a party, we must take a principled position. If we believe in local control, then oppose Common Core. If we believe parents know better than governors, then oppose Common Core. If we believe we should not use one-standard-fits-all, then oppose Common Core.”

Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa Republican, jumped into the mix Thursday by criticizing the White House for tying money and other perks such as points in the Race to the Top grant competition to adoption of Common Core.

He is now circulating a letter asking Senate Appropriations Committee leaders to approve legislation to prevent the federal Education Department from taking any action that would “directly or indirectly” set academic content.

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