New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is the latest Republican to reverse course and denounce the controversial national Common Core education standards — a move that is seemingly becoming a rite of passage for GOPers who are eyeing the White House.
The odd man out? Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who stands alone in continuing to embrace the education program that so riles the GOP base. But even Bush — who ran a foundation supporting Common Core — is avoiding using the initiative’s name, instead saying he backs higher standards as whole.
Common Core has become a boogeyman among grassroots conservatives who believe the initiative is tantamount to a federal takeover of education on what should be a local issue. Some critics have gone so as far as to label it “Obamacore.”
The irony is before GOPers began associating the educational guidelines with the Obama administration, many praised Common Core, which was introduced by the bipartisan National Governors Association in 2009 and has been adopted by 45 states. While not a federal mandate, critics have argued that states adopting the Obama-embraced standards get a potentially unfair competitive edge when applying for federal education grants. Others have concerns about the standards themselves and the testing through which they are assessed.
Common Core sets benchmarks on what academic skills students should have under their belt upon completion of each grade. The premise is that it will create quality education across the country.
Several national polls have shown conservatives are mostly against Common Core.
Christie on Thursday declared at Burlington Community College that Common Core is “simply not working,” adding it “has brought only confusion and frustration to our parents. And has brought distance between our teachers and the communities where they work. Instead of solving problems in our classrooms, it is creating new ones. And when we aren’t getting the job done for our children, we need to do something different.”
Over the past year, the potential 2016 GOP hopeful has said he has growing concerns about Common Core, and last summer appointed a commission to study the impact of the program. Still, Christie’s remarks this week are a big turn from 2013. At a school summit in Las Vegas that year, he praised the initiative, saying, “We’re doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I’ve agreed more with the president than not.”
Other Republicans have changed their positions on it, too. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — once a big time Common Core backer — has now sued the Obama administration over the academic standards. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who once supported the initiative, now calls it “toxic” and “radioactive.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has also walked back his support.
Several other presidential candidates, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky, have also been vehement critics of Common Core. Even former New York Gov. George Pataki — the moderate of the bunch — proposed doing away with Common Core during his presidential announcement speech on Thursday.
Why do all these Republicans loathe Common Core? David Conley, the director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon, who has studied Common Core, noted that while academic standards haven’t changed, the political environment surrounding the issue has. He also pointed out that Common Core emerged from the education reform law No Child Left Behind, which was enacted under President George W. Bush.
“Certainly some of the detractors are certainly not fans of [Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan and President bama,” Conley said. “In addition to political philosophy, there’s a more direct link between opposition to Common Core and opposition to Obama and Arne Duncan.”
Darrell M. West, the vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institutions — who has defended Common Core— went further, saying, “Candidates are flipping on this issue because the GOP base is outraged about the Common Core. Even though it was developed at the state level, they believe it is part of the federal takeover of education.” He added: “They inaccurately attribute it to the Obama administration and believe liberals are behind this move.”
Just how Christie’s latest turn on Common Core affects his likely presidential bid remains to be seen. Brigid Harrison, a political science professor at Montclair State University, said it “does have the potential of bringing him support among GOP primary voters and it also serves to distinguish himself from Jeb Bush,” his ideological competitor. On the other hand, said Harrison, “it could open himself up to criticism that he’s a flip-flopper.”
It does, however, leave Bush as the odd man out on the issue, leaving him even more open to criticism. Republican strategist Ford O’Connell, who advised Sen. John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign, noted many on the far right view Bush’s relatively moderate stances on immigration and Common Core as two strikes against him. “The two combined could be kryptonite for Jeb,” said O’Connell.