The Common Core Report Card: Marco Rubio Gets a C

In our Common Core report card, we graded Marco Rubio 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 Marco Rubio do?

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

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Overall Grade: C

Sen. Marco Rubio has spoken strongly against Common Core and wrote a letter to Secretary Duncan in 2011 questioning the legality of using federal No Child Left Behind waivers to drive policy changes, like the adoption of Common Core, in the states. In 2013, Rubio was videotaped discussing his views on the Common Core State Standards and had this to say:

And I am very concerned, and quite frankly opposed to any effort to try to create some sort of national curriculum standard and then try to leverage the power of the federal government’s funding to force states to adopt a certain curriculum standard. State and local levels are the best places to come up with curriculum reform, and it’s something the federal government shouldn’t be deeply involved in.

Recently he has even alluded to possibly being in favor of abolishing USED, as he has stated:

I believe in having a 21st century curriculum, but I believe it should be done at the local and state level. And if you create some sort of national standard, even as a suggestion, it will turn into a mandate the federal government will force on our students and our local school boards and you’re going to end up with a national school board.

In response to a question on Common Core at the August 6, 2015 Fox News debate, Rubio said:

Here’s the problem with Common Core. The Department of Education, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied. They will not stop with it being a suggestion. They will turn it into a mandate.

In fact, what they will begin to say to local communities is, you will not get federal money unless do you things the way we want you to do it. And they will use Common Core or any other requirements that exists nationally to force it down the throats of our people in our states.

As Cato’s Neal McCluskey commented, Rubio is right to be concerned about what the federal government might do because, well, it has already done those things. And, in fact, that’s how the federal government, at the behest of special interests, pushed the Common Core into the states.

Rubio’s answer ignores the immediate most pressing concern of parents, grandparents, and teachers. It gives short shrift to the parents who have been fighting this. We fight it primarily because of what the federal government has done to our children—not because of what it might theoretically do.

Another problem with Rubio’s answer is that it skirts around the nexus between the poor quality of the Common Core and federal involvement. In late 2008, private groups convinced the incoming Obama Administration to push the standards into the states with a carrot-and-stick approach. Those private groups then drafted the Common Core standards in response to the ensuing federal grants. They drafted the standards on the premise that they would be a monopoly. They did not draft them on the premise that the standards would have to pass parental muster or would have to be better than world-class standards like the old Massachusetts standards. Rubio skirted these all-important issues by casting the problem as potential rather than presently existing.

Rubio’s official website does not specifically address the issue of Common Core. However, it does states that in order to prepare people to “seize their opportunities in the new economy,” high schools should graduate more students “ready to work.” It is hard to parse from this general statement what the education policies would look like under a Rubio Administration. What does Rubio believe would validate a student as “work ready”? Would it be the further alignment of our K-12 education system to the projected demands of specific sectors of the economy to train workers for favored big-businesses, which would mean more of the Chamber of Commerce-endorsed Common Core? Or, does it mean aligning education to the demands of parents and the local community as a whole, which would mean more local control? It would behoove Senator Rubio to answer these questions and to discuss the qualitative aspects of the Common Core and whether he believes the federal involvement helped, or hurt, the quality of the standards.

Sen. Rubio voted against Sen. Lamar Alexander’s S.1177, (the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind) and in favor of proposed S.AMDT 2180, Sen. Cruz’s proposal to return accountability to the states. These are positive steps and should be recognized because Rubio faced intense pressure from Republican leadership to do the opposite.

However, Sen. Rubio failed to cast a vote on Sen. Lee’s amendment (S.AMDT 2162) addressing the right of parents to opt their children out of standardized tests. His staff reports that he was absent on that day. We find this troubling, especially in light of his record on student privacy.

Relevant to the privacy issue, Rubio is co-sponsoring the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act (S. 1195), which would create a federal database on students for at least 15 years after they enter the workforce. It is troubling that Rubio advocates a limited role for government in the activities of the American people, yet fails to see the problem with the governmental tracking and collecting data on all citizens.

Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APIA Education.