Fox News’ Republican presidential debate kicked off on Thursday night with fireworks. There were accusations of misogyny and mentions of hugs with President Barack Obama, but education initially stayed on the back burner.
Then, about 50 minutes into the debate, education made its way onto the agenda when moderator Bret Baier asked former Florida governor Jeb Bush a question about the Common Core, a controversial set of nationwide education standards.
Developed in 2009 through a joint effort between state leaders and private groups, the Common Core has been attacked for supposedly focusing too much on testing and being too one-size-fits-all.
Baier asked about Bush’s support of Common Core and and whether he agreed with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s assertion that most of the criticism of it comes from a “fringe group of critics.”
“I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum or content,” Bush responded. “It is clearly a state responsibility.”
Though he didn’t explicitly disparage the Common Core, his response comes as a stark contrast to prior language he has had on the topic.
Last November, Bush, a vocal supporter of the Common Core, was less subtle about his support for the controversial standards. “In my view, the rigour of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in classrooms,” he said at summit in Washington.
The tempering of his rhetoric is likely a response to claims that his support for Common Core will hurt his presidential campaign. He remains the most prominent Republican presidential contender who hasn’t withdrawn his support of Common Core, amid fierce opposition from the conservative GOP base on the issue.
Though many Republicans originally supported the Common Core, they have begun to pull back and instead condemn the nationwide standards.
Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tweeted “Kill Common Core” in May. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie publicly withdrew his support this year. and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is suing the federal government over Common Core. The list goes on.
At Thursday’s debate, Bush did not go as far as condemning the standards, but he chose to deflect a bit, instead focusing on the work he did in Florida with the creation of a voucher program.
School vouchers are a politically popular issue among Republicans, and a safe area for Bush to showcase his experience in K-12 educational issues.
But although he was able to direct the conversation away from his support for Common Core, it’s not an issue that is going to go away quickly for Bush.
Baier’s follow-up question on Common Core went to fellow Floridian lawmaker Marco Rubio. “Sen. Rubio, why is Gov. Bush wrong on Common Core?” Baier asked.
“Here’s the problem with Common Core,” Rubio said. “The Department of Education, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied. They will not stop with it being a suggestion. They will turn it into a mandate.”
That denigration of the Common Core is just not possible for Bush at this time, if ever. And it will likely be a damaging issue for Bush through the primaries.
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