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Common-Core Pushback to the Pushback: Who Has the Political Mojo?

The political battle over the Common Core State Standards is heating up, both at the state level and in broader debates at the national level, and at least some supporters of the standards appear to be taking notice that the ride may get very bumpy, at least politically. One supporter who summed up such fears was Andrew Rotherham, the co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a K-12 consulting firm. He said that common-core advocates who issued simple dismissals of concerns or criticisms about the standards' path ahead were exhibiting a disconcerting "view from the Green Zone." This is a reference to the international zone in Baghdad that was the heart of the American presence in Iraq following the U.S. invasion in 2003, and it's not a flattering one.

Opponents of the common core are smelling blood in the water and are trying various methods to diversify their portfolio of attacks. On May 2, several anti-common-core groups and individuals held a "Twitter rally" to #stopcommoncore, and afterwards provided an analysis of anti-common-core tweets from the rally. The stats, provided to me by Jamie Gass of the Pioneer Institute, showed that the rally produced 14,970 uses of the #stopcommoncore hashtag during the rally, which reached a peak at about 9 p.m. The analysis claimed that it had a "spread" of nearly 9.8 million Twitter accounts, referencing the number of accounts that "follow" those who tweeted or re-tweeted the hashtag.

While having nearly 15,000 uses of the hashtag itself in just a few hours is remarkable, it's questionable whether all or even most of the users of the nearly 9.8 million Twitter accounts actually saw the reference to #stopcommoncore, unless all the users of these accounts happened to be in front of their computers or staring at their smartphones during the rally, or scrolled back through their Twitter feeds later.

In addition, some of the hashtag's users may not have been particularly sympathetic to #stopcommoncore proponents—one user was Chris Minnich, the executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which helped develop and promote the standards. Not surprisingly, he defended the standards in his tweet. Michelle Malkin, a conservative columnist and very prominent foe of the standards, was the #stopcommoncore tweeter with the biggest "reach" (who at the time had about 513,000 followers), but also on the list of most prominent Twitter accounts in the analysis was @LOLGOP, which is not really sympathetic to common-core opponents.

"It was a decentralized, grassroots effort in which Pioneer was a major player, but not the only prime mover. In some respects, the Twitter rally was reflective of the anti-common-core movement itself," Gass wrote to me in an email.

The idea of a "grassroots" uprising that Gass mentions could be a fundamental problem for supporters. While common core has a lot of heavy muscle behind it, officials and business leaders must tread carefully, given how politicized the issue has become, Frederick M. Hess, an education scholar at the free-market-oriented American Enterprise Institute, told me. He also writes an opinion blog for edweek.org.

"The more that these elites try to step up and really make the case and support it, the more they risk creating the sense that this is being done to states and to educators and families," he said.

On the other side of the coin, there's also the question of whether opponents of the common core from different ends of the political spectrum can ever "bend" the spectrum sufficiently inwards to eventually unite. When I talked to Shaun Johnson, an administrator with United Opt Out, which opposes the common core from a progressive perspective, he spoke about the difficulties of opposing the standards from that standpoint. While he said that right-wing opponents of the common core have an admirable public-relations apparatus and energy, they frequently spread misinformation about the standards, and some of them toss in typical liberal "boogeymen" when denouncing the common core, he said, such as when they link the standards to Bill Ayers and multiculturalism.

These conservatives, he said, are not fundamentally open to embracing arguments from groups like his, such as United Opt Out's position that there is a disturbing emphasis on profits that also damages the common core's integrity.

"The very far right-wing side is definitely drowning out some of the progressive critiques," he said.

The trick for progressive opponents, Johnson argued, is to show more politically moderate people that the kind of efforts supporting the common core are also damaging schools and destroying funding for basic everyday K-12 needs that parents in particular believe are important.

But more progressive elements can take heart in actual news events recently, specifically the reports from several states about glitches in online testing that will be crucial to common-core assessmenets, such as in Indiana, Oklahoma, and Kentucky, argued Susan Ohanian, another progressive common-core critic.

"If they can't handle Indiana, how are they going to handle the whole country?" she wondered.

She also rejected the pro-common-core argument that people on the left side of the political spectrum should reconsider their opposition to the standards, given how some of their fellow common-core critics on the right side of the aisle hold other political views that left-wingers find repellent. "I hold hands with a lot of conservatives," she said.

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