Last week’s New Yorker has a long and detailed story about former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and his prospects as a candidate for president. It focuses on Bush’s history as an advocate for “education reform” and his ties to for-profit education services and charter-school companies.
A key question raised in the story is whether the Republican base will forgive Bush for his embrace of the Common Core State Standards – an interesting and important question.
But writer Alec MacGinnis sounds a false note when he suggests Common Core was a significant factor when Glenda Ritz upset Tony Bennett in the 2012 Indiana superintendent of public instruction election. It wasn’t. And hardly anyone who was actually in Indiana during the campaign would say it was.
“In 2012, the Tea Party organized opposition to Bennett’s re-election; e-mails between Bennett’s office and the foundation that summer are full of alarm about the ‘black helicopter crowd,’” he writes. “In November, Bennett lost to an anti-Common Core Democrat who had Tea Party backing.”
So Ritz was “anti-Common Core” and was supported by the Tea Party? I don’t think so.
I wrote about this last summer, after the center-right Fordham Institute published a policy brief that said Ritz “ran largely on an anti-CCSS platform.” I paid fairly close attention to the election, and I don’t recall Common Core coming up at all. The national right-wing opposition to the standards, fueled by commentator Glenn Beck and others, didn’t pick up steam until the following year.
Trish Whitcomb, Ritz’s campaign manager, told me the standards occasionally were mentioned at campaign events or on social media. When they were, she said, Ritz would say Indiana had adopted them without much discussion and she might want to revisit the issue. But she didn’t push the issue and she didn’t say Common Core should be repealed.
The Bennett material is a minor part of the New Yorker story. But it’s galling that national policy elites and East Coast media will swallow a false narrative about the 2012 Indiana election. It’s like they can’t get their minds around the idea that Indiana, a conservative state, would reject the agenda of test-based accountability, school choice and teachers’ union-busting. So it had to be Common Core.
Bennett lost because he angered teachers with his over-the-top rhetoric and his take-no-prisoners politics. They saw him as a bully. And teachers have friends, parents, siblings, cousins, etc., who ask their advice when it comes time to vote for the state’s chief school officer. Parents also pay attention to what teachers think.
Shortly after the 2012 election, I was talking with my 90-year-old father, a retired teacher who socializes with other educators in the small Indiana town where he lives. I said I was shocked Bennett had lost.
“You were surprised?” he said. “Oh, I knew he was going to lose. The teachers hate him.”