The Gates-Funded Collaborative for Student Success rolled out pro-Common Core print and radio ads in Iowa last week and they are launching TV ads this week.
One would think that as in other states where Bill Gates has poured money into Common Core advocacy he was trying to stop a repeal effort. In Iowa, however, Common Core bills have been dead on arrival in subcommittee both in the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate the past two sessions. In both chambers leadership has resisted making the standards a priority, and subcommittee assignments for the bills guarantee they won't see the light of day.
So it seems like this would be a colossal waste of money except they are not trying to impact what is going on at the Iowa Statehouse. They want to impact the Iowa Caucus.
Ed Patru, spokesperson for the organization, told The Wall Street Journal that the first radio ad "is the first of what we expect will be a longer, more sustained effort to get the facts out on Common Core and hold accountable presidential candidates that employ misleading and inaccurate rhetoric to describe Common Core."
Former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett who voiced the 60-second radio spot. Bennett describes this top-down effort at centralizing education as "conservative." In the same breath he goes out of his way to point out how wrong it was for the Obama administration to get involved.
"Washington incentivized states to adopt them. That was wrong and we should be vigilant to ensure that that never happens again," Bennett says. "But these sound academic standards are worth fighting for. Let's go back to the original, conservative understanding of Common Core."
This statement raises three questions for me.
First, if Common Core was not meant to be a federal program, why are the pro-Common Core advocates concerned about a presidential candidate's stance on Common Core? After all it isn't as if the President will force a state to repeal the standards, no that's a battle being fought at the state level.
Second, in what universe can Bennett say anything developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers is conservative?
Third, what data can Bennett offer that shows the Common Core State Standards are sound academically?
Those who oppose Common Core see it for what it is – a top down initiative. It is symbolic of how a candidate views a federal role in education. If they favor it then they favor centralized education. They favor circumvention of the legislative process. They favor fads and data less reform. What we expect out of our next President isn't that he or she repeals Common Core, but rather removes the federal funding for it, and reduces (preferably eliminates) federal involvement in K-12 education.
That is something former Florida Governor Jeb Bush said he was for when he visited CPAC. Yet since Common Core advocates on one hand want to inject themselves into presidential race while on the other hand they say they favor state control, it is extremely difficult to buy into the narrative they are pushing. If Common Core is truly a state-led effort it shouldn't matter what the President believes about Common Core.
The fact is, however, the National Governors Association asked for federal funding so those behind Common Core don't really want the federal government to disengage. Perhaps Bush can be excluded from that group, but he aligned himself with this movement early on. I don't recall him decrying federal involvement in Common Core when the U.S. Department of Education announced the Race to the Top grant that incentivized it.
This advertising campaign should be seen as is an effort to repaint the narrative for Jeb Bush who is expected to run for President. Bush himself is busy trying to paint Common Core and reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as an act of preserving federalism in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post.
The Associated Press reports that he is not backing down from his support of Common Core however. He defended the standards while attending a fundraiser for Congressman David Young (R-Iowa) in Urbandale.
"Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said Friday night he is standing by his support for the Common Core school standards rejected by a segment of the GOP's most conservative members, including other potential presidential candidates.
"Raising expectations and having accurate assessments of where kids are is essential for success, and I'm not going to back down on that," Bush said during a congressional fundraiser in suburban Des Moines.
These ads designed to help Bush will only hurt. If you have to work to convince voters something is conservative then it probably isn't. Most polls (except one outlier NBC/Marist poll) shows support for Common Core will be a liability for candidates who support it.
Which explains why they are working so hard to try to remake the narrative. Iowa's Republican base should see right past that.
This column was originally published at Caffeinated Thoughts.