The critique of the Common Core in part stemmed from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top initiative, which encouraged states to implement high standards, among other reform strategies, in exchange for grants. The competition at the root of Race to the Top sparked frustrations, as it gave the impression that the federal government was imposing the standards on the states, said Tamara Hiler, the policy advisor for education at Third Way.
The Common Core appeared to be at the forefront of issues to be tackled by presidential candidates come 2016. A year ago, The Washington Post had a headline that read “Common Core might be the most important issue in the 2016 Republican presidential race. Here’s what you need to know about it.”
The Common Core hasn’t been absent on the trail. In August, Jeb Bush called the term “poisonous,” adding “I don’t even know what it means.” Lots of people would agree with him, but, contrary to a majority of GOP presidential candidates, he backs the standards.
In August, some of the Republican presidential candidates attended a policy forum in New Hampshire where the standards were discussed. Ohio Governor John Kasich, who supports Common Core, conceded that it was troublesome. “Look, did I back away from it?” he asked. “Did I say what I thought?” The forum laid bare the complexities behind the term—the idea that perhaps it was the sentiments tied to the rhetoric rather than the standards themselves causing trouble. This might be most evident in states like Indiana, which dumped the Common Core even though its standards might be the same, according to Hiler.
“[Some of the presidential candidates] haven’t flip-flopped on their belief of Common Core, but what they’re not saying is Common Core,” Hiler said. “It’s a language shift. They believe in high standards that they should be held to, but the government shouldn’t have a role. That’s not the case now.”
To that effect, some GOP presidential candidates may be taking on a reactionary position. Among the general public, 54 percent of Americans oppose the Common Core in comparison to the 24 percent who support it, according to a PDK/ Gallup poll. There are polls, however, that suggest differently. And a survey conducted and funded by Fairleigh Dickinson University , found that a majority of Americans—both supporters and opponents—have misconceptions about the standards. Many believed that the education standards also covered sex education, global warming, and evolution.
The mixed perceptions of the Common Core are also present in Iowa, where the standards are used and where the first caucus of the presidential primary will soon take place. A Des Moines Register Iowa poll in February found that 56 percent of Iowans ages 18 and older view the Common Core—which is defined as an “education initiative in the U.S. to define what K through 12 should know at the end of each grade”—positively. But 61 percent of likely GOP caucusgoers don’t want the Common Core implemented.