Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is no longer the only GOP presidential hopeful to undergo an election season conversion from Common Core booster to critic.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie told conservative Republicans in Iowa — the site of the first 2016 GOP caucus about a year from now — that he has “grave concerns” about the Common Core, the K-12 academic standards in reading and math adopted by 43 states and D.C.
Christie, who signed onto the Common Core State Standards in 2010, had been defending them against growing criticism from conservatives and some progressives in his state and elsewhere.
But in recent months, Christie said he had “real concerns” about the standards, which morphed into “grave concerns” when he addressed the Dallas County Republican Party in Iowa on Feb. 9.
He said he was particularly troubled with the way the Obama administration had “tried to implement it.” This is what the governor said:
“I’ve said this publicly before. I have grave concerns about the way this has been done, and especially the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things. And that changes the entire nature of it, from what was initially supposed to be a voluntary type system and states could decide on their own to now having federal money tied to it in ways that really, really give me grave concerns. So we’re in the midst of a re-examination of it in New Jersey. I appointed a commission a few months ago to look at it in light of these new developments from the Obama administration and they’re going to come back to me with a report in the next I think six or eight weeks, then we’re going to take some action. It is something I’ve been very concerned about, because in the end education needs to be a local issue.”
Though Christie alleges it has been a federal problem, the federal government plays no role in implementing academic standards: It is prohibited by law from getting involved in curriculum decisions or teaching methods.
And Christie’s Feb. 9 comments about the Obama administration were quite different from what he said 18 months ago, when he appeared in Las Vegas at a summit organized by KIPP, a national chain of charter schools. Christie, who supports charter schools, was interviewed at the summit by David Bradley, the owner of the Atlantic Media Company.
“We’re doing Common Core in New Jersey and we’re going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I’ve agreed more with the president than not, and with (Education) Secretary (Arne) Duncan. They haven’t been perfect on this but they’ve been better than a lot of folks have been in terms of the reform movement and I think that part of the Republican opposition that you see in some corners of Congress is a reaction, that knee-jerk reaction you see that’s happening in Washington right now, that if the president likes something, the Republicans in Congress don’t and if the Republicans in Congress like something, the president doesn’t. It is this mindset in D.C. right now that says we have to be at war constantly because to not be at war is to show weakness and to show weakness is to lead to failure and I just don’t buy that.”
A spokesman for Christie did not respond to a request on Tuesday for an explanation of the change of position.
The Common Core State Standards spell out the skills and knowledge that students from Kindergarten through 12th grade should have by the end of each grade. They are benchmarks; it is up to individual states and school districts to implement the standards, choose curricular materials and teaching methods, and to select tests to measure how well students have learned the standards.
The Common Core was created by bipartisan groups representing governors and state education chiefs, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Critics of the Common Core have accused the Obama administration of trying to coerce states to adopt the standards, because states that had “college and career ready” academic standards stood a better chance of winning a grant through the administration’s Race to the Top competition.
New Jersey tried but initially failed to win a grant under Race to the Top because state officials botched their application; Christie fired his first state education commissioner over the mistake. New Jersey subsequently won a grant in a later round of the competition.