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What Hillary Clinton said about the Common Core State Standards

Hillary Clinton arrives for a roundtable discussion with students and educators at the Kirkwood Community College Jones County Regional Center on April 14 in Monticello, Iowa.  (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Hillary Clinton, the only declared Democrat running for president in 2016, was at a community college in Iowa the other day for a roundtable discussion about education.

The former secretary of state and U.S. senator appeared last week at Kirkwood Community College in Monticello, Iowa, and talked with students and educators for more than an hour, listening to their stories and answering their questions.

As Anthony Cody notes in this piece, a teacher who supports the Common Core State Standards asked her about the initiative. The woman, who said she has been a high school teacher for the last 21 years and a part-time adjunct instructor at the college for six of those years, said that she finds it “painful” that the Core is being attacked.

Clinton responded, saying that there is “a really unfortunate argument” around the Core now and explained why she finds the standards initiative useful. (So does a potential opponent, former Florida governor Jeb Bush.)

You can read the full transcript here, and watch the video below, but here’s the question and answer, which you can find on this video from C-span at minute 50:

Questioner: I think we are very blessed to live where we do. Where education starting very young through high school, this community college, college. We have all these opportunities and we are fortunate here. I worry that not all of America gets to experience this treasure we have. And I think the Common Core is a wonderful step in the right direction of improving American education. And it’s painful to see that attacked. I’m just wondering what can you do to bring that heart back to education? What can we do so that parents and communities and businesses believe in American education and that teachers are respected and our schools are respected and our colleges are respected? And we offer a quality education to all Americans throughout the United States?
Hillary Clinton: Wow. That is really a powerful, touching comment that I absolutely embrace. When I think about the really unfortunate argument that’s been going on around Common Core, it’s very painful, because the Common Core started off as a bi-partisan effort — it was actually nonpartisan. It wasn’t politicized, it was to try to come up with a core of learning that we might expect students to achieve across our country, no matter what kind of school district they were in, no matter how poor their family was, that there wouldn’t be two tiers of education. Everybody would be looking at what was to be learned and doing their best to try to achieve that. Now I think part of the reason why Iowa may be more understanding of this is you’ve had the Iowa Core for years, you’ve had a system, plus the Iowa Assessment tests. I think I’m right in saying I took those when I was in elementary school, right — the Iowa tests. So Iowa has had a testing system based on a core curriculum for a really long time, and you see the value of it. You understand why that helps you organize your whole education system. And a lot of states, unfortunately, haven’t had that, and so don’t understand the value of a core in this sense  a common core that then — yes of course you can, y’know, figure out the best way, in your community to try to reach.
But your question is really a larger one. How did we end up at a point where we are so negative about the most important non-family enterprise in the raising of the next generation, which is how our kids are educated. And there are a lot of explanations for that, I suppose. But whatever they are, we need to try to get back into a broad conversation where people will actually listen to each other again, and try to come up with solutions for problems, cause the problems here in Monticello are not the same problems that you’ll find in the inner cities in our biggest urban areas — that’s a given — we have to do things differently. But it should all be driven by the same commitment to try to make sure we do educate every child. That’s why, you know, I was a senator and voted for Leave No Child Behind (sic) because I thought every child should matter and it shouldn’t be you’re poor or you have disabilities so we will sweep you to the back, don’t show up on test days so we don’t want to mess up our scores. No, every child should have the same opportunity. And so I think we have got to get back to basics and we have to look to teachers to lead the way on that.

Jeb Bush, one of the Republicans running for that party’s nomination, has been a vocal supporter of the Core for years and has been criticized by other Republicans for his stance on the initiative, which 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 by states to implement the Core, many bought ready-made programs developed by education companies.

The Core once had strong bipartisan support but that began to change when critics from all sides of the political spectrum began to emerge with concerns 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. Some opponents used the initiative to bash the Obama administration, which pushed states to adopt the Core through its Race to the Top program, in which states agreed to certain school reforms in exchange for federal funds.

As for some other Republican candidates:

This piece in Education Week called Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker not a prominent supporter or  opponent of the Core, but “more of a prominent waffler,” being in before he was out and then deciding that school districts should have a choice.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is an opponent, saying  that the standards push “anti-American propaganda” on kids, which the standards actually don’t. Note: He chairs the Senate subcommittee on K-12 education.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie strongly supported the standards for years but has been quiet about them lately, and last November he appointed a panel to study the initiative and the state’s standardized tests.

Texas Sen. Ted Cruz said he can imagine a day when the Common Core can be repealed. It isn’t embedded in federal law, so Congress can’t repeal it. Individual states can get rid of it, as some already have.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said in a statement to the Tampa Bay Times that while the initiative “started out as a well-intentioned effort to develop more rigorous curriculum standards,” it has become an “effort to coerce states into adhering to national curriculum standards.”

Former Texas governor Rick Perry is a longtime opponent.

If the 2016 contest for the White House comes down to Clinton vs. Bush, as some in the political world believe, both candidates would be Core supporters.