Common Core unscathed in California elections

November 7, 2014

A student displays a geometric figure she built with straws during a Common Core-based math lesson in her third grade classroom.

The Common Core State Standards, the principal reform now underway in California schools, emerged unscathed from the state’s fall electoral battles, including one of the most combative races for state superintendent of public instruction in decades.

That was not the case in some other parts of the country, where some candidates for state superintendent of schools rode the GOP surge to victory on an anti-Common Core platform.

In Arizona, for example, GOP candidate Diane Douglas beat out her Democratic opponent David Garcia for the state superintendent’s post in a low-key campaign that consisted almost entirely of opposition to the Common Core.

In Georgia, the GOP contender for state superintendent Richard Woods defeated Democrat Valarie Wilson with a clear anti-Common Core position. The future of the standards are also unclear in Wyoming, where Jillian Balow, a Republican who opposes the Common Core, easily defeated her Democratic opponent Mike Ceballos, who supported the Common Core.

In California, the Common Core was barely mentioned in the $30 million state school superintendent’s race between incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck – which could be attributed in part to the fact that both candidates support the standards.

“Torlakson and I both agree that the Common  Core is the right direction to go in our state,” Tuck said in an interview during the campaign. His main concern was that he felt that  California – and by extension Torlakson – had not been aggressive enough in implementing  the standards after state adopted them in 2010.

“Other states are going through agonizing twists and turns and somersaults about what to do about the Common Core,” Torlakson said in an interview the day after his narrow victory. “These debates are going on in California, but they are not tearing the Common Core apart.”

Pro-Common Core advocates of different political persuasions did not view election results indicating hostility to the Common Core as a setback.

Karen Nussle, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, said Tuesday’s ballot box outcomes represented “a net zero-change election insofar as the politics of Common Core is concerned.”

“For the better part of this past year, opponents of Common Core threw everything but the kitchen sink at candidates who support high standards, but in the end, the Standards once again demonstrated their resiliency,” she was reported as saying in the Daily Caller.

Similarly, Michael Petrilli of the Fordham Institute was confident about the long-term prospects of the Common Core. “Those of us who support the Common Core will win some and will lose some,” he wrote in a blog post. “But it won’t change the fundamentals. The vast majority of states, I predict, will continue to move ahead with these higher standards.”

Common Core critics, however, were not as willing to concede that point. Lindsey Burke of the Heritage Foundation said in her view, the message that emerged from Tuesday’s elections was that voters “resoundingly sided with candidates who rejected the Common Core.”

A more critical factor shaping the future of the Common Core will be the extent to which the Republican-controlled Congress will portray the Common Core as an Obama administration initiative, and place barriers in the way of the U.S Dept. of Education backing it. In some conservative circles, the standards are derisively referred to as “Obama Core.”

The politics of the 2016 presidential race will also shape what happens. Some of the most visible Republicans – Sen. Rand Paul, Sen. Ted Cruz and Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal – are on record as opposing the standards, while other potential candidates – like Jeb Bush and Chris Christie – support them.

In California, by contrast, no prominent politician has come out against the Common Core – and the odds of that happening seem unlikely, at least for now. As he embarks on his second four-year term in office, Torlakson predicts that the standards are here to stay in California.

“This is not a fad reform, here today and gone tomorrow,” he said. “It will endure, it will provide a skill set for students to prepare for college and careers and provide them with good thinking and communications skills.”


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