BRIAN HOWEY: Politics, dollars and Common Core

2014-05-18T00:00:00Z BRIAN HOWEY: Politics, dollars and Common CoreBy Brian Howey nwitimes.com
May 18, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Did Indiana Gov. Mike Pence change course on Common Core curriculum, with the emphatic support of his super majority Republicans in the General Assembly, to put education standards back in the hands of Hoosiers? Or did he make a political decision that will play well with some factions of Republican Party in Indiana and beyond to advance his career, potentially at a cost of $125 million to local school districts?

Ultimately, the verdict on this will be determined by Indiana voters in 2016, or perhaps by Republican voters in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina in a presidential race.

Pence reversed course forged by former Gov. Mitch Daniels and Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett in 2013, signing a bill that “paused” implementation of Common Core standards. It came less than six months after Bennett was upset for re-election by Democrat Glenda Ritz, which gave political momentum to the anti-Common Core movement.

Indiana was developing new standards in 2009, and then saw Daniels and Bennett ram through the Common Core standards in 2010. It was that second effort that set off a Tea Party and right revolt, with citizens complaining they didn't have a seat at the table. Ritz was able to gain their support in her 2012 campaign by promising their inclusion.

While costs for the 2014 Common Core switch could be as much as $125 million, a change in standards in 2009 and 2010 could make the total price tag for taxpayers much higher.

Political support for Common Core began eroding after President Barack Obama, in his 2012 State of the Union address, endorsed the standards. “For less than 1 percent of what our nation spends on education each year, we've convinced nearly every state in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning, the first time that’s happened in a generation,” said Obama.

What had been known as “Common Core” took on the moniker of “Obamacore” and ignited a Red State rebellion that played out on the rightward fringes of the Republican Party, gaining the quickest traction in Indiana.

In March, Pence signed legislation scrapping Common Core, and in April, the State Board of Education replaced the standards by a 10-1 vote. While it has given Pence an emboldened set of talking points fueling presidential speculation, where he has been touting Indiana as the “first state” to reject Common Core, it has also ignited a backlash on the right thought to be the core of his grassroots support.

On “Fox and Friends” Tuesday morning, Pence spoke of “millions of Americans rising up” against Common Core, adding, “At the core of it is my objection to the notion that the standards written for Hoosier kids and Hoosier schools were written somewhere else.”

But Heather Crossin, who led the revolt against Common Core in Indiana, is now criticizing the governor. “Gov. Mike Pence was hailed as being a national hero when he signed legislation making him the first governor to formally withdraw from the Common Core,” Crossin wrote. “This Cinderella story sadly and abruptly came to an end” when “Gov. Pence chose to resurrect the Common Core in Indiana.” She called it a shocking “rebranding.”

Conservative columnist Michelle Malkin has been vitriolic in her criticism of Pence, saying, “These same Big Business elites backed Pence’s ploy to stave off grassroots parental opposition by ‘withdrawing’ from Common Core, and then immediately adopting ‘new’ standards that recycle the same old rotten ones.”

Terrence Moore, an assistant professor of history from Hillsdale College who opposes Common Core, suggested the new standards are essentially “plagiarized.”

The current standards had origins in Common Core, those from Massachusetts, as well as the 2009 and 2010 Indiana standards. HEA1427, which paused Common Core, states, in part, “Provides that the state board shall implement educational standards that use the Common Core standards as the base model for academic standards to the extent necessary to comply with federal standards to receive a flexibility waiver.”

Since the “pause” passed the Indiana General Assembly, two polls have shown widespread support for Common Core. An April 2013, a Howey Politics Indiana Poll found 54 percent supporting the continued implementation of Common Core in Indiana while 26 percent opposed and 20 percent were undecided. In October 2013, a poll conducted for Ball State University’s Bowen Center found 53 percent believed Common Core would “make Indiana schools more competitive in the nation and the world,” 12.4 percent said it would decrease competitiveness, and 31 percent said it would not have much effect either way.

The unknown perception point is that the truth probably lies somewhere between the Common Core critics deeply suspicious of the federal government, and proponents who believe such standards will help prepare Hoosier kids for a global economy where American students have steadily fallen behind.

The political danger for Pence, particularly in a 2016 re-election bid, is the cost for replacing Common Core with “Common Core Lite.”

If the right is in revolt over the “Common Core Lite” standards, moderate and independent voters who actually decide Indiana elections might object to the abrupt changes as well as total implementation costs that could come in the quarter to half a billion dollar range.

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinions are the writer's.

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