The headlines over the lead story of Sunday's New York Times reduced the fierce opposition to the Common Core education standards among both conservatives and liberals to cynical "wedge issue" anti-Obama politics by the angry right: "As G.O.P. Wedge, the Common Core Cuts Both Ways – Associated With Obama – Education Benchmarks Once Backed by Party Now Divide It."
The actual article by reporter Jonathan Martin was equally shallow, a partisan-driven analysis that failed to mention the bizarre, confusing math problems that have gotten parents up in arms. Martin left out the inconvenient fact that even the liberal governor of New York State is a critic, as reported a few days previous in the Times, and that the state teacher's union had withdrawn its support until fixes are made.
The health care law may be Republicans’ favorite weapon against Democrats this year, but there is another issue roiling their party and shaping the establishment-versus-grass-roots divide ahead of the 2016 presidential primaries: the Common Core.
A once little-known set of national educational standards introduced in 44 states and the District of Columbia with the overwhelming support of Republican governors, the Common Core has incited intense resistance on the right and prompted some in the party to reverse field and join colleagues who believe it will lead to a federal takeover of schools.
Conservatives denounce it as “Obamacore,” in what has become a surefire applause line for potential presidential hopefuls. Other Republicans are facing opprobrium from their own party for not doing more to stop it. At a recent Republican women’s club luncheon in North Carolina, a member went from table to table distributing literature that called the program part of “the silent erosion of our civil liberties.”
The learning benchmarks, intended to raise students’ proficiency in math and English, were adopted as part of a 2010 effort by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to bolster the country’s competitiveness. Some conservatives, in an echo of their criticism of the health care law, say the standards are an overreach by the federal government.
Yet there is an important distinction: Unlike the health care law, the Common Core retains bipartisan support and has the backing of powerful elements of the business community.
Of course, Obamacare also had support from drug and insurance companies.
Its most outspoken Republican defender, former Gov. Jeb Bush of Florida, is also the most talked-about potential presidential candidate among mainstream party leaders and donors. Mr. Bush has called out some Republicans who have switched positions, drawing what will be a dividing line in the campaign if he or other defenders of the Common Core choose to run. He is joined by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, but theirs is becoming a small club.
The Republican revolt against the Common Core can be traced to President Obama’s embrace of it, particularly his linking the adoption of similar standards to states’ eligibility for federal education grants and to waivers from No Child Left Behind, the national education law enacted by President George W. Bush.
It underlines the ascendance of a brand of conservatism notably different from that of the most recent President Bush. Less than 15 years after No Child Left Behind passed with just 34 House Republicans opposed to it, the conservative center of gravity is shifting toward a state-centric approach to education.
Really? There is actually a long tradition of conservatives opposed to federal influence on education.
In Martin's sympathetic portrayal, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush is a smiling critic of conservative "pandering" and hypocrisy on Common Core.
But would-be presidential candidates are paying more heed to the conservative activists holding packed meetings in their states and flooding them with emails. “The Republican Party is getting more and more responsive to the grass roots, and that is a very healthy thing for the party and the country,” Mr. Cruz said.
Jeb Bush said the pivot seemed more like pandering. In remarks this month during an event at his father’s presidential library, he affirmed his support for the Common Core. “I guess I’ve been out of office for a while, so the idea that something that I support – because people are opposed to it means that I have to stop supporting it if there’s not any reason based on fact to do that?” he said. “I just don’t feel compelled to run for cover when I think this is the right thing to do for our country.”
With a knowing grin, he added, “Others that supported the standards all the sudden now are opposed to it.”
Martin briefly admitted, in paragraph 22 of 25, that "It is not just conservatives who have turned against the Common Core: The leaders of major teachers unions are also pushing back because of the new, more difficult tests aligned to the standards that are being used to evaluate both students and teachers." But he concluded with the angry GOP theme: "But it is on the right that the anger is growing."