From the way former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney answered an education question at a recent town hall meeting in New Hampshire, he implied that he's not a big fan of the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
But whether this GOP presidential candidate would just take a backseat to the effort, or try to thwart it, is an open question.
At the June 3 town hall, an audience member asked him to address the "national takeover" of public schools, and specifically to address the Common Core and the resulting common tests that are being developed. "We're going to end up with a national curriculum," the questioner says.
You can watch Romney's complete answer in the video below, fast-forwarding to minute 32, but the gist of what he said is that education is a state responsibility and President Obama, and any president, should keep his or her nose out of it.
He said Massachusetts standards, accountability, and choice options are working well for his state.
"If Barack Obama says I'm going to take that and impose it on the nation I will fight it to the 'n'th degree. We do not have the federal government stepping in with their so-called experts taking over the rights of people, states and local governments. It's against the Constitution and it's wrong for America."
He also said: "You know what this is about? This is about millions and millions of dollars that go into the Obama campaign from the national teachers' unions. And the bosses in the unions want to get their hands in education at the national level because they're losing in a lot of states."
He wrapped up by adding: "I can't imagine in America where you're going to have a White House, Republican or Democrat, or a Congress, a Republican or a Democrat, laying out what our kids have to be taught. That is unacceptable."
A couple of points to put this all in perspective. First, the Common Core, as most of our readers know, is a state-led effort launched and maintained by the organizations representing the state chiefs and governors. The Common Core started before Obama even became president. Certainly, Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have used the bully pulpit—and Race to the Top—to cajole states into jumping on board. The feds also put up money for states to develop common tests.
Romney never says what he thinks about the Common Core specifically. Despite some rather heated opposition in a couple of quarters, Massachusetts (under Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick) did indeed choose to join 43 other states in adopting the common standards, which it played a key role in developing. And it's participating in one of the two big state consortia that are designing common tests for the standards.
Second, the teachers' unions—who are undeniably a key part of the Democratic base—haven't exactly been the ones driving the train when it comes to the Common Core or common tests.
And third, neither Obama nor Duncan say they plan to have anything to do with school curriculum, which is messy business. So Romney seems to be right when he said he can't imagine that happening.
However, the hands-off message on education is a classic one. Romney's rhetoric may resonate with the folks who think the Obama administration—through programs like Race to the Top and School Improvement Grants—has over-reached in education.