The Forgotten Story: How Common Core Changed the Race in Iowa

Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0 BR)
Photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0 BR)

Now that Iowa caucus-goers have spoken, lost in the discussion of Donald Trump’s underperformance, Ted Cruz’s ground game and Marco Rubio’s surge is an acknowledgement of one issue that separated the top Iowa finishers from (as Trump would say) the “losers.” That issue is Common Core.

Cruz and Rubio have long been on record as opposing the national standards. Trump has relentlessly raised the issue ever since he entered the race. As the Iowa campaign came down to the wire, Trump released a Common Core-specific ad, and Rubio began devoting more and more time in his stump speech to the issue (although his record on child privacy is problematic, something on which other candidates have not honed in). Apparently, these gentlemen recognized what the base was upset about — and Common Core is high on the list. All three garnered significantly more votes than the winner in the 2012 contest. (See the 2012 results and the 2016 results.) They each received over 40,000 votes. The winner in 2012 received 29,839 votes.

The voters overwhelmingly rejected Common Core proponents. Jeb Bush and John Kasich received 5,238 and 3,474 votes, respectively. Bush, of course, was appropriately branded as pro-Common Core from Day One and wasn’t salvageable even by his bulging war chest. Kasich still loves Common Core and drips with disdain for anyone who disagrees.

Next up are those candidates who once supported Common Core but then had campaign conversions. They were never able to justify why they had so blindly supported such a bad product. To parents, and indeed to other citizens who look seriously at the issue, the lure of federal money and the slick pleas of special interests do not justify signing on to something that so patently harms their children. Nor does it justify the actions of those, such as Gov. Scott Walker, who had the opportunity to fight but failed to do so. Rather it condemns them to political purgatory — nearly unfit for political office.

Like Walker, Gov. Chris Christie tries to fool people into thinking that he got rid of Common Core in his state. [Note to politicians: Before you make such claims, ask yourself, “Are Common Core-aligned text books are still in the classroom? Are children still taking standardized tests aligned to Common Core?” If the answer is “yes,” then don’t claim that you got rid of Common Core.]  Despite strong rhetoric, Mike Huckabee was never able to shake his original enthusiasm for the standards. Bobby Jindal signed his state into Common Core but during his last year as governor pulled out all the stops to get rid of it; still, he never re-gained the trust of the people. Carly Fiorina collapsed in part after activists exposed her prior support for Common Core and a big federal footprint in education.

This is a litmus test issue. One could argue that there are more important issues, but this issue exposes the character of the candidates for better or worse, and there is no middle ground.  The quality of the standards is clearly and highly defective. Nonetheless, Common Core is still a difficult issue for weak-kneed politicians. K-12 education is a $600 billion per year industry, and moms bring no money to the table. Moreover, the related data collection issues attract the swarm of digital-age (software, hardware, internet) business interests. If those interests can prevail on state and federal government to curtail the privacy rights of children and their families, it will set the precedent for a systematic breakdown of privacy rights. Thus, as unpopular as the Common Core and the collection of personal child and family data are, there will be a fight.  Here’s an excerpt from Robert Holland’s Townhall piece on the underhanded tactics of the monied interests:

Big data is only one Common Core tentacle. Among others are “big publishing,” notably Pearson Education, “big foundations,” especially those funded by Bills Gates, “big business,” and of course the supporters of “big government” in both political parties.

These players all have huge investments in Common Core, and they are not going to let it go easily. They will try to rig polls and surveys, change the name, rebrand, stack review committees, set up and fund front groups, and do whatever else it takes to ensure these top-down national standards become mandatory in virtually every corner of the United States.

Politicians who fail to fight might have great views and ideas, but the Republican base sees them for the imprudent cowards that they are. Politicians should take heed of Robert Holland’s warning: “Only a fool would bet against [parents] eventually winning.”

Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APP Education.