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Chris Christie’s About-Face on Common Core Standards Turns Debate Upside-Down

Governor tells a GOP audience in Iowa that he has ‘grave doubts’ about academic standards and student testing he previously endorsed

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Credit: C-Span via NewsWorks

A month before New Jersey is to start controversial new state testing aligned to the Common Core State Standards, Gov. Chris Christie muddied the waters this week when he said he now has “grave concerns” about the standards he previously endorsed and which his administration is busy promoting.

Speaking at a GOP event in Iowa, Christie said he has doubts about the state’s involvement in the face of what he was said was pressure to adopt the standards as a condition of federal funding.

"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,” he said. “And that changes the entire nature of it, from what was initially supposed to be a 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.”

Christie said his concerns center on what he called the federal influence on local schools.

“It is something I've very concerned about, because in the end education needs to be a local issue,” he said.

One key aspect of Christie’s claims is questionable; adopting the Common Core standards is encouraged but not explicitly required under federal funding guidelines.

More significantly, the governor signed off on adopting the standards as far back as four years ago as part of New Jersey’s ill-fated bid for federal “Race to the Top” funding in 2010.

Little has changed since then other than Christie’s increased attention to a national – and more – conservative -- audience in his anticipated bid for the GOP presidential nomination.

Back home, the governor’s comments raise new questions about the administration’s commitment to the Common Core standards at a time when the state is about to begin the student PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) testing aligned to those standards, despite rising protests.

The state Assembly education committee is scheduled to hold a hearing tomorrow on one bill that would set procedures for families seeking to have their children opt out of the new exams and another bill that would delay the use of the test results in assessing teacher and school performance.

The governor’s press office yesterday wasn’t talking, while a request for comment from state Education Commissioner David Hespe was referred to the governor’s office.

The president of the State Board of Education, which only a few months ago restated its support for the new standards, said last night that the board stands by that stance but also plans to review the recommendations of a study commission tasked with evaluating the new testing.

“The State Board still stands by the Common Core,” said Mark Biedron, the board’s president. “The governor’s task force is looking at it and PARCC, and we will review their findings when they become available.”

So, what’s next? The study commission created by Christie last summer to address questions about new state testing continues to meet, its latest gathering taking place yesterday in Trenton. The third of its three regional public hearings has been scheduled for next Thursday, Feb. 19, at the Blackwood campus of Camden County College.

In the same comments in Iowa, Christie indicated the commission could have concrete recommendations thereafter.

“We're in the midst of re-examination of it in New Jersey,” he said. “I appointed a commission a few months ago to look at it in in light of these new developments from the Obama administration, and they're going to come back to me with a report in the next I think six or eight weeks then we're going to take some action.”

Nevertheless, the governor’s latest sentiments flew in the face of his own comments just two years ago, when he stood fast for the Common Core.

"We are doing Common Core in New Jersey and we're going to continue,” Christie said at a 2013 conference. “And this is one of those areas where I have agreed more with the President than not.

"I think part of the Republican opposition you see in some corners in Congress is a reaction,” he continued, “that knee-jerk reaction that is happening in Washington right now, that if the president likes something, the Republicans in Congress don't. If the Republicans in Congress like something, the president doesn't."

There was little indication from inside the state Department of Education that much has changed, as local districts yesterday were sent an update informing that the preparations continue for the launch of the testing in March. “In all, New Jersey students are registered for approximately 1.75 million assessments in either English Language Arts or Math, 98% of which are scheduled to be computer-based assessments,” read the memo.

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