John Lyon at Stephens Media reports that state Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) is considering introducing a bill to remove Arkansas from Common Core, the new set of tougher math and English learning standards that have been adopted by a majority of states. Arkansas has gradually introduced Common Core into K-12 schools for the past several years, and this spring Arkansas students will take new standardized tests based on the standards for the first time.
Stubblefield says he believes “there’s just too much difference in different school districts in different states” to have a single set of standards. That’s exactly the point, of course: Because every district and every state is unique, measuring their progress is impossible without some sort of universal measuring stick. The idea behind Common Core is that a shared set of standards for each grade will allow cross-state comparisons of data and help determine what does and what doesn’t work in public education.
Someone will surely make an effort to bring down Common Core in the upcoming 2015 session, whether Stubblefield or another lawmaker on the far right. (Arkansans Against Common Core told me previously that it’s looking for sponsors for two pieces of legislation) The cadre of conservative parents and activists who oppose Common Core are loud, dedicated and utterly convinced they’re fighting to save a generation of children from mental ruin. And the red tide that swept the state in November ushered in new members who’ll be on board with repeal, such as Rep.-elect Dan Sullivan from a district near Jonesboro; his campaign website’s entire statement on education is “Dan knows that the Common Core Curriculum being handed down from Washington DC could devastate those schools that excel.”
But I’m still betting that the effort won’t go anywhere in 2015. There are several reasons why.
First, although the anti-Core folks aren’t going away, the issue will be overshadowed in conservative activist circles by a more familiar bogeyman: the private option. Repealing Obamacare is still the rallying cry for the Tea Party in Arkansas, and with this session shaping up to be another monumental battle for the beleaguered policy, expect the fate of the private option to suck up much of the oxygen in the coming months. That’s not to say it couldn’t work in the other direction — if the conservatives succeed in killing the private option, perhaps they’d be emboldened to come after Common Core next — but it’s more likely that funders and activists on the right will have their hands full with fighting Republican moderates on the P.O.
Second, most Republican legislators still seem very skeptical of the anti-Core arguments. As I wrote back in 2013, even many conservative Arkansas lawmakers seemed basically on board with Common Core. When the joint Education committee heard testimony last week from an anti-Core activist concerned about data sharing and privacy, some pointed questions came from Republicans such as Rep. Ann Clemmer of Benton.
Third, and most importantly, there’s the fact that the Walton family ardently supports Common Core. Like it or hate it, the Walton Family Foundation is poised to play a more active role in the public education system than ever before, and they’d meet any attempt to dismantle the standard with a huge fight. As long as the Waltons are here, the safe bet is that Common Core will be sticking around as well.