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Business Execs: Fight for Common Core Before It's Too Late

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UPDATED

Washington

Representatives of major corporations today urged their peers in the business community to take up the fight to defend the Common Core State Standards—and warned them to steel themselves for opposition from some quarters, and apathy from others.

At an education forum held by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce at its headquarters, leaders from Intel Corp., Cisco Systems, and the ExxonMobil Foundation described their efforts to promote the standards through different strategies, including coast-to-coast advertising campaigns and outreach to company employees and parents in the overall community. That salesmanship will continue over the coming months, they said.

Still, so far it has not been easy.

That was evident in the reaction to a particularly high-profile effort to sell the common core by ExxonMobil, which has paid for a series of nationwide, televised ads promoting the standards.

For every 100 emails the company has received in response to the ads, a staggering number of them, about 99, were negative, estimated Patrick McCarthy, the executive director of the ExxonMobil Foundation.

"There's a lot of them that say, 'How could you do this? How could you support the common core?'" McCarthy told the chamber audience. "There's just all these myths out there."

Among those myths: that the standards were designed by federal officials, and that the common core creates a detailed curriculum that schools will be forced to follow, McCarthy and other speakers on a panel said.

ExxonMobil is not backing away, he said. The company has plans to continue to run TV ads promoting the common core, to write op-eds in newspapers supporting it, and to aggressively lobby state legislators not to back away from commitments to the standards, he said.

"These policymakers are hearing from tea-party activists, from anti-common-core activists," McCarthy said. "All they're hearing is why the common core is bad. ... Policymakers are eager to hear from [the business community]. They want to hear the other side of the story."

Carlos Contreras, the director of U.S. education for tech giant Intel, said his company has been discussing the importance of the common core at forums for its employees, with the idea that those workers will become ambassadors for the standards.

But those efforts have also offered reminders of the tough road ahead. Surveys of Intel employees showed that roughly 50 percent of them were not familiar with the common core. And a small but substantial portion of those workers appear to be adamantly against them, Contreras said.

Contreras advised the business leaders in attendance to make sure their representatives in states and cities are familiar with the standards, and then ask those community voices to stand up for the common core.

"It has to be delivered locally," Contreras said, adding: "When there's a vacuum, [bad information] comes in."

Handling Community Objections

Cisco Systems is trying to educate its sales force and its business partners about the common core, said Renee Patton, the director of education for the company. The goal, she said, is to help them sort through, "How do they handle objections when they hear them in the community?"

One of the biggest fears Patton hears does not focus on the standards themselves, but on the tests aligned to them, and the costs of implementing online tests scheduled to begin during the 20140-2015 academic year. Concerns about school districts' ability to pull off the online tests have grown louder in recent months.

Another speaker at the event, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, acknowledged that he and other backers of the standards face "a real battle" in standing up for them.

That fight is likely to play out in public this week, when Tennessee state legislators are expected to hold a hearing focused on criticism of the standards, he noted. Opposition to the standards has risen from both the far right and far left, creating a "fairly unique push from both ends," said the Republican governor, who supports the common core.

"The way we address it is we keep talking about what it is," Haslam said, "and what it's not."

[UPDATE (Sept. 18): Another major business organization met this week in Washington with education on the agenda: the Business Roundtable, a group representing more than 200 CEOs, which supports the common core.

President Obama spoke to the roundtable on Wednesday, asking them to back his efforts to reign in college costs and thanking them for getting behind the standards.

The common core will ensure "that every young person in America has the opportunity to get prepared for the kinds of jobs that are going to exist in the 21st century," Obama said, according to a transcript.

Secretary Arne Duncan addressed teh roundtable the same day, touching on the administration's college affordability and early education efforts, as well as "the importance of our children needing to be held to high educational standards," spokesman Cameron French said in an e-mail.]

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