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Mike Huckabee walks back his support for Common Core

Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has now put himself on the list of potential Republican candidates for president in 2016, which explains, perhaps, why he is backing off his once outspoken support of  the Common Core State Standards initiative — even while insisting that his original backing made sense.

Huckabee wrote a letter dated June 3, 2013, to legislators in Oklahoma that said in part:

Dear Oklahoma Lawmakers:
As a conservative who served as governor for a state that shares the values of the very Oklahomans you represent, I’m writing to encourage you to resist any attempt to delay implementation of the improved standards adopted by your State Board of Education in 2010. Many of you voted in favor of these standards in 2010. You were right to stand for these improved standards then and you are right to stand for these improved standards still today.
These standards, known as Common Core State Standards, have been near and dear to my heart since I served as Governor of your neighboring state of Arkansas. And it’s disturbing to me there have been criticisms of these standards directed by other conservatives including the RNC. The truth of the matter is, these criticisms are short-sighted.
Like many of you, I’ve heard the argument these standards “threaten local control” of what’s being taught in Oklahoma classrooms. Speaking from one conservative to another, let me assure you this simply is not true. States and local school districts will determine how they want to teach kids, what curriculum to use, and which textbooks to use.

But a few months is a lifetime in politics. In recent months, tea party members and other conservatives have increasingly been vocal about their extreme opposition to the Common Core, portraying it as a federal mandate (it isn’t) and even worse. Now that Huckabee is interested in winning over the super-conservative base of the Republican Party that has control of the presidential primary and caucus process, Common Core support isn’t a popular position for him to take.

So he is abandoning it — at least he is distancing himself from the initiative as it is being implemented in schools around the country today, while still standing by his initial support. How does he do that? In a Dec. 7 post on his Web site (see text below) which he also made on his Fox News Show called “Huckabee” (see video below), he made a distinction between his original support for strong academic standards and the way the Core has been implemented.

Here’s what he wrote on his Web site (and he made the same statement on his Fox News Show):

Here’s a sampling of some things people have posted on my FB [Facebook] page lately: “I hear you support Common Core education standards; I’ll never watch your show again;” another: “If you support Common Core, you’ve lost my trust.” Or this, “You need to learn the truth about Common Core.” I guess the person who said he’d never watch my show again won’t hear this and that’s too bad.
Let me cut right to the chase: I don’t support what Common Core has become in many states or school districts. I’m dead set against the federal government creating a uniform curriculum for any subject; I oppose the collection of personal data on students that would identify them and track them and any effort to give that personal information to the federal government.
I am steadfast in my belief that parents should ultimately decide the best venue for their children’s education, whether public schools, private schools, religious schools or home-schools. I believe education is a local or state function — not a federal one. Sadly, the very label Common Core has come to be associated with things I detest, like agenda driven curriculum that indoctrinates instead of educates. I’m convinced that the term Common Core needs to disappear from the lexicon of education policy. It’s a toxic term because it’s come to mean things that most of us can’t stomach, like top-down federal intrusion into the local schools where you live.
But Common Core as it was designed had nothing to do with the federal government. It was conceived and controlled by elected governors and state school chiefs to keep the federal hands from interfering. It only dealt with 2 subjects, math and English, and in those 2 subjects, established only state-initiated standards in those subjects, and intentionally did not write or even suggest curriculum. It set voluntary goals — VOLUNTARY goals — controlled by local school boards.
Unfortunately, the locally controlled and very simple creation of standards in math and English, created so that students would be measured by comparable regardless of geography has been hijacked by those who took the label Common Core and applied it to curriculum, subjects other than math and English, and even unrelated things as personal data collection.
As a result, Common Core as a brand is dead and hopefully the perversions of it will die as well. What I hope does not die is setting higher standards for students, keeping score to see how well they are doing, and having accountability for results. Educational bureaucrats have long fought honest assessments and accountability and have been satisfied with under performing students who were far behind their peers in other states or other countries.
The Wall Street Journal reported this week that schools in the US were performing below those in Vietnam, Lithuania, Russia, and Hungary; that our 15 year olds haven’t seen improvement in over a decade compared to other nations. For those who think I embrace Common Core, I don’t embrace or even want to tolerate what it’s come to mean in too many locations. Yes, it’s been hijacked, and I don’t support the hijackers or the destination, but I don’t blame the airplane for getting hijacked. I just hope we aren’t willing to accept mediocrity as a standard.
Let’s kill the name Common Core and all the nonsense that’s been tacked on to it. But let’s insist that if we continue to spend the most money in education we demand that the end result is achievement. Every Governor should take the wheel and steer his or her state to adopting strict and rigorous standards. Keep it simple; name it what you will. Don’t let anyone corrupt the goals by adding things not part of the goals. Common Core is dead. But common sense shouldn’t be.