WASHINGTON — Conservatives should "stop the fight" over Common Core and instead consider the benefits that the academic standards offer students in struggling schools, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said Friday. The position puts him at odds with a significant bloc of Republicans.
Huckabee, who unsuccessfully sought the GOP presidential nomination in 2008 and is considering a 2016 run, acknowledged the standards have become politically unpopular. Tea party-styled conservatives brand the standards as big-government intrusion, while teacher unions oppose having their members graded on how well students learn the more rigorous skills.
"Common Core has become toxic, I think it's radioactive," Huckabee said. "It has become an incredibly controversial topic on both the left and the right."
Huckabee said, regardless of political leanings, "We want our students to achieve to the highest level they're capable."
"They can't do that if we dumb down the schools," Huckabee said. "I don't know of any conservative who wants to dumb down America's schools. I don't know of any student who would benefit."
Huckabee, a former pastor, made his comments while attending a National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference meeting in Washington. That group, which includes more than 40,000 churches and 16 million evangelical Hispanics, plans to have pastors pitch higher standards during their sermons on Sept. 7.
Huckabee did not use the appearance to outline a specific education agenda. But he has been consistent in his support for higher academic standards.
Huckabee's comments closely resemble those from another former governor considering a 2016 presidential bid, Jeb Bush of Florida. But that pair splits dramatically from anti-Common Core crusaders such as Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence.
Powerful outside players, including the tea party-rallying FreedomWorks and conservative personality Glenn Beck, also have stoked anti-Common Core sentiments among their supporters.
Common Core State Standards essentially exchanged state-by-state benchmarks for one uniform guide about what math and language arts skills a student should have at each grade level. For instance, all third-graders should know how to find the perimeter of a shape. How an educator at the front of a classroom teaches that is up to each school.
Critics of the program say Common Core is a federal curriculum that forces one-size-fits-all teaching onto students. The program is neither federal nor a curriculum, and it allows teachers to determine how to teach the prescribed skills to students. Supporters say the higher standards will help students be better prepared to attend college or find a first job.
Huckabee seemed to have little patience for the criticism.
"Stop the fight. Let's not make this something that we're going to shed blood for no particular value to the students. Put the students first. The programs are less important," he said.
Huckabee said such political posturing only hurts students.
"I don't want to fight over the program. I want to fight for students. The fight is not about the program or what it's called," Huckabee said.
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