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Common Core will be defining issue for GOP presidential contenders in 2015

If the year ends quietly — not a given with the warnings in Australia and the alerts across Europe — I will spend the New Year’s Day Thursday show reviewing the issue that will drive much of the campaign agenda in 2015 and which will define many of the candidates as contenders or pretenders: Common Core, or “Obamacore” as it is increasingly known in center-right circles.

Over the past 18 months I have interviewed a number of the leading GOPers on the issue, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, to name just four. Now the issue has drawn the attention even of the left.

Professor David Kirp, a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote about the “Rage Against the Common Core” in the opinion pages of the New York Times, which is a sure fire sign that even the people most out of touch with conservative activists — Berkeley professors, New York Times’ editors and readers — are awake to the earthquake rolling through American classrooms. Read all of Kirp’s analysis, but the takeaway was that opposition to the standards and the testing behemoth they have spawned is already huge, and growing bigger by the month.

Widespread (and very passionate) opposition to the new standards and tests will roil not only schools but most definitely politics, especially Republican politics. Republicans have long preached reform of public education and stressed charter schools, better teachers, more accountability — and higher standards. But the process that birthed Common Core is now widely believed to have careened off course and into the waiting arms of President Obama’s educrats, most notably Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who has deployed what many believe is an unconstitutional process — a waiver of federal law in the form of No Child Left Behind accountability requirements — in exchange for state and school district commitments to the adoption of Common Core.

Suddenly education “reform” — for as long as the country has existed, a matter primarily of local control — has been federalized. Add in concerns over data collection and profiteering among the cadre of new curriculum experts, and a perfectly toxic political brew is waiting for the GOP candidates.

Jeb Bush is the most credentialed of all the GOP candidates for the nomination on the issue of education reform. Bush tirelessly championed all manner of innovation through eight years as the head of the Sunshine State, but he was also central to the launch of the Common Core initiative. Common Core got its start in the last decade as a joint effort of the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Bush is quick to defend the original theory and its necessity, as he did on my program, vigorously rejecting the idea that Common Core meant in practice a national one-size-fits-all curriculum.

“Standards are different from curriculum,” he told me, “and that’s where I think the biggest misnomer [occurs and] where people legitimately get concerned.”

“I would be concerned if we had a national curriculum influenced by the federal government,” Bush added. “My God, I’d break out in a rash.”

Perry and Rubio simply reject Common Core as a massive and unworkable failure, and Jindal is suing the federal government over Duncan’s waiver policy. The worst suspicions of many GOP voters were confirmed when Duncan got caught telling a group of state school superintendents that opposition to the Common Core came from “white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

Nothing like a dose of Obama-era arrogance and condescension to assure implacable hostility to an “innovation,” and to every GOPer seen to support it.


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