If former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush runs for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he needs to find a way to get right with the hard-right element of the GOP that hates the Common Core curriculum, an education reform program Bush has strongly supported and which dozens of states have adopted.
In an appearance in Washington Thursday, he indicated that his strategy is to stick to his guns and defend the basic elements of the program while welcoming debate on its specific components.
Common Core is, at its heart, a set of standards developed by state-level education officials that outline what mathematics and reading principles students ought to have mastered when they complete each grade through high school.
It’s a complex program, but most of the opposition to it arises not because of arguments about the requirements, but from a conviction that there shouldn’t be a nationwide standard for students. Opponents of Common Core believe educational standards ought to be determined at the state level.
Delivering a speech at a meeting of the Excellence in Education Foundation, which he founded after leaving the governorship of Florida, Bush on Thursday defended the basics of the program, while acknowledging the concerns of its detractors.
“These policies matter,” he said. “How we achieve them will differ from community to community. We have to make room for diversity in our thinking… even as we reach for common goals.”
While acknowledging the difference in opinion within the party, he said, “the debate over the Common Core State Standards has been troubling.”
“I respect those who have weighed in on all sides of this issue,” he said. “Nobody in this debate has a bad motive. But let’s take a step back from this debate for a second.”
Comparing U.S. education policies to those in China, Singapore and other countries the U.S. competes with, he argued “There is no question we need higher academic standards and – at the local level – diverse high-quality content and curricula.”
He said that if individual states want to abandon the Common Core, they should, “Aim even higher…be bolder…raise standards and ask more of our students and the system.” He added, “Even if we don’t all agree on Common Core, there are more important principles for us to agree on.” Among other things, he stressed parent choice, reducing the power of teachers unions and introducing more flexibility into the system to accommodate the needs of individual students.
Whether one agrees with Bush or not, he appears to be trying to rationalize what is, in essence an argument about more basic preferences. And how well Bush’s decision to defend the common core will play with the hardest of the Republican Party’s hard right seemed pretty clear on Thursday: not well.
“Big Govt control freaks,” tweeted conservative blogger Michelle Malkin in response to the speech echoed by many on the right, “are always troubled by dissent.”
Top Reads from The Fiscal Times