Republicans who designed Common Core say public has been misled

McClatchy Washington BureauMay 21, 2014 

— Five Republican former governors who supported the Common Core from its creation during the Bush administration said Wednesday that disinformation from conservatives threatened to highjack the higher standards for what students should be able to accomplish in each grade.

“I’m a believer that facts ultimately prevail among most reasonable people,” said former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue, who helped lead the development of the standards and continues to support them. “I think it’s incumbent on us to speak out and defeat rumors and innuendo and allegations with facts about how the Common Core began, what its purpose is and how we believe it can be positive for American society.”

Governors and state education officials created the standards in response to concerns that American students were falling behind those from other countries and that companies weren’t able to find workers with basic skills in math and reading, Perdue said.

He said he was puzzled by the criticism from the right.

“I don’t know how in America you can be against higher standards,” he said.

Critics call the standards a national curriculum and a federal takeover of education. The governors at the gathering said they were neither.

The federal government wasn’t involved in developing the standards. The Obama administration later gave states credit for adopting higher standards in its Race to the Top grants program.

That was a mistake, said former Michigan Gov. John Engler, now president of the Business Roundtable, an organization of CEOs who promote economic growth. But Obama had nothing to do with developing the standards, he said.

“By the time he was elected, it was all done.”

The standards spell out what students should learn year by year, but leave decisions about books and lesson plans up to the states and local districts.

“If we fail to implement the Common Core and go back to the drawing board again, there’s going to be another generation that falls further behind internationally,” said former Hawaii Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

Parents are right to complain about curricula or tests they don’t like, Lingle said. “But that’s not what the Common Core is.”

But growing political criticism has resulted in challenges to the standards in eight states. In addition, Indiana has dropped the standards.

South Carolina, for instance, in April withdrew from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, one of two groups that have developed tests for the standards. In Missouri, the Republican-led legislature passed a bill to develop standards to replace the Common Core. It’s pending before Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon.

In North Carolina, House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican challenging Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan in November, said in April that he favored repealing the standards. But in May he said a full repeal may not reach a vote during the current session and that more study was needed.

A resolution by the Republican National Committee called Common Core “an inappropriate overreach to standardize and control the education of our children.”

Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan said supporters “fell in love with an abstraction and gave barely a thought to implementation.”

The criticism has entered comedy as well.

Louis C.K. tweeted in April: “My kids used to love math. Now it makes them cry. Thanks standardized testing and common core!”

And on “Late Show with David Letterman,” talking about helping his daughters with math, the comedian said, “I look at the problems and it’s like Bill has three goldfish, he buys two more. How many dogs live in London. Or something like that.”

“There are crazy examples, but they’re not in the Common Core,” former Republican Gov. James H. Douglas of Vermont said at the Chamber of Commerce event. “We’re talking about a level of achievement, not the specifics of how it’s obtained.”

Engler said that polls show that when people are informed about what the standards are, support for them is strong. The Higher State Standards Partnership, a joint effort of the Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups, recently aired an ad on FOX News in support of the Common Core.

Engler said they ran it there because research showed most opposition was from conservatives. The ad just ended after running for more than two months at a cost of what Engler said was “a couple million dollars.”

In the ad, teachers say the Common Core is “a new plan for higher standards” that will teach students to “apply knowledge and critical thinking,” rather than rely mainly on memorization.

Email: rschoof@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @reneeschoof.

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