Could Jeb Bush's support for Common Core hurt his chance at 2016 nomination?

The Common Core has one Republican defender: Jeb Bush. The possible 2016 presidential contender sticks to his guns even as it becomes toxic in the Republican Party.

Susan Walsh/AP
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, (r.), recites the Pledge of Allegiance before giving the keynote address at the National Summit on Education Reform in Washington, Thursday. Denisha Merriweather, left, introduced Bush.

If former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush decides to run for president, he may be the lone Republican waving the flag for the Common Core

“The rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in classrooms,” he said Thursday morning, according to prepared remarks for his keynote speech at an education summit in Washington, hosted by his reform-oriented Foundation for Excellence in Education. 

Florida and much of the rest of the country have seen widespread debate about the voluntary set of standards in reading and math developed by state governors and supported by the Obama administration. Many Republican candidates in the mid-term elections railed against the Common Core as an encroachment on states’ rights.

And many communities, particularly in Florida, are concerned about children being overtested or feeling defeated by the low scores many are expected to get at first on more challenging tests.

But Mr. Bush “has never wavered on Common Core,” says Susan MacManus, a political science professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa. If he runs for president, “that could cause him problems in the primary… but I seriously doubt if he would adjust just to win the primary,” she says.

On the other hand, if he did manage to win while sticking to the Common Core, “it would make him a very formidable general election candidate," Democratic strategist David Axelrod said recently, as quoted by Bloomberg.

In his speech, Bush positioned the standards as central to the project of closing achievement gaps for poor and minority youths and shoring up America’s international competitiveness – goals shared by the bipartisan No Child Left Behind law signed by his brother, former President George W. Bush.

“I respect those who have weighed in on all sides of this issue,” the former Florida governor said, referring to the Common Core debate. But he went on:

“This morning over 213 million Chinese students went to school, and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect the students' self-esteem. Yet in Orange County, Florida, that exact debate did occur. And so the school board voted to make it impossible for a student to receive a grade below a 50.… In an international report card on education performance, students from Shanghai ranked number one. Students from the US ranked 21st in reading and 31st in math. The point is this: an over-riding concern for self-esteem instead of high expectations doesn't help you get to number 1. It gets you to 21. So let's get real.”

Bush’s speech went on to tout ideas that many Republicans do agree on: “a full and competitive marketplace of school options,” disempowering unions, giving states more control over how to use federal education dollars, better teacher evaluations, online learning.

“Our movement has become strong, but our work is only beginning,” he said, sounding like a potential “education president” candidate. “There are millions of kids waiting for us, stuck in failing schools and deserving so much more.”

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