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Common Core spawns widespread political fights

By Bill Barrow

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 24 2014 3:21 p.m. MDT

"When it comes to specific bills, when they get to the issue of standards, we'll sit down with the authors and provide our thoughts about it. But in general when it comes to standards, we don't want to weaken the standards," he told reporters last week.

Before Wisconsin lawmakers convened, Walker announced support for rethinking Common Core. In both states, however, the anti-Common Core measures linger late in legislative sessions.

Establishment Republicans in Georgia, meanwhile, derailed a repeal effort in favor of a "study commission" empowered only to make recommendations. Alabama GOP leaders have held off a repeal measure, as well.

Immediate political consequences of the disputes aren't clear. GOP officials and strategists say any fallout for them is dwarfed by Democrats' struggle with Obama's health care law. In the meantime, conservative candidates use Common Core as a symbolic rallying cry.

Tennessee state Rep. Joe Carr, a long-shot primary challenger to Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, insists Common Core "is just one more overreach of a federal government that wants to insert itself into everything." An Alabama congressional hopeful, Scott Beason, casts Common Core as liberal indoctrination. In Georgia's crowded Republican primary for U.S. Senate, Rep. Paul Broun declared in a recent debate, "I want to abolish the Department of Education and get rid of Common Core forever." His first goal wouldn't necessarily accomplish the second.

The arguments perplex the politicians most responsible for the plan.

Democratic Gov. Jack Markell of Delaware told The Associated Press that opponents mistakenly equate a coalition from across the nation with a federal government initiative. Markell co-chaired the NGA's Common Core panel with Republican Sonny Perdue of Georgia.

Perdue, who left office in 2011, said Common Core actually began as a pushback against federal influence because of the No Child Left Behind law, the national education act signed by President George W. Bush. Perdue said it was "embarrassing" for governors of both parties that Congress and the White House pushed higher standards before state leaders.

Perdue attributes the outcry against Common Core to Obama's backing: "There is enough paranoia coming out of Washington, I can understand how some people would believe these rumors of a 'federal takeover,' try as you might to persuade people otherwise. I almost think it was detrimental ... for the president to endorse it."

Evers, who was a top Education Department appointee during the Bush administration, says it's unfair to reduce opponents' concerns to partisanship. He notes insufficient training for teachers expected to use new teaching methods, and he criticizes specific components. For example, some math courses are recommended for later grade levels than in standards already adopted in leading states like Massachusetts and California.

States move forward, Evers argued, because of competition. "It's by emulation and rivalry that we have always seen advances in public education," he said. National standards, he added, "will close the door on innovation."

Associated Press writer Melinda Deslatte in Baton Rouge. Follow Bill Barrow on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP

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