Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush and the Albatross of Common Core

In her column, “Your Common Core Marketing Overlords,” Michelle Malkin revealed that Jeb Bush’s non-profit, Foundation for Excellence in Education, was among those saturating the airwaves with pro-Common Core commercials last spring.  The foundation, she charged, was “tied at the hip” to the federally funded testing consortium (one of two) called PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). 

By Mary Grabar l February 16, 2015

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush accompanies President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan at Miami Central Senior High School in March 2011/Photo: AP-Pablo Martinez Monsivais

It’s hard to believe that education may be a determining factor in a presidential election, as it seems to be in 2016, and that it’s due to Common Core.  Back in 2012, polling revealed that nearly 80 percent of Americans knew “nothing” or “not much” about Common Core.  That was three years after the Common Core national standards were quietly agreed to by governors in the Race to the Top competition for a share of $4.35 billion in stimulus funds.

Since that time a grassroots movement of parents, teachers, and citizens has put Common Core on the national political map.  Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt called Common Core the “defining issue” of the presidential race.  He cited Berkeley professor of public policy David Kirp’s New York Times column, “Rage Against the Common Core.”

Top establishment contender, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, however, faces his “biggest challenge” from Common Core.  That is Karl Rove’s estimation.

Jeb Bush: Education Governor?

Rove’s assessment is ironic given that at the end of his term in 2007 Bush was heralded as the education governor and praised for raising educational outcomes.

Jamie Gass, Director of the Center for School Reform at the Pioneer Institute, says, “I don’t think they anticipated it going this way.”

How did this happen?

Florida State University Political Science Professor Robert Crew claims that Jeb Bush’s A Plus Plan, of grading public schools on a scale of A through F, is seen as a forerunner to Common Core.  It was not popular in Florida, although it did not receive the “vociferous disagreement” he says that Bush has gotten from the tea party for Common Core.

Bush’s claims for education achievement, however, have been revealed as exaggerated.  A 2011 New York Times article noted that under his tenure scores in math and reading improved in the early grades, but dropped off after fourth grade, falling below the national average by twelfth grade.  Off the record, conservative policy analysts say that Bush’s figures were massaged to make them appear better than they were.

Just the Base?

The Hill, in an article titled, “Will Common Core Sink Bush?” concluded, “As a general election issue, education reform barely registers on the list of voter concerns nationally.” Voters “energized by Common Core” wouldn’t be considering Bush as a candidate to begin with.  In other words, it’s a problem with the base, such as those who attended the recent Iowa Freedom Summit.  All six of the potential candidates attending stated their opposition to Common Core.  Bush did not attend.

But Bloomberg News reported on February 1 that its own poll conducted with the Des Moines Register found that nearly two-thirds of likely participants in Iowa’s caucuses consider Bush’s positions on immigration and Common Core to be deal-killers.

Bush’s Common Core problem may extend beyond the base.  A recent PDK/Gallup poll showed that 76 percent of all Republicans object to Common Core.  A firm majority of Americans – 60 percent – oppose Common Core.  Even the Democratic Party of Washington State passed a resolution opposing the Common Core standards on January 24.  This action follows similar Republican resolutions in 2012 at the state party level and in the Republican National Committee.

Who still likes Common Core?

With parents and teachers of both political parties abandoning Common Core, who is left that likes it? Apparently, the profiteers: companies and their non-profit arms. For example, in technology, it’s Microsoft/Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation; in curriculum development, it’s Pearson Publishing/Pearson Charitable Foundation.  The Chamber of Commerce at the national level, today known more for its support of crony capitalism than small, independent businesses, supports it.  And, of course, there are the politicians who get their campaign contributions.

This is Jeb Bush’s problem. 

In her column, “Your Common Core Marketing Overlords,” Michelle Malkin revealed that Jeb Bush’s non-profit Foundation for Excellence in Education was among those saturating the airwaves with pro-Common Core commercials last spring.  The foundation, she charged, was “tied at the hip” to the federally funded testing consortium (one of two) called PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers).  One of the top corporate sponsors of FEE, the giant publisher Pearson, profited by $23 million to design PARCC test items and $1 billion for overpriced, insecure iPads for the Los Angeles Unified School District.  In December, Pearson, Inc. agreed to pay $7.7 million to the New York State attorney general for illegally using its non-profit arm to create products to be sold to its for-profit arm.

The Washington Post reported that FEE has been pushing states to embrace digital learning in public schools, with many of those digital products made by donors to Bush’s foundation, “including Microsoft, Intel, News Corp., Pearson PLC, and K12 Inc.”  A New Yorker article too catalogued in detail the billions entangled in “education reform.”

Bush’s position on Common Core has drawn criticism even from those who praise his tenure as governor, as Rep. Debbie Mayfield, Vero Beach, Florida, does.  She claims Common Core is an attempt to impose a national (and unconstitutional) education plan.  “Parents are being pushed out,” as local school boards are stripped of power, she says.

How to Convince Voters

Mike McShane, a research fellow in education policy at the American Enterprise Institute told The Hill that Bush could make it clear that, although he supports the Common Core standards, he would ensure that the federal government would not be pushing it on the states.

But activists have spent years trying to extricate their states from Common Core.  Attempts in Georgia, as I observed, failed because of money interests that have become entrenched in the state with the help of the federal government.

Jane Robbins, Senior Fellow at American Principles in Action, blames “the powerful education establishment (not to be confused with teachers).”  Jeb Bush who has come to be the “very face of Common Core” will not reassure voters with promises not to push the standards through the federal government.

Voters will remember his dismissive attitude towards those who disagree with him, says Robbins: “He’ll have a tough time winning over parents whom he has accused of wanting ‘mediocrity’ for their children.”

Bush is passionately defending his education record, though. The Hill reported that Bush went off script during a speech before the Detroit Economic Club on February 4, and “thundered about how his education initiatives turned the Florida education system around.”  A Bush spokesperson told the paper that the speech was not a defense of Common Core “in particular, but that he still supports the higher standards associated with the practice.”

On February 10, protestors were ready for Bush’s address at an education summit hosted by the Foundation for Florida’s Future, an education nonprofit he founded.  That day, he went even further, omitting the words, “Common Core,” according to Politico and other sources. Although the Politico article mentions only the Democratic Progressive Caucus, it was confirmed to me that there were also conservatives protesting.

It seems that Bush has a bipartisan problem on his hands with Common Core.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.