It always seems appropriate that Halloween comes just days before an election. Politicians are masters at dressing themselves up in ways that obscure reality, in particular their positions on tough issues.
With the midterm elections looming, the winner of this year’s All Hallow’s Eve costume contest could be former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who soon may be announcing his candidacy for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination.
Among politicians of all stripes, Democrat and Republican alike, there has been no more avid booster of the so-called Common Core State Standards (which actually are national in scope) than Jeb Bush, the patrician son of President Bush I and brother of President Bush II.
Bush hasn’t hesitated from taking potshots at Common Core opponents, variously calling them politically motivated, conspiracy theorists, and even intellectual weaklings who value kids’ self-esteem over serious learning. He has shown no sign of seriously pondering critics’ arguments about the perils of CC’s would-be centralization of power over all education and the serious harm its one-size-fits-all and test-heavy regimen will do to children.
Now, in a five-page, pre-Halloween fundraising letter for his new organization, Excellence in Education National, Bush claims in order for any other policy changes in such areas as regulation and immigration to be effective, “we must first transform our failing education system and have no tolerance for the adult-centered K–12 system that exists today.”
Yet, in the 28 paragraphs about education that follow, Bush mentions Common Core not once. Nowhere can the words “Common Core” or “national standards” be found.
Trick or treat?
Bush says his new advocacy organization, for which he seeks contributions, will “build on the work” of his established nonprofit foundation, the Foundation for Excellence in Education. Yet that foundation has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and accepted Gates’ largesse in pushing Common Core as the one true prescription for all that ails education.
This seems pretty tricky, and not much of a treat unless you are a member of the elite national standards inner-circle. The blog Truth in American Education even suggested a possible ethical lapse in a big Common Core booster asking for money while not being upfront with donors about where the money would go.
The letter primarily touts achievement gains in Florida public schools as a result of policies Bush pushed. Much of that is attributable to the increases in public and private school choice that Bush did champion effectively as governor. However, the real mind-stumper is how he believes genuine choice can survive if nationalized Common Core standards will be dictating not only K–12 curricula and teaching methods but also criteria for admission to college.
Maybe families could choose among schools with differing dress codes. That would be about it.
Other politicians have also attempted to disguise their devotion to Common Core this Halloween.
In a race for reelection against an ardent foe of the national standards, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) rolled out a startling campaign ad vowing to “disregard Common Core scores for at least five years.” Never mind that he didn’t say he would stop the testing; never mind that any hold on use of scores could be lifted after the election; never mind that (as Politico reported) Cuomo had set up a panel earlier this year to speed Common Core implementation after praising the standards as “a critical part of transforming New York schools.”
Then there is U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) who singled out just one of numerous Common Core-aligned programs, telling state schools chief John White, “I am very concerned with the extreme difficulty and frustration many students and parents are having with Eureka Math.”
The real problem is not one commercialized version of Common Core math but rather the whole “new math” approach of ditching fundamentals for abstractions. However, by picking on just one speck of the rotten Core, Vitter can hope to obscure the blistering rebukes he has delivered against Gov. Bobby Jindal, a fellow Louisana Republican, for trying to rid the Bayou State of CC entirely. Vitter, you see, has his sights set on succeeding the term-limited Jindal as governor next year.
Cuomo and Vitter have dazzled in their colorful chameleon get-ups, but they will have to settle for runners-up to Jeb Bush this Halloween.
[First published at Human Events.]