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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

GOP candidates taking aim at Common Core academic standards

Jennifer C. Kerr

WASHINGTON – Note to Republican presidential candidates:

Congress passed, with broad bipartisan support, an education law that specifically says the federal government cannot push academic standards such as Common Core or give incentives to states that adopt them. On top of that, Common Core standards were established by state governors, not Washington.

So is the talk about killing Common Core just that – talk?

Of the three remaining GOP presidential candidates, only Ohio Gov. John Kasich supports the rigorous academic standards.

The others are vehement in their opposition.

“We’re getting rid of Common Core,” Donald Trump said during a debate early this month.

Sen. Ted Cruz, too, is opposed to Common Core. He has called the academic standards a “perverse” mandate.

What they fail to mention is that Common Core began as a state-driven campaign to raise learning standards for the nation’s schoolchildren. Launched in 2009, the idea was to embrace learning goals by grade across all 50 states to make sure kids in Iowa were on track and receiving a quality education along with students in California, Maine and elsewhere – and to ensure all students were prepared for life after high school.

It was a project of governors and state school chiefs.

Much of the backlash against Common Core began when the federal government, through its Race to the Top program, started giving education grants to states that adopted higher academic standards. That grant money has run out and the new education law bars future use of incentives for embracing Common Core or any standards.

Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners, said the notion the federal government “must stop” Common Core runs contrary to the long-held Republican position that governance of public schools is a state issue.

“It’s a little bit ironic that they’ve been sounding the alarm about federal control and now the leading Republican presidential candidates all want to take federal action against a state initiative,” Aldeman said.

Trump has acknowledged Common Core was set up by the states. “But it has all been taken over now by the bureaucrats in Washington, and they are not interested in what’s happening in Miami or in Florida, in many cases,” he said.

The education law passed Congress in December with overwhelming support from both parties and was quickly signed by President Barack Obama. The law revamps the widely criticized No Child Left Behind Act and substantially limits the federal government’s role in public schools, including its powers to push academic standards.

The standards outline skills students should learn and know in math and reading by the end of each grade. They emphasize critical thinking, with less of a focus on memorization.

By 2013, 45 states had adopted the standards. The following year, Indiana became the first state to withdraw formally from Common Core. South Carolina and Oklahoma followed, as conservatives complained the standards represented a federal takeover of education. Many parents also expressed frustration, frazzled by a new way of looking at math that left them unable to help their kids with their homework.

Still, the standards remain in 42 states.

“States don’t have the time, they don’t have the money, to sort of begin something new,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director at the Center on Education Policy. Ferguson has been working with teachers around the country to implement the higher academic standards.

“Most places feel the standards are here to stay,” she said. “They may be tweaked and changed, but they are here to stay.”