Ohio Gov. John Kasich needs a lesson in Common Core—even he admits it.
Speaking at the National Review Ideas Summit this month, Kasich said, “I’ve talked to governors who were involved in this, who now have run away from it. I said, if there’s something here I don’t understand, if there’s some nefarious scheme, tell me what it is, because I don’t want Washington trying to tell my local schools—I don’t even want to tell my local schools what to do. But I am pleased in Ohio that we have high standards and that we’re in a position where local school boards developed a curriculum to meet the high standards.”
Kasich has hinted at a possible presidential run, and he has been nothing but glib while discussing Common Core. He says he thinks anti-Common Core sentiment has more to do with politics than substance. Kasich repeatedly says the standards are voluntary and he just doesn’t get all the fuss.
Well, governor, it seems there is a lot you don’t understand about Common Core.
Common Core exemplifies the way the federal government imposes its will on the states: The promise of taxpayer dollars is tied to draconian regulations and gigantic initiatives the states must co-finance. This carrot-and-stick approach to education policy is unfair to taxpayers, increases federal influence over education, and does not improve student outcomes.
Kasich nevertheless insists implementation of Common Core was and is voluntary. If that’s true, why are states looking for a way out of the standards? If Common Core is strictly a voluntary initiative with no amount of coercion, bribery, or bullying by the federal government, states that want to repeal and replace the standards would not still be tangled up in them.
There is in fact plenty of coercion. Billions of dollars of Race to the Top money was tied to implementing the standards. States fear having their No Child Left Behind waivers yanked if they abandon the standards. The federal government threatens to withhold funding if too many students opt out of Common Core-aligned tests.
All of these factors lead to Common Core being nearly impossible to get rid of. The standards come back rebranded. Legislation to repeal and replace Common Core withers at the hands of a few companies and other third parties instead of voters. Those who oppose Common Core have to sort out how to get rid of the tests aligned with Common Core and the textbooks and educational resources aligned with it. They have to figure out how to replace the standards, which fundamentally determine curriculum. Even then, students may be required to take Common Core-aligned exams to get into college.
At the Ideas Summit, Kasich claimed governors themselves wrote the standards and Common Core was then implemented locally. That is simply untrue. Governors did not write the standards. Some governors did ask the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers to draft standards. The actual writing of the standards, however, took place behind closed doors, and there is no evidence to suggest governors were involved in the process.
Kasich is ignoring the most important voices in this conversation: his current constituents and the people he would be expected to serve if he became president. Thousands of parents, teachers, and activists across the country have raised reasonable questions about the quality of Common Core standards, their age appropriateness, student privacy issues, the co-opting of standardized tests, and the simple fact national standards would bring the federal government closer to the classroom than ever before. Dismissing the concerns of a large number of citizens should be a major cause for concern about a governor, much less a prospective presidential candidate.
Kasich’s support for Common Core belies his attempt to brand himself as direct, honest, and a different kind of politician. Shrugging his shoulders and saying he just doesn’t understand people’s objections to a major education policy problem is just more of the same big-government arrogance to which we’ve become all too accustomed in recent years.