The rumor around the water coolers in D.C. is that President Obama plans to mention the Common Core State Standards in his State of the Union Address next week—for the third year running. He should reconsider, for three reasons.
First, it will feed the narrative that Common Core is, in fact, a federal takeover of public education.
Many Common Core opponents I debate on talk-radio shows or speak with in person eventually get around to admitting they have very few problems with the standards themselves and think they are better than what their state had in place before (we think so too). But, as Andy Smarick wrote earlier this week,
They are skeptical of big promises and big government. They are skeptical of centralized solutions. And they are skeptical of enlightened national leaders who pat them on their heads.
Remember, they were told by such enlightened leaders that if they liked their insurance, they could keep it. They are once bitten, twice shy.
Why would an administration that has already insulted Common Core opponents give them another reason to claim that this is true?
Second, the President is deeply unpopular; associating himself with the Common Core is simply unhelpful. As of writing, Gallup put the President’s approval rating at 39 percent. His approval among Republicans, like those who will be determining the fate of the Common Core in the states where the issue is most contentious, is likely dipping near or into the single digits. Even if this issue weren't so heavily caught up in the question of federalism, the President's bully-pulpit power would already likely be neutral in this matter, at best.
Third, his claim that Common Core is one of “his” greatest achievements is flat out untrue. The administration did not develop the standards, as many still claim, because this process was underway before Obama even took office in 2009. Nor did he require that states adopt the standards in order to win a waiver from the requirements of ESEA (see Virginia, Texas, and Alaska). Race to the Top surely incentivized many states to sign onto the Common Core in the first place, but outside of the dozen or so winning states, that issue is long past. The President’s credit-claiming should be too.
Meanwhile in America, millions more live in poverty than before the Great Recession, the labor force participation rate just matched a thirty-five-year low, and few seem to have any confidence left that leaders in Washington have a plan to do anything about it.
Next week, President Obama will have limited minutes to convince a good proportion of the country that he, in the remaining years of his term, can tackle these challenges. Undoubtedly, improving our education system is a key factor in improving our economy and I hope he offers plans to continue reforming higher education and reauthorizing NCLB. But Mr. President, there are plenty of other items to talk about; please leave any mention of Common Core on the cutting room floor.