Mitt Romney to States: Don’t Expect Help With Common Core

By Catherine Gewertz — September 26, 2012 2 min read
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Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney took issue yesterday with the Obama administration’s support of the Common Core State Standards, saying that since states chose to adopt the standards, it was up to them to put them into practice without federal help.

Romney’s remarks, during NBC’s “Education Nation” summit, were just the latest installment in the common core’s presence in this political season. As my colleague Alyson Klein reports, the new set of academic standards has opened up something of a rift in the GOP. And we’ve told you before about the candidates tossing it back and forth, football-style.

Alyson blogged about Romney’s comments yesterday, noting that he took on teachers’ unions, teacher compensation, and other education topics as well as the common core. But since we track the common standards and assessments so heavily here, let’s take a bit more of a look at what Romney said on those topics.

When NBC’s Brian Williams asked the former Massachusetts governor what he made of the common core, he said he didn’t think the federal government should be in the business of financing—or offering incentives for embracing—standards.

I think it's fine for people to lay out what they think core subjects might be and to suggest a pedagogy and being able to provide that learning to our kids. I don't subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push a common core on various states.
It's one thing to put it out as a model and let people adopt it as they will, but to financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government's idea of a curriculum, I think, is a mistake. And the reason I say that is that there may be a time when the government has an agenda that it wants to promote.
And I'm not wild about the federal government having some kind of agenda that it then compensates states to teach their kids. I'd rather let education and what is taught state by state be determined state by state, not by the federal government.

Romney accused Secretary of Education Arne Duncan of “promoting” a national curriculum and said his own preference is to “let states and communities decide what their own curriculum will be.” (Common-core advocates, as you know, argue that there are many curricular ways to reach the overall goals the standards set.)

When a former New York City schoolteacher asked what resources a Romney administration would provide to help implement the common core successfully, Romney said states, not the federal government, should be responsible for implementation.

I don't happen to believe that every time that there's a good idea that comes along the federal government should now finance the implementation of that. We certainly didn't. States have responsibility for the education of their children, their respective borders. And I'm not looking for more federal spending. I mean, I know it is the nature of politics for someone in my position to promise more free stuff, to say we're going to get more—we'll send money, we're going to do this, and people say, boy, he really cares about education. I really care about education.
I care so much about our kids that I don't want to saddle them with trillions on trillions of dollars of debt when they come out of school. And so I'm just not willing to add more spending to get people happy with me. I'm willing to say, say look, education is done at the state level, the federal government provides funding for special needs students and low-income students. But in terms of implementing the common core, if you've chosen it, congratulations, work on it and do it within the resources of your own state.

A New York City high school student asked what Romney would do to rein in the teach-to-the-test effects of standardized testing. Romney stood by the practice of widespread testing, but said he wanted to help propel the development of better tests. He didn’t get specific, nor did he mention the tests currently being designed for the standards with $360 million in federal Race to the Top money.

Instead, he told the young man that life is full of tests, and there just isn’t another way to figure out how well students are learning, and how well teachers are teaching.

So I'm not going to replace testing. I would love to improve it. That's why when No Child Left Behind was passed, the author said we'll let each state create your own test and evaluate how well students are doing. But I'm going to keep in place the testing. ... So far from being a guy who would say let's stop testing, I'd just try and make our testing more effective, expand it in ways that maybe haven't been thought of before, and recognize we need to drive the quality of education and it's one tool we have to do it.

He also expressed support for the idea of incorporating students’ feedback into teacher evaluation.

The full transcript of Williams’ interview with Romney is here.

President Obama, too, gave an interview during “Education Nation,” but didn’t delve much into the common core or assessment. He noted, though, that his administration is pressing on with more Race to the Top-style grants in part because of the success the first rounds had in getting 46 states and the District of Columbia to adopt “reforms"—a reference that clearly included the common standards. And he did allow that it “bothers” him that the No Child Left Behind waiver process has allowed states to set lower proficiency levels for students of some minority groups than for others. But he said that the emphasis on growth in student achievement, and the requirement that schools break down test scores by subgroup, will apply pressure for improvement for all students. The transcript of that interview is here.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.