The Common Core Report Card: Jeb Bush Gets an F

In our Common Core report card, we graded Jeb Bush and all of the GOP candidates based on the three following criteria: fighting the Common Core, protecting state and local decision-making on education, and defending child and family privacy. Then we averaged the three grades together for one final grade.

What does each grade mean?

A … Champions the issue, e.g., offers legislation, makes it a centerpiece issue.
… Professes support, but has not provided leadership or otherwise championed it.
C … Has neither helped nor hurt the cause.
D … Has an overall negative record on the issue.
F … Robustly and consistently works against the issue.

So how did Jeb Bush do?

Ending the Common Core System: F
Protecting State and Local Decision Making: F
Protecting Child and Family Privacy: D

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Overall Grade: F

Gov. Bush is perhaps the most outspoken supporter of the Common Core Standards in the 2016 field. He has publicly praised David Coleman, one of the two chief architects of the Common Core (who is now chairman of the College Board). He has propagated the false narrative that the Common Core standards are merely learning goals and are of high quality. He has turned a blind eye to the reasons underlying opposition to Common Core and instead used straw-man arguments to dismiss opponents as relying on “Alice-in- Wonderland logic.”

Bush uses the phrase “high standards” to paint a false picture of the Common Core Standards, and he has stated that he thinks the Standards should be the “new minimum in classrooms.” He has denigrated opponents as being motivated by politics. As recently as last year, he was explicitly urging state lawmakers to support the Common Core and described the opposition as resting on “myths” of federal involvement.

Despite some claims that Bush has begun to back away from his support of the Common Core, his recent statements make it clear that he has no intention of backing down. On The Kelly File, May 25, 2015, Bush continued to claim that the Common Core standards are high standards.

At a townhall meeting in Iowa, Bush reportedly got into a debate with an attendee. CNN reports that:

After a tense back-and-forth that lasted several minutes, a somewhat exasperated Bush ultimately concluded with, “I’m just for higher standards, man.”

At CPAC, Bush told Sean Hannity:

And here’s, here’s where I think conservatives and myself, all of us are deeply concerned, with this President and this Department of Education, there’s a risk that they will intrude, and they have as it relates to Race to the Top. What we should say quite clearly in the reauthorization of the K-12 law that is just—I think it may have actually been on the floor of the House of Representatives today, is to say that the federal government has no role in the creation of standards either directly or indirectly. The federal government has no role in the creation of curriculum and content. The federal government should have no access to student ID or student information. That the role of the federal government, if there’s any, is to provide incentives for more school choice. Take the Title I money and the IDEA money and if the states want to innovate their own programs, give them the money to let them create their own programs. That is a better approach.

However, this skepticism of USED initiatives is newly minted, and the legislative prohibitions Bush refers to largely already exist and did so when the Feds pushed Common Core into the states. Furthermore, in 2011, just as the Obama administration was tying Race to the Top funds to Common Core, Bush told Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe:

I think (Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan and President Obama deserve credit for putting pressure on states to change, particularly the states that haven’t changed at all. They’re providing carrots and sticks, and I think that’s appropriate.

What many consider a step back from Common Core support appears to be merely an attempt to reframe his rhetoric without any substantive changes to his views. As NRO’s Stanley Kurtz observed with regard to Bush’s answer at the August 6, 2015 Fox News debate:

Jeb’s Common Core answer was well-practiced, yet profoundly misleading. The whole trick of Common Core is to make an end-run around the legal and constitutional barriers to a national curriculum, even as you deny that you’re doing it. Bush and his Common Core- supporting allies have been pretending to favor local control for years. Yet Jeb has repeatedly backed the most controversial Obama administration moves to consolidate what amounts to a national curriculum. A careful look at Bush’s record makes his actual views all- too-clear.

First you’ve got to understand the Orwellian world of Common Core advocacy, where day is night, war is peace, and Bush is Obama (well actually, that last one is true). The central goal of Common Core advocates is to replace the varying education standards of all 50 states with a single national model, placing special reliance on federal pressure to bring this about. The problem is that the Constitution leaves education to the states, while no less than three laws clearly bar federal direction, supervision, or control of state curricula. So the challenge is to nationalize the curriculum and circumvent the Constitution, and the law, while denying that any of this is happening. The Obama administration’s solution has been to offer “Race to the Top” funding to states, or waivers of onerous federal education requirements, on condition that states adopt . . .

In a co-authored 2011 opinion piece making “The Case for Common Educational Standards,” Bush and New York educator Joel Klein deny federal overreach and present the states as voluntarily enrolling in Common Core. They speak of two testing consortia “of the states,” without noting federal financing of these national consortia. Bush and Klein portray a program explicitly designed to create uniform national standards as embodying “the beauty of our federal system.” Day is night.

The foundation Bush created, the Foundation for Excellence in Education (“FEE,” which is heavily funded by the Gates Foundation), has been an integral partner in the pro-Common Core campaign from the beginning. FEE has worked to promote the Common Core in multiple states, issuing propaganda designed to bat down the opponents’ revelations. It, along with the Fordham Institute, co-founded “Conservatives for Higher Standards” to promote the Common Core. FEE also heavily promotes “digital learning” that in many cases involves intrusive student-profiling platforms; indeed, Bush himself has written in support of this concept. FEE also supports ineffective “privacy” legislation and the federal-control-heavy Every Child Achieves Act, co-sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, to rewrite NCLB. Although Bush is no longer officially connected with FEE, the foundation is his legacy – and it’s a troubling one.

The Bush Campaign website does not address the issues.

Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APIA Education.