Who’s to blame? In this year’s ferocious presidential debates, GOP candidates are falling all over themselves to point fingers about the Common Core State Standards. Jeb Bush, who still supports the standards, has come under withering attack from folks such as Mike Huckabee, who used to. A new report from the liberal-leaning Brookings Institution lays out the real history of the standards. It’s true: If we have to assign praise or blame for these standards, we should be looking to the right.
Report author David Whitman does a nice job of detailing the story back to the 1980s. Still, I can’t help but be miffed when he says that this is a “surprising” story, one that “few are familiar with, and even fewer have written about.” Of course, as SAGLRROILYBYGTH are well aware, your humble editor has been trumpeting this history in these pages and in venues such as Time Magazine.
Conservative intellectuals, too, have done what they can to draw attention to this history. In the pages of The Weekly Standard, for instance, free-market maven Michael Petrilli has told the story to anyone who will listen.
Such complaints aside, however, Whitman’s report is still worth reading. He details the history of the Common Core standards themselves. As he describes correctly, in the 1980s the drive for “high standards” was a leading conservative issue. As Ronald Reagan’s second Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett pushed hard to make these standards a reality.
In the 1990s, Lamar Alexander continued the conservative push for more rigorous state standards. Alexander never envisioned increasing federal control of local education. Rather, he saw these standards as an appropriate way that the federal government could provide help to state governments as they hammered out their education policies.
Whitman also argues convincingly that conservative opposition to the standards is really about something else. The standards themselves are fairly popular when they are not called “Common Core.” Whitman blasts conservative politicians for using “the big lie technique” to smear the standards, to create misinformation among the public. As Whitman cites, many Americans think the standards force children to learn about sex and evolution, when they really don’t.
Make no mistake about it: Whitman’s report is a partisan attack on conservative opposition to the Common Core. And the SAGLRROILYBYGTH know that I generally don’t go for knee-jerk partisanship. In this case, however, Whitman has his historical facts straight.
The Common Core was meant to be a conservative initiative. It was meant to push schools toward more rigorous learning, away from touchy-feely progressive nostrums and toward ol-fashioned book learnin.
Whitman’s liberal glee at pointing out this irony is overdone at times, but his argument is still solid. The Common Core represents an historic win for educational conservatives. Why won’t they admit it? Why do conservatives love to lose when it comes to education policy?