From school board races to Senate primaries, the education reform package known as Common Core is proving uncommonly divisive this campaign season, popping up as an issue in primary elections all over the country.
Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a Republican, cites opposition to Common Core as a key reason for her endorsement of state Rep. Chris McDaniel over incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran in Mississippi’s hotly contested Republican Senate primary. Former Oklahoma state House Speaker T.W. Shannon, a Republican, says Obama administration pressure on states to adopt Common Core “is a prime example of why I’m running for the Senate.”
Republican David Brat, the Virginia college professor who rocked the political world last week with his primary victory, went after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for not fighting hard enough to stop the Common Core reforms.
“I am absolutely opposed to Common Core and top-down education,” Mr. Brat told the conservative website Tavern Keepers days before the primary. “I’m a teacher. I’m in the classroom every day and the teachers, you have to trust your teachers.”
For Maryland Republican Charles “Bud” Nason, the fight to stop Common Core is the centerpiece of his race for a seat on the Carroll County Board of Education. Mr. Nason, one of eight candidates, has teamed up with two fellow challengers, Republicans George Harmening and Jim Roenick, as a bloc committed to rolling back Common Core in the county’s schools.
The national mathematics and English language standards have been adopted by 45 states, although some have rescinded their support and others have delayed implementation.
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Like many other activists resisting Common Core, Mr. Nason said the standards are confusing, expensive and, most dangerous of all, an unacceptable infringement on local school district autonomy.
“I think Common Core is even worse than No Child Left Behind,” said Mr. Nason, referring to the George W. Bush administration’s school reform law that even many supporters now concede had to be overhauled.
Common Core backers say the program is experiencing usual implementation problems but addresses the need to bolster the performance of American elementary and secondary students who routinely lag behind their peers in international comparisons. Although the Obama administration did not devise the standards, it has strongly backed their implementation rhetorically and with incentive money from its Race to the Top education initiative.
Many tea party groups have opposed Common Core, and the Republican National Committee in April 2013 adopted a resolution opposing the program.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 340 bills in nearly every state had been introduced by May 15 to modify, delay or outright revoke implementation of the Common Core curriculum standards. Common Core “really dominated the conversation, mood and ability of the legislatures to discuss other issues,” Michelle Exstrom, a conference education program director, told the Stateline news service.
It hasn’t been a centerpiece issue in many campaigns, but Common Core is clearly playing a role in school board races and in races for state and congressional offices this primary season.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has put conservative school reform at the heart of a possible 2016 presidential run, is one of a number of high-profile Republicans who initially supported Common Core but now reject it.
The Stop Common Core PAC amassed some $700,000 to put into Alabama state races to target establishment Republicans this month, but House Speaker Mike Hubbard and most other incumbents whom the group targeted won their races. Long-shot challengers to incumbent Republican governors in Iowa and South Dakota also focused heavily on Common Core in primaries this month but came up short.
Some of the political opposition to Common Core has come from teachers unions and liberal groups. Battles over implementation have been particularly fierce in New York, where Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, is blamed by Republican challenger Robert Astorino for what he calls the Common Core “disaster,” but polls say Mr. Cuomo remains the clear favorite.
The South Carolina Republican primary for state superintendent of education focused heavily on replacing Common Core with new standards. Gov. Nikki R. Haley, a Republican, signed a bill this month allowing the state to develop its own education standards.
Molly Spearman and Sally Atwater beat six other candidates to earn places in the June 24 runoff in the Republican race for chief of South Carolina schools.
Ms. Atwater’s website described Common Core as the result of “Washington’s one-size-fits-all mentality” and one of the federal government’s “burdensome mandates.”
Ms. Spearman said the issue on education standards has dominated the primary election. “My stance on Common Core has been probably been the most asked question while I’ve been campaigning,” she said. “I’m supporting high standards, rigorous standards, but I do believe they also have to be deep standards. People want to see South Carolina standards.”