Democrats in Washington State Become First to Officially Oppose Common Core

By Andrew Ujifusa — January 28, 2015 3 min read
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For much of the time I’ve written about official, state-leve lopposition to the Common Core State Standards, I’ve focused on conservative lawmakers and activists. It would be wrong to confine common-core opposition to those on the right wing—plenty of liberals and progressives have strong concerns about the standards, or oppose them outright for several reasons. When it comes to statehouses, however, Republicans are the lawmakers who have led the legislative charge against the common core as a matter of state policy.

But will that change?

Last week, the Washington state Democratic Party’s central committee voted to approve a resolution calling on state Superintendent Randy Dorn to end the state’s implementation of the common core, as Leah Todd of the Seattle Times reported Jan. 27. (The legislature authorized Dorn to “provisionally adopt” the standards in 2010, and Dorn formally did so in 2011.) Todd cites party precinct officer David Spring, who posted a copy of the Jan. 24 resolution on the website of his group, Coalition to Protect Our Public Schools. By my reckoning, it’s the first time a state Democratic Party has registered official opposition to the standards.

The resolution lists several reasons why the state should drop the standards, including the federal government’s support of the standards through Race to the Top grant applications and the costs associated with the standards, including the new Smarter Balanced assessments the state is due to give in the spring.

Noting that the state Republican Party has also passed a resolution opposing the standards, Spring, along two co-authors, Elizabeth Hanson and Susan DuFresne, write, “It is rare that rank and file members of both political parties find themselves in agreement on an issue as important as local control over our public schools.”

The issue of common-core opposition has apparently been considered by the state Democratic Party for some time. A list of proposed resolutions for the party posted last year includes a scaled-down version of the resolution Spring posted on his coalition’s website. The last recorded action on the resolution was the state party’s Platform Committee’s approval of this previous resolution on May 31 last year. Spring was also promoting a resolution with the same goal to local party affiliates last year.

I’ve asked the state Democrats to clarify how last year’s resolution relates to the Jan. 24 vote, and will update this post if I hear back.

As Todd notes, Washington state is the home of Bill Gates, one of the standards’ most high-profile supporters, so the state party’s repudiation of the common core is especially pointed.

But here’s an important point: It’s not at all clear that the party’s new position will create anti-common core momentum in the state legislature. So far, there hasn’t been a knock-down, drag-out debate about the standards themselves in the Evergreen State. Gov. Jay Inslee is a Democrat, but control of the legislature is split between Democrats who run the state House, and a political coalition that controls the state Senate.

I called up Dorn to ask him about it, and he said that the state Democratic Party’s resolution was mistaken on several points, including the claim that Washington state was inproperly pressured to adopt the standards by the federal government. He also said that the state parties are in fact “fairly weak mechanisms” for effectively pushing public policy changes. (Dorn is elected, but he holds a non-partisan office.) He said he had no plans to act on the resolution.

“They didn’t even call me up. They haven’t talked with me,” Dorn said of the state Democratic Party. “You’d think if you’re trying to influence me, you’d sit down and try and talk with me. I found out about it in the newspaper.”

For my story this week on turnover among state chiefs, Dorn told me that some of his colleagues left their jobs due to the political fights over the common core.

Washington state Democrats aren’t totally alone, however. For the second year in a row, New Mexico Sen. Linda Lopez, a Democrat, has introduced a bill to end the implementation of the standards in the state. Again, however, New Mexico’s education leadership, including Secretary of Education-designate Hanna Skandera, appear to be firmly committed to the common core, so Lopez’s 2015 efforts might go the way of her 2014 efforts.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.