The Washington Post
May 30, 2013
Party Groups Mobilizing against Common Core Education Overhaul
Peter Wallsten and Lyndsey Layton
Tea party groups over the past few weeks have suddenly and successfully
pressured Republican governors to reassess their support for
a rare bipartisan initiative backed by President Obama to overhaul
the nation's public schools.
have donned matching T-shirts and packed buses bound for state
legislative hearing rooms in Harrisburg, Pa., grilled Georgia
education officials at a local Republican Party breakfast and
deluged Michigan lawmakers with phone calls urging opposition
to the Common Core State Standards.
burst of activity marks the newest front for the tea party movement,
which has lacked a cohesive goal since it coalesced in 2010
in opposition to Obama's health-care initiative.
The movement has a renewed sense of purpose and energy following
revelations that many of its groups were improperly targeted
by the Internal Revenue Service, and members consider dismantling
what some deride as "Obamacore" their newest cause.
Unlike the health-care fight, though, organizers say the Common
Core battle is winnable and could be a potential watershed moment.
is the issue that could change things for the tea party movement,"
said Lee Ann Burkholder, founder of the 9/12 Patriots in York,
Pa., which drew 400 people - more than twice the usual turnout
- to a recent meeting to discuss agitating against Common Core.
Lawmakers have responded by introducing legislation that would
at least temporarily block the standards in at least nine states,
including two that have put the program on hold. The Republican
governors of Indiana and Pennsylvania quickly agreed to pause
Common Core, and Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R), a vocal supporter
of the plan, is nevertheless expected to accept a budget agreement
struck by GOP legislators that would withhold funding for the
program pending further debate.
Gov. Nathan Deal (R) - who, like the other targeted governors,
is facing reelection next year - said, "We didn't see it
coming with the intensity that it is, apparently all across
the country." Deal has responded by signing an executive
order "reaffirming state sovereignty" over education
matters, but that hasn't stopped conservatives from trying to
undo the standards.
White House has promoted Common Core, written by governors and
state education officials in both parties and largely funded
by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to create consistent
math and reading standards from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Academic standards vary widely among states, and that patchwork
nature has been partly blamed for mediocre rankings of U.S.
students in international comparisons.
standards do not dictate curriculum. Rather, states decide what
to teach and how to prepare children for standardized tests
based on Common Core.
standards have been fully adopted by 45 states and the District
and are scheduled to be in place by 2014. Supporters fear that
an eleventh-hour drop in state participation could dilute some
of the potential benefits, such as the ability to compare student
test scores across many states, while also creating logistical
hurdles for school districts that are developing curriculum
and training teachers.
party groups, along with some skeptical liberals, say the standards
amount to a federal takeover of education in a country with
a long tradition of local control over public schools. Some
conservatives have seized on an optional side project that would
have made it possible for states to share student records and
test results with researchers, education officials and even
software developers. Supporters described the voluntary data
sharing, funded by private foundations, as a tool to help educators
design effective classroom practices. But critics decried it
as a Big Brother intrusion - and several states have indicated
that they won't participate.
also charge that Common Core was thrust onto schools with little
public debate. The standards were developed by associations
representing governors and school chiefs, underwritten by private
funding and propelled by the Obama administration using federal
grant money as an inducement. The standards were then approved
by education boards rather than state legislatures, and some
lawmakers sponsoring bills to rescind the program have said
they had not heard of it until constituents alerted them in
many state lawmakers are being asked to approve funding to enact
the standards, including tests and classroom materials. The
national cost is estimated to reach the billions.
Republican National Committee resolution approved last month
blasted Common Core as an "inappropriate overreach to standardize
and control the education of our children so they will conform
to a preconceived 'normal.' "
national conservative groups also have leapt into the fray,
including FreedomWorks, a tea party umbrella organization, and
some state affiliates of Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy
group backed by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
American Principles Project, a Washington-based conservative
group, has served over the past two months as a nerve center
of sorts for the anti-Common Core movement - distributing research
papers and talking points to critics while helping state-level
organizations establish Web sites and networks. Emmett McGroarty,
a lawyer for the group, has appeared on Glenn Beck's talk show
and traveled to tea party meetings nationwide. Beck and Michelle
Malkin, another commentator, have been hammering away on the
issue since March.
elites in the Republican Party and the Democratic Party don't
get this," McGroarty said.
The rising tension is creating complications for the GOP, particularly
governors, as conservative activists say they are starting to
consider Common Core a new test of purity.
Corbett moving last week to "pause" the initiative,
Burkholder said she and other conservative organizers want him
to go further and pull Pennsylvania out of the program. If he
doesn't, she said, many activists will look for a GOP primary
we are able to find a candidate who is pushing to keep Common
Core out of Pennsylvania, then I can promise they will get traction,"
The speed and ferocity of the effort to torpedo the standards
has surprised the coalition of interests that has been steadily
working to enact the changes, which includes leading business
groups, civil rights organizations and teachers unions.
averted a showdown with fellow Georgia Republicans last weekend
when the lack of a quorum at the state party's convention prevented
a vote on a resolution to pull the plug on the standards.
opposition's momentum was evident this week in Michigan, where
Republican lawmakers moved toward delaying Common Core despite
entreaties from former Florida governor Jeb Bush, a respected
voice within the party on education and one of the most vocal
GOP champions of the new standards.
who is considering a run for president in 2016, defended Common
Core during a closed-door lunch on Tuesday with state House
Republicans in Lansing, then reiterated his arguments Wednesday
in appearances with Snyder during a policy conference on Mackinac
"Do not pull back. Please do not pull back from high, lofty
standards," Bush said in a pleading tone. He described
Common Core as a "clear and straightforward" strategy
that would "allow for more innovation in the classroom,
I felt this was a federal plan or a plot to take away responsibility
for how children learn from states and local communities, I
would be opposed to it," he said in an interview later.
Bush's education foundation is developing a Web site to highlight
reasons for conservatives to support the higher standards.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable also are
planning a public relations blitz to defend the standards. During
last month's Master's golf tournament, Exxon aired a commercial
praising Common Core.
though, wonder whether it's too late. "What might have
been a brush fire is now a more substantial fire," said
Margaret Spellings, education secretary under president George
say the new reading standards emphasize critical thinking, writing
and nonfiction, including the country's founding documents.
The math standards involve fewer concepts than are typically
taught in many states, but require a deeper understanding, the
The Common Core effort began about five years ago, before Obama
was elected. His administration sped its adoption by requiring
states to embrace "college- and career-ready" academic
standards to compete for federal Race to the Top grants or to
win waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind, the
main federal education law.
largely understood "college- and career-ready" to
mean Common Core standards, although two states, Virginia and
Minnesota, adopted alternative standards that the administration
Secretary Arne Duncan expressed frustration about the rising
angst over Common Core during an appearance last week on Capitol
Hill. He rejected comments from Rep. Matt Salmon (R-Ariz.) that
many of his constituents have complained that the administration
used federal money to "bribe" states to accept a "federal
takeover of curriculum."
not a black helicopter ploy and we're not trying to get inside
people's minds and brains," Duncan replied.