Stanley Kurtz has a very interesting article at the conservative National Review, calling out Jeb Bush for pretending that he does not really support the Common Core standards and that he is in favor of local control. At the Republican debate last week, Jeb was questioned about his strong support for Common Core, and he equivocated, trying to leave the impression that he had no particular allegiance to Common Core. He said, “I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards, directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum content. That is clearly a state responsibility.”
As Kurtz documents, Jeb has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for Common Core, even though federal involvement in its creation (requiring its adoption as a condition of eligibility for Race to the Top funding) and in directly subsidizing Common Core testing (PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment) arguably violates federal law. Federal law explicitly bans any federal interference in curriculum and instruction, and no one can say with a straight face that CCSS has no connection to or influence on curriculum and instruction.
Kurtz is particularly good in describing the Orwellian language of “education reform,” in which reformers say the opposite of what they mean. Readers of this blog have long seen the way that “reformers” twist words to pretend that their corporate-model names and policies are “for the children” (like Students First, Students Matter, Children First, Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Stand for Children, and other poll-tested obfuscations of reality).
The story of the profoundly undemocratic process by which Common Core was adopted by the states doesn’t end there. A devastating account by The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton (hardly a Geroge Will-style conservative) lays it out. Federal carrots and sticks, along with massive infusions of Gates Foundation money, at a moment when state budgets were stressed to the breaking point by the financial crisis, stampeded more than forty states into adopting a completely untested reform, often sight unseen or before the standards themselves had been finalized.
A deliberative process that ought to have taken years was telescoped into months. In nearly every case, the change was made without a single vote by an elected lawmaker, much less a statewide public debate. And all the while, the Obama administration intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states.
Common Core proponents have concocted a fiction according to which this travesty of federalism and democracy was “state led,” using the fig leaf of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), which helped to develop the plan. CCSSO is a private group, with no known grant of authority from any state. Likewise, NGA is a private group, and seems not to include all governors (the list of dues-paying members has not been made public, at least in previous years). None of this can begin to substitute for a truly “state led” process, which would change education standards via legislatures and governors, after full consultation with the public. The Obama administration has dismissed legitimate complaints about this process as a kind of conspiracy theory, yet its own liberal supporters have praised its tactics as a clever ruse to circumvent the constitutional, legal, and political barriers to a national curriculum.
I am sorry to say that Jeb Bush has been a leading supporter and cheerleader of this process from the start, often portraying what was in fact an illegitimate federal power-grab as a sterling example of local control.
In a co-authored 2011 opinion piece making “The Case for Common Educational Standards,” Bush and New York educator Joel Klein deny federal overreach and present the states as voluntarily enrolling in Common Core. They speak of two testing consortia “of the states,” without noting federal financing of these national consortia. Bush and Klein portray a program explicitly designed to create uniform national standards as embodying “the beauty of our federal system.” Day is night.
Kurtz goes on to show how Jeb worked with Obama and Duncan to maintain the fiction that Common Core was “state-led” and was the answer to our problems:
The Washington Post recently reported on Jeb’s appearance with Obama in March of 2011 to push the president’s education agenda. Bush’s alliance with the Obama administration on education policy was in fact broad and deep. They differed on school choice, yet were aligned on much else, Common Core above all.
Consider the following 2010 video of an appearance by Obama education secretary Arne Duncan at Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Duncan goes on about how many states have adopted Common Core (between 7:10 and 9:50), while repeatedly denying federal responsibility for the change. The secretary doth protest too much, methinks.
After Duncan’s talk, he and Jeb jointly take questions from the audience. Here it becomes obvious that on education policy, Jeb sees himself as allied with Duncan and Obama — in opposition to local-control-loving conservatives (as well as liberal teachers’ unions). Jeb’s political solution to attacks on the Common Core is to “push the two groups who are not reform-minded further away from what I think is the mainstream.” (See video between 27:30 and 29:30.)
There are two errors in the account above. First, Jeb and Obama do not differ on school choice except for vouchers. It may be awkward for an author to admit in a conservative publication that the Obama administration has been all-in for charters and private management of schools. Duncan has been a cheerleader for privately-managed charters and Common Core. Indeed, the administration has not fought vouchers, even as they spread from state to state. Duncan has been strangely silent on the subject of vouchers. Nor has the Obama administration done anything to defend collective bargaining, other than lip service. On March 11, 2011, Jeb Bush, President Obama and Secretary Duncan were in Miami celebrating the successful turnaround of Miami Central High School, ignoring the thousands of protestors encircling the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was enacting legislation to cripple the public sector unions (but not fire and police unions!).
The second error in Kurtz’s account is to assert that the teachers’ unions were against Common Core. Both the NEA and the AFT were early supporters of Common Core; neither has renounced the standards.
And there is another error in this claim: Bush touts his education accomplishments as Florida governor, and they were real. But Jeb raised a bottom-performing state to average, which is easier than moving from the middle of the pack to the top.
Many critics think that Jeb Bush’s education accomplishments are a sham. His A-F school grading system punishes the schools with the neediest children. His dramatic expansion of charters has created a corrupt industry of hucksters who open and close charters and take the money to the bank. He fought for vouchers, tried to amend the state constitution, but was rebuked at the polls on vouchers by a vote of 58-42. Florida has a lower graduation rate than Alabama. With “accomplishments” like this, he could destroy public education and ruin the nation.