Moving Ahead after November Elections: Perhaps the Greatest Promise of the November National and State Elections Is That Congress and Statehouses Find Common Ground, and New Leaders May Emerge to Move the Nation toward Addressing Sorely Neglected Education Issues

By Ferguson, Maria | Phi Delta Kappan, November 2014 | Go to article overview

Moving Ahead after November Elections: Perhaps the Greatest Promise of the November National and State Elections Is That Congress and Statehouses Find Common Ground, and New Leaders May Emerge to Move the Nation toward Addressing Sorely Neglected Education Issues


Ferguson, Maria, Phi Delta Kappan


The November midterm elections will no doubt bring significant changes to the nation's political landscape. The variety of races coupled with the extreme polarization among voters sets the stage for some potentially important changes in leadership among governors and members of Congress. Election results may also indicate which way the pendulum may be swinging on key issues like immigration, the economy, and, of course, education. With 36 states electing governors in November and several important Senate and House races in play, the education sector will be paying close attention to election results for a couple of important reasons.

Consider how the outcome of gubernatorial races may affect education. In many states, governors drove the adoption of the Common Core State Standards. While detractors like to describe the Common Core as "ObamaCore" and refer to it as a national curriculum, the nation's governors and state education commissioners led the effort to develop the standards in reading/language arts and math. In some gubernatorial races, the Common Core was a rallying point for support against incumbents who embraced the standards. For example, in New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Republican opponent went to great lengths to link Cuomo to the Common Core, which he characterized as a "disaster."

In Oklahoma, we saw a reversal of that strategy with the Democratic challenger criticizing Gov. Mary Fallin's decision to repeal the Common Core--the same standards she championed a few years earlier. Once votes are cast, standards supporters will naturally be eager to see continuity between old and new governors so as not to disrupt these early years of standards implementation.

What remains to be seen, however, is whether any new governors distance themselves from an earlier decision to adopt the standards because of the turmoil and criticism that has clouded the Common Core.

There are certainly politicians who used the Common Core as political bait to capture votes from misinformed voters, but will that rhetoric simply fade into the background after it has outlived its utility? Part of the answer depends on the actual source of the conflict. In some places, the issue is all about federal overstep, which is a relatively simple point to yell about on the campaign trail but far more complicated to resolve. Other places have battled over more practical concerns like using Common Core-aligned assessments as the basis for high-stakes teacher evaluations or the lack of appropriate teaching materials. I suspect the states that have developed a broad coalition of support for the standards among the many factions that have a stake in education and have been responsive to their concerns will have the best chance of weathering leadership changes.

Needless politicization

The exception to that may be states where the standards are being challenged because of pure politics. In Louisiana, Gov. Bobby Jindal, once a passionate advocate for the Common Core, is not up for re-election this November, but he is clearly staking out some Tea Party ground for a future political run. He is suing the federal government for violating federal law and the Constitution's 10th Amendment by "forcing" states to adopt the Common Core. While there may be legitimate concerns about the standards and how they're being implemented, suing the federal government seems to be the single most politically motivated and useless thing anyone could do in response to those concerns. The only sure thing that will result from the lawsuit is that students and teachers will suffer in the turmoil, and taxpayers will foot the bill for the legal maneuvering. We can only hope that any new governors elected in November take a more reasoned approach to evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of the Common Core or any other education reform effort in their state. …

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Moving Ahead after November Elections: Perhaps the Greatest Promise of the November National and State Elections Is That Congress and Statehouses Find Common Ground, and New Leaders May Emerge to Move the Nation toward Addressing Sorely Neglected Education Issues
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