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Fact Checking Sen. Rand Paul on the Common Core Standards

By Alyson Klein — February 19, 2015 4 min read
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So Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who is almost definitely running for president, is trying to make a big issue of his potential opponents’ support of the Common Core State Standards—which is arguably pretty smart politics for someone about to run in a GOP primary.

The problem? He’s making some points about his opponents, and the standards themselves, that are ... not so accurate.

In a recent fundraising email, he called out his possible White House rivals by name, saying that they have been “prominent backers” of the standards, including Florida Governor Jeb Bush, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He also says that the standards call for “anti-American propaganda, revisionist history that ignores the faith of our Founders and data-tracking of students from kindergarten on.”

Okay so, is any of that true? Sort of. Some of it is. Some of it’s not.

Bush: Paul is right to put Bush on the list of prominent supporters of Common Core. The former gov is a huge fan of the standards and continues to champion them even though they’ve become politically unpopular within his own party. (He left the words “common core” out of a big recent speech, though.) Bush has said he’s not happy with the way the Obama administration encouraged states to adopt common core, by offering incentives through Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers ... but that’s not exactly an unpopular position these days. In fact, good luck at this point finding someone who thinks the Obama administration handled the standards with anything resembling political acumen.

Walker: Not really a stalwart common core supporter ala Bush, but not really a big detractor either. At first, when common core was cool, he was in, although he wasn’t a super vocal cheerleader. Then, when common core became less popular, he said he wanted his state to repeal the standards. Then he changed his mind, again, some more, saying the standards should be optional for districts. Which is pretty much where Wisconsin was to begin with. So ... Walker is not a “prominent supporter.” He’s more of a prominent waffler.

Huckabee: So, Paul is a little more accurate on this one. Back in 2013, when Oklahoma was thinking about ditching or delaying implementation of the standards, Huckabee wrote lawmakers there a letter saying that the common core is “near and dear to my heart” and isn’t a federal mandate. The Sooner State went ahead and got rid of common core anyway. And Huckabee ran into big time trouble with grassroots conservatives. Then, later that year, he issued a mea culpa, saying that yes, the standards themselves started out as good and voluntary, but the brand has become wrapped up in lots of other really bad things like “agenda driven curriculum” and student data collection. (More on that below). And he said that the term “Common Core should disappear from the lexicon of education policy.” So yes, there was a time when Huckabee was a prominent supporter, but now, he’s kind of a more a prominent backer-awayer.

Christie: Paul’s closer to the truth on this one. My colleague, common-core politics smarty-pants Andrew Ujifusa, recently called Christie an “ardent defender” of the standards. His state adopted them, initially, in part to compete for Race to the Top, which New Jersey just barely lost out on. He even defended the standards in August of 2013, saying that Republicans should be careful about throwing cold water on the standards. But then, amid untune-out-able backlash, he put together a commission to study the impact of the standards—and testing. And he’s been pretty quiet on common core since. So he’s a prominent ... supporter with an asterisk.

Then there are the folks that Paul left off the email. He’s got plenty of competition for biggest common core critic in the GOP presidential field. Darkhorse potential candidate Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina wrote an anti-Common Core resolution that got lots of support in the Senate. And Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas is no common core fan.

What about the data-tracking thing? The standards themselves don’t call for any tracking of student data, they’re about what kids should know and be able to do. The tests aligned to the standards, however, are aimed at tracking student growth over time. And lot of common core fans (including the Obama administration) also favor of tracking student outcomes. But there’s nothing in the standards that require it.

What about the founding fathers thing? Common Core is just for math and reading, not history, as Will Ragland, the campaign director of education policy at the Center for American Progress (a think tank closely associated with the Obama administration) wrote for Think Progress

Paul is now the chairman of the Senate subcommittee dealing with K-12 education. So expect to hear plenty of these arguments repeated during the debate over revamping the No Child Left Behind Act.

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