Politics & Policy

Rubio or Cruz: Who Will Emerge as the Hero of Common Core Moms?

Rubio campaigns in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in November. (Scott Olson/Getty)

‘Common Core, the set of education standards that were adopted by 46 states five years ago but have since become toxic with the conservative base, has not been at the center of the Republican primary debate, which has so far been dominated by national security and immigration,” according to an article in The Hill just a few weeks ago. How quickly things change.

In the final four weeks before the voting begins, Senator Marco Rubio is making opposition to Common Core a key part of his final pitch.  The pro-Rubio super PAC Conservative Solutions features it in a new television ad: “One high-tax, Common Core, liberal-energy-loving, Obamacare Medicaid-expanding president is enough,” the voiceover says.

And in Cedar Rapids a few days ago, Rubio brought Common Core up again: “This country cannot afford a president that’s not going to reverse the direction Barack Obama’s taken our country. We can’t have another president that supports Common Core or gun control or expanding Obamacare.”

It’s a smart move for Rubio, first and foremost because Common Core is an issue that deeply moves voters, especially important in a caucus state such as Iowa. Second, it distinguishes Rubio from Chris Christie, who was an early supporter of Common Core but who has changed his position to oppose it more recently, at least in part.

Common Core is a policy failure as well. The state of Kentucky has been implementing Common Core for four years, the longest of any state, and certainly long enough that one would expect to see some positive results. Instead, Ed Week reports, the proportion of Kentucky elementary and middle-school students who are proficient in reading and math dropped by one-third.

A candidate who wants to really repeal Common Core’s federal intrusion is now going to have to run not just against President Obama, but against the December betrayal by the GOP-controlled House and Senate.

Senator Rubio has promised to reverse any executive order promoting Common Core that President Obama has signed.

But here’s the problem: There is a big disconnect between what GOP presidential candidates are saying and what the GOP Congress is doing about Common Core.

A candidate who wants to really repeal Common Core’s federal intrusion is now going to have to run not just against President Obama, but against the December betrayal by the GOP-controlled House and Senate, which passed a major education reform that institutionalizes federal control over the curriculum Obama improvised.

Yes, I know there’s a sentence in that bill that forbids any effort to foist a curriculum on a state. But it is unenforceable, especially since other explicit provisions of the bill give the federal government broad new powers over state education curriculums, tying the hands of the Common Core moms seeking to reassert control over their children’s education.

For the first time in U.S. history, states will be required to submit a “college- and career-ready” education plan to the Department of Education, which, also for the first time, has the explicit authority to judge and disapprove state education plans. As I wrote on December 11, right after the GOP’s silent swift passage: “In other words, Arne Duncan will not have to manipulate waivers to exert pressure on states to adopt the Common Core, because the new Republican-backed statute explicitly gives him that authority.”

You don’t believe me? Believe Arne Duncan, architect of Obamacore, who crowed to reporters that the bill gave him everything he wanted: “I’m stunned at how much better it ended up than either [the House or the Senate] bill going into conference. I had a Democratic congressman say to me that it’s a miracle — he’s literally never seen anything like it. . . . If you look at the substance of what is there . . . embedded in the law are the values that we’ve promoted and proposed forever. The core of our agenda from Day One, that’s all in there – early childhood, high standards [i.e., Common Core], not turning a blind eye when things are bad. For the first time in our nation’s history, that’s the letter of the law.”

Or listen to what Peter Cunningham, a former Obama education aide, said in response to claims by Senator Lamar Alexander (R., Tenn.) that the new bill kills Common Core: “The new law that the senator from Tennessee is so proud of . . . now mandates the very thing he rails against.” Cunningham explains: “Under the new law, every state must adopt ‘college- and career-ready’ standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards – or a reasonable imitation under a different name – will likely remain in place in most states.”

Rubio has raised the profile of the issue. But will he be the one to emerge as a real hero by promising to repeal this legislation – the Every Student Succeeds Actor will he let the Republican betrayal stand?

Ted Cruz has just released a YouTube video announcing a homeschooling coalition and slamming Common Core. The Grand Forks Herald reports that Cruz in his closing pitch is promising to end Common Core — and abolish the Department of Education to boot. Will he be the one to do it?

This is an opportunity for Rubio or Cruz to take on the dysfunction of Republicans in Washington, so vividly on display just a few weeks ago on Common Core.

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