Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush once again defended the Common Core education standards in front the American Legislative Exchange Council's highly-protested annual meeting in Chicago Friday.
"There are critics of Common Core Standards from both ends of the ideological spectrum. I know there are some in this room," Bush said, according to prepared remarks provided to The Huffington Post. The meeting was closed to the press.
"I respect those who don’t share my views. What I can’t accept are the dumbed-down standards and expectations that exist in almost all of our schools today," Bush continued, echoing language often used by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
The speech places Bush, a Republican, among an ever-dwindling group of conservatives who speak out in favor of the Core. That group also includes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who last week told charter school supporters that Republican pushback to the Core is a "knee-jerk" reaction to President Barack Obama's promotion of the project. The business community also is defending the Core, with the Business Roundtable planning a major ad blitz this fall.
The Common Core is a set of learning standards developed by a group of governors and non-profits under the auspices of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. The standards are meant to prepare students for an ever-globalizing economy by holding them to common goals that emphasize critical thinking, non-fictional informational texts and universal mathematical concepts, such as fractions. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation helped fund the effort, and the Obama administration incentivized states to accept the standards' by offering cash through the Race to the Top competition.
Forty-six states and Washington, D.C., have adopted some form of the Core, and a report released this week showed that while politicians argue about it, states are already teaching to the standards.
Opposing the Core has become a cause du jour of the Tea Party, which has organized members to fight against its implementation. They argue that the Core is a federally-imposed, big-government mandate that will end local control of schools. On the national stage, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) recently said that curricula should be developed locally. (Under the Core standards, states and districts can develop their own curricula.)
Republican Kansas State Rep. J.R. Claeys said Bush's speech went over well at the Friday meeting, but while the ALEC crowd might support the idea of standards in general, some have big questions about the Core.
"Most Republicans are in favor of holding our schools to a set of standards so that they can be held accountable for the results they provide. I am concerned about some of the issues that we have with the Common Core, and it deserves some review," he said after the speech. "When anyone sees teachers unions and the president getting behind something, people get suspicious."
"I don't think his support of Common Core hurts [Bush] among the people here," Claeys added, "because we do believe in having standards."
Plummeting test scores in New York further sparked intense criticism of the Core this week. The state administered its first-ever test aligned to the Common Core standards this year, and as expected, the results showed that very few students are on track to be "college and career ready."
Critics say it's unfair to suddenly tell kids they're failing, as Bush acknowledged Friday.
"There will be a painful adjustment period as schools and students adapt to higher expectations," Bush said. "Just look at the results announced in New York this week. Remember, only one-third of our students are college or career ready, and higher expectations, assessed faithfully, will show that ugly truth."
"But the greatest mistake we make in public education is underestimating the capacity of our children to learn," Bush continued. "Under the banner of self-esteem we whitewash failure. We demand more of kids on football fields and basketball courts than we do in classrooms."