Frederick Hess’s reflections on the difficulties Jeb Bush’s support for the Common Core have kicked up for his 2016 political prospects are worth a read. Hess rightly says that Bush “has pitched Common Core to the Right, but he has not publicly defended conservative concerns to his Democratic allies or incipient nationalizers. It would have been good politics and policy if [Bush] had publicly challenged the Obama team for politicizing and federalizing Common Core.”
What does that remind you of? Marco Rubio and the Gang of Eight, I’d say. As far as I can tell, the Gang’s Republican contingent did precious little to improve the bill, and Rubio allowed himself to be deployed as a weapon to neutralize conservative critics. The result was a terrible bill, even in the eyes of many conservatives who had previously been open to “comprehensive” reform. Rubio is now slamming Common Core in hopes of recouping his losses with conservatives.
Hess rightly chides Bush for saying nothing when Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called conservative opponents of the Common Core a lunatic “fringe.” I fear it’s worse than that. After Republican Common Core supporter Tony Bennett was defeated by an anti-Common Core Tea Party rebellion in Indiana, a top Bush education advisor made waves by calling Hoosier conservatives a bunch of yahoos (with sharp replies in the comments from some of the most thoughtful critics of Common Core). He said he was speaking only for himself, but the harm was significant.
I remember when Lynne Cheney used to chide President Clinton for trying to impose “fuzzy math” on the nation’s schools. She warned against teaching kids that “getting the right answer to a math problem can be much less important than having a good rationale for a wrong one.” Now Common Core has provided a massive opening for this sort of nonsense. (For context, go here and here.) Touting Common Core as a blow for higher standards under these circumstances is going to be a tough sell. Treating conservatives as yahoos for objecting to the same pedagogies Cheney decried in the 1990s is ridiculous.
I’m not criticizing Hess, who I think has been admirably forthright as a supporter of Common Core who nonetheless sees certain problems for Republicans in his camp. My point is that Hess is right, and that, if anything, the problem runs deeper.
Many business interests, Republican and Democratic alike, have lined up behind Common Core. Many new books, newspapers, software programs, hardware devices, and tests are on offer. It’s not worth it. The Constitution, true standards of quality, and principle and reality of local control count for more. Republican officeholders need to understand that this issue is getting bigger. They will pay a price for turning against their own base on an issue so important, with a case so weak.