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Ted Cruz’s big mistake about Common Core

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.)  announces his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president March 23 at the Vine Center at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Va. (Paul J. Richards/AFP/Getty Images)
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As anybody paying attention to the news today knows, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz became the first candidate, Democrat or Republican, to announce his intention to run for president in 2016. He did this in a speech at Liberty University in Virginia in which he made a series of negative statements about the federal government. For example, from the transcript (bold-face is mine):

Instead of a government that works to undermine our Second Amendment rights, that seeks to ban our ammunition…
… imagine a federal government that protects the right to keep and bear arms of all law-abiding Americans.
Instead of a government that seizes your e-mails and your cell phones, imagine a federal government that protected the privacy rights of every American.
Instead of a federal government that seeks to dictate school curriculum through Common Core …
… imagine repealing every word of Common Core.

Others can discuss his statements about guns and privacy. Here we will take a look at the one about the federal government’s relationship to school curriculum and the Common Core.

Cruz apparently thinks that the Common Core is embedded in a federal law that can be repealed. It isn’t. Besides, the federal government doesn’t dictate school curriculum and is barred by federal law from doing so.

That isn’t to say, though, that the Obama administration didn’t help push the Core initiative into being. It did.

The Common Core State Standards initiative is a series of K-12 standards in math and English Language Arts and aligned standardized testing. It is not a curriculum; school districts are supposed to develop their own, though in the rush to adopt the Core, many bought programs developed by education companies.

A few years ago, the initiative, with unusual bipartisan support, had been adopted fully by 45 states and the District of Columbia. That began to change when critics from all sides of the political spectrum began to emerge with concerns on a variety of fronts, including problems with the content of the standards and the developmental inappropriateness of those for the earliest grades, the design of the new tests, how the new exams were written and by whom, and the federal government’s funding of new standardized tests aligned to the Core.

[Principal: Why I once liked Common Core but changed my mind]

While the backlash has come from the right, the left and the middle, right-wing extremist opponents have gotten a lot of public attention; Glenn Beck, for example, says the standards initiative is “evil” and an attempt to impose “communism” on America. (It isn’t.) The Freedom Project, affiliated with the radical right John Birch Society, says the Core is an “absolute appropriation of Soviet ideology and propaganda” and says it is mainstreaming homosexuality, promiscuity and other practices. (It isn’t.)

[How Common Core could hurt Jeb Bush if he runs for president]

The Obama administration clearly supported the Core. In its chief education initiative, Race to the Top, a $4.3 billion federal funding competition, the Education Department made one of the criteria for applicant states the adoption of “college and career ready standards.” As my colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote in a story about the involvement of Bill Gates in the Core effort, an early version of the Race criteria included adoption of the Core, but that was taken out for fear that the Core standards would be seen as a federal program.

Furthermore, the Education Department allocated some $360 million to two multi-state consortia to develop new standardized tests aligned to the Core that states could choose between. Millions of students in a number of states are now taking new Common Core tests amid a growing backlash across the country to high-stakes standardized testing.

States could decline to participate in Race to the Top — a key point the administration makes — but officials in some states said they felt coerced to adopt it.  Some Republican governors have pulled their states out of the Core while accusing the U.S. Education Department of micromanaging local education from Washington.

Even with that level of federal involvement, there isn’t a federal law that could be repealed to get rid of the Common Core. Each state has to do that on their own.

You may also be interested in:

How Common Core could hurt Jeb Bush if he runs for president

Common Core: yes or no? A debate.

Principal: Why I once liked Common Core but changed my mind