10 Questions for Candidates Pandering on Common Core

“Let the pandering begin!” That’s how radio host Jan Mickelson kicked off the Iowa Freedom Summit last weekend, an event organized by Congressman Steve King and Citizens United that kicks off the 2016 Iowa Caucus season. Mickelson may have been only half-joking, but you wouldn’t know it from the contorted explanations some potential presidential candidates are giving to explain their retreat on Common Core. “Anybody who tells you that I support Common Core is either incredibly less-informed than he or she pretends to be, or is just being plain dishonest…” insisted former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who in late 2013, famously implored Common Core backers to  “rebrand it, refocus it, but don’t retreat.” Last weekend, he argued the state initiative began as “governor-controlled” but is now a federal overreach. Similarly, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal suggests his new stance on Common Core is the result of federal overreach under the Race to the Top initiative, which in 2011 awarded his state with a $17.4 million grant in exchange for adopting high standards. He makes this argument even though he applied for the grant three times, and in the two years after it was awarded, he never perceived a federal overreach. Neither Huckabee nor Jindal believed Common Core was a federal overreach because both understood that Race to the Top provided one-time conditional and competitive grants that were completely voluntary. Participation in Common Core cannot be both voluntary and coerced. Ohio Gov. John Kasich this past weekend appeared on Fox News Sunday, and he seemed to have Huckabee and Jindal in mind as he criticized GOP leaders for choosing political expediency over good policy. “These were governors who helped create the Common Core,” he said. “The Common Core was written by state education superintendents and local principals. In my state of Ohio, we want higher standards for our children, and those standards are set and the curriculum is set by local school boards,” he added. “Barack Obama doesn’t set it. The state of Ohio doesn’t set it. It is local school boards driving better education, higher standards, created by local school boards.” “I’ve asked the Republican governors who have complained about this to tell me where I’m wrong, and guess what, silence.” Politicians running for President have every right to wrongly characterize Common Core as a federal overreach, even if that characterization conflicts violently with their previous position. But they cannot continue to be silent in explaining exactly how that supposed overreach is occurring—and what they would implement in place of the standards. Some important and difficult-to-answer questions for politicians who have flip-flopped on Common Core may include:
  1. Are we setting high enough expectations for students today?
  2. Is your concern with the Common Core Standards themselves, or with the federal role? That is, if states could be assured that they have complete autonomy on setting standards, could you support standards like the Common Core?
  3. Have you read the entire Standards document yourself?
  4. Are you satisfied with the academic standards states were using before Common Core came along?
  5. Why does it matter which standards a state uses?
  6. Do you see any benefits from states using the same (or very similar) standards and tests, or are we better off as a country with 50 distinct standards?
  7. If states set their own standards, how do you think this should be done? Who should be responsible for deciding what’s in them?
  8. Given that Common Core is a state-initiated effort, what specific federal steps would you take as President to repeal the Standards in the 43 states that have voluntarily adopted them?
  9. You say Common Core has become a federally controlled program, but as recently as XX years ago, you didn’t feel the same way. Can you tell me exactly what you loved about Common Core when you were full-square behind it, and what new factors exist today that weren’t present when you supported Common Core?
  10. Do you believe it’s possible for a state to create a set of Standards that both bear no resemblance to Common Core, and adequately prepare students for college and career readiness?
The truth is that while the politics around Common Core may have become more challenging to navigate, the Standards haven’t changed: States are still in complete control. And while many are reviewing them and some are opting to tweak them, by and large, they are resisting pressure to revert to lower standards—not because Washington is compelling them, but because the standards raise the bar for our students.
Karen Nussle is the Executive Director of Collaborative for Student Success. This post originally appeared on the Collaborative for Student Success blog.
Karen is a veteran communications strategist with experience in the private, public, political and non-profit sectors. Her work has included strategic communications plans, public relations, advocacy campaigns, corporate communications, strategic planning, lobbying and advocacy and media training.

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