Republican Presidential Candidates Debate Common Core

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The Republican presidential hopefuls were asked to detail their positions on Common Core at the most recent Republican presidential debate. Typically, Republicans tend to dismiss Common Core standards out-of-hand, citing federal overreach. The candidates, however, gave peculiar answers that could annoy both conservative activists and ordinary viewers looking for clarity on the issue of Common Core.

John Kasich, the current governor of Ohio, tried to defend his previous comments dismissing the debate over Common Core as “hysteria” and “a runaway internet campaign.” The governor said he would prefer local control of education, but he first and foremost wants high standards and high-achieving students. “Well, look, all I’m in favor of in Ohio is high standards. First of all, let me tell you, I would take 125 federal education programs, put them in four buckets, and send them back to the states.”

As president, Kasich said he would be a strong advocate for charter schools and school vouchers; he would likely prioritize these programs over some other conservative-led initiatives, such as tax-credit scholarships and education savings accounts. These positions may invite criticism from some conservative outlets such as Breitbart News.

Donald Trump reaffirmed his opposition to federal control over education in the same kind of language he has employed in almost every other Republican debate. “I want local education. I want the parents, and I want all of the teachers, and I want everybody to get together around a school and to make education great.” He neglected to provide detailed proposals that would “make education great” again.

Jake Tapper, the CNN moderator, pushed back against Trump, saying that Common Core standards were developed by the states, and localities had the choice whether or not to adopt them. Trump conceded that Tapper was correct, but he added that “it has been taken over by the federal government … it has all been taken over by bureaucrats in Washington, and they are not interested in what’s happening” at the state and local levels.

Trump also alluded former Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, who endorsed Donald Trump at a press conference the morning after the Republican debate, as a potential point-person on education matters. “We spoke for an hour on education … And he has such a great handle on it. He wants competitive schools. He wants a lot of different things that are terrific, including charter schools … I’m going to have Ben very involved with education, something that’s an expertise of his.”

Senator Ted Cruz denounced Common Core with equally fiery rhetoric. “Common Core is a disaster,” he said. “And if I am elected president, in the first day as president, I will direct the Department of Education that Common Core ends that day.” Cruz acknowledged that Common Core standards were designed by the states, but he accuses the Obama administration of foisting the standards on local communities with “executive power.”

The Daily Caller, like Tapper prodding Trump, reports that Cruz’s claims are somewhat misleading. The Obama administration developed a program, Race to The Top, to encourage states to adopt Common Core standards, not compel them to do so. Additionally, Race to The Top ended years ago, so there is no existing federal money impelling states to continue to adhere to Common Core standards.

Knowing these facts, viewers may have been left scratching their heads and wondering what the debate about Common Core is all about.