New Jersey’s Christie ‘Flip Flops’ on Common Core


New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) has changed his mind about the Common Core – and critics are calling it a flip-flop.

State education leaders were unaware of the governor’s switch, since they have agreed that Common Core’s rigorous academic standards are central to preparing students for college, career, and life. The Washington Post asked the governor why he was no longer a supporter of the standards, but did not get a specific answer. The Post suggested that his change of mind had nothing to do with education and everything to do with his possible presidential run.

Christie had supported the K-12 standards, which were developed by governors and state education leaders who were proponents of the value of consistent, real-world learning targets. But once he became involved in a possible run for president, he found there was strong opposition from the Republican Party’s conservative wing, and he began to back up. Not only that, he announced the development of a new set of standards uniquely written for New Jersey.

The Washington Post’s Editorial Board says chances are a revamp of the standards will end up bearing a striking resemblance to Common Core, but will cost the state more money and will probably disrupt New Jersey teachers, students, and parents who have already spent time adjusting to Common Core. At least, says the board, Christie could have waited until July to review the testing and standards with the commission he appointed.

Christie is not alone in his dismissal of Common Core. He is joined by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. There are Republicans, however, who have acknowledged that there is nothing wrong with Common Core’s approach to improving school standards and helping students have the skills needed to succeed in college and/or careers. They include former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich.

“It’s time to have standards that are even higher,” Christie said, adding that New Jersey would have to “wrest [power] away from the bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.”

The New Jersey Department of Education has reported that it will still use Common Core-aligned tests, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, or PARCC, so it is possible the standards will change very little, writes ThinkProgress’ Casey Quinlan.

Christie said in 2013 that many Republicans were opposed to the standards because of the president’s support of them. In February, Christie said to Republican activists in Iowa:

“I have grave concerns about the way this has been done, especially the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things. And that changes the entire nature of it, from what was initially supposed to be voluntary type system and states could decide on their own to now having federal money tied to it in ways that really, really give me grave concerns. So we’re in the midst of re-examination of it in New Jersey.”

This rhetoric has become common among Republicans who are describing the standards as a federal takeover of education and an intrusion into family decisions.

In an op-ed piece in the NJSpotlight, Mark Weber, a public school music teacher in Warren Township, New Jersey, writes that for the past several years, former education commissioner Chris Cerf supported the transition to Common Core State Standards (CCSS). He said they improve critical thinking skills and challenge students to reason and apply the knowledge they receive to the real world, while current commissioner David Hespe said that Common Core State Standards are good for kids.

Weber points out that New Jersey communities have spent four years implementing CCSS. Communities have bought CCSS-aligned textbooks and digital materials and trained faculties on how to use them. But, says Weber, the flip-flop is no surprise.

“Spend a few years in the profession and you’ll live through plenty of ‘reforms’ that come and go faster than your growing students.”

Weber believes that most New Jersey students will have trouble meeting any standards since too many New Jersey districts are underfunded and significantly segregated.

This is not a debate about Common Core, says the author, and that it is Christie showing “naked ambition and cynical disregard for the consequences of his turnaround, mak[ing] it painfully clear that he has little to add to this state’s discussions of education policy.”