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Common Core State Standards Dividing GOP

Tampa, Fla.

The Common Core State Standards: A state-led effort to help improve learning outcomes throughout the nation—or "Obama Core?" It's clear here at the Republican convention that there's a major split emerging in the party on that question.

Campaign 2012

On the one hand, there's Jeb Bush, a key Romney surrogate and the former GOP governor of Florida. He points out that a majority of GOP governors have embraced the standards. And then you've got Gayle Ruzeicka, president of the Utah Eagle Forum, and a delegate to the Republican National Convention.

"We call it Obama Core," she told me in an interview on the convention floor Monday, an obvious play on "Obamacare," GOP activists' name for the president's landmark health care law. "It's been co-opted by the Obama administration. They've done everything they can to tie us into these standards. We're Republicans and we're letting Obama take over our education system."

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have signed onto the standards, which were developed through a partnership of states led by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. The Obama administration gave states that adopted the standards an edge in the Race to the Top competition. It is also financing states' cooperative development of assessments for the standards.

And it required states to adopt college- and career-ready standards in order to get a waiver from the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. States didn't have to adopt the common core—Virginia got a waiver without it—but some folks still see the move as a coercive. Plus, President Barack Obama has been taking partial credit for the standards out on the campaign trail.

Tom Luna, the Idaho superintendent of public instruction, and the president of CCSSO, rejected the idea that the standards were cooked up by the feds, saying he was part of the state-level conversations at their inception.

"If it ever becomes a mandate, Idaho would be the first state to get out," he assured me in an interview. (In addition to being CCSSO president, Luna is an adviser to the Romney campaign. But he spoke only in his role as the Gem State's education chief.)

Still, some state lawmakers—including Sen. Mike Fair of South Carolina, an attendee here—are trying to get their states to dump the standards, or at least delay their implementation, arguing that they've got too much of a federal stamp.

That argument hasn't convinced Mick Zais, the South Carolina state schools chief. But he's a common core skeptic anyway.

"My grounds are different," said Zais in an interview here with my colleague Nirvi Shah. "My objection to the Common Core State Standards is not that it's a federal standard." It's too one-size-fits-all, he said. "Children vary immensely in their ability and skill set."

But Zais will continue implementing the standards, which were adopted before he took office.

"It is my duty to carry out the law and I will as long as it's the law," he said.

The Republican party platform embraces high standards, but is silent on the common core, to the disappointment of some GOP activists. Christel Swasey, a former high school English teacher from Utah, submitted anti-common core language to a portion of the RNC website soliciting ideas for the platform from voters around the country. Swasey's language was never formally introduced in the platform committee, she told me. But it made its way to the inboxes of delegates at the convention who are skeptical of common core.

She's disappointed that Mitt Romney hasn't come out against the standards. His position, as outlined in a white paper, is that states should be free to work together to create rigorous standards. But he doesn't mention common core by name.

Swasey found that disappointing. "I thought that was really strange," she said, noting that the standards are going to have a "transformative" impact on K-12. Then, she said, she found out that some of Romney's campaign surrogates (including Bush) support the standards. "There's a real divide in the Republican party over common core," she said.

But Fair said he understands why Romney hasn't made an issue of the standards in the race. He's got bigger fish to fry, he told me in an interview on the convention floor.

"Am I disappointed that he didn't come out blasting against common core? No. We need jobs."

Staff Writer Nirvi Shah contributed to this report.

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