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Debunking Chris Christie’s Claims About Common Core State Standards

The federal government never insisted that states sign on for the Common Core and never tied it to any promise of funding

Credit: Office of the Governor/Tim Larsen
Gov. Chris Christie

When Gov. Chris Christie this week raised “grave concerns” about the Common Core State Standards being tied to federal money and serving as a de facto federal mandate, he fed into a common narrative repeated by critics of the new standards.

More specifically, one of the criticisms of the standards from both the right and the left is that President Barack Obama essentially forced them on states as part of the Race to the Top competition.

The problem with this narrative is that it’s inaccurate.

The federal government never demanded that New Jersey or any other state adopt the Common Core as part of its application for Race to the Top funding, starting in 2010.

That’s not to say the feds didn’t encourage it. And Common Core ended up the predominant standards adopted by more than 40 states, New Jersey included.

But the question on the Race to the Top application was the adoption of adequate “common standards” in general, with federal officials specifically stating that the Common Core -- developed by a consortium of state and business leaders -- was only one of the options.

“Race to the Top does not endorse any particular consortium or set of standards,” read oft-cited guidelines to the competition released in 2010.

In New Jersey’s 2010 application, which Christie himself signed, the state did specify that it would pursue the Common Core. But in the end, not all states did so. Virginia, for one, chose its own standards and was not penalized for that in the Race to the Top competition, although ultimately it did not win.

Building up over the past two months, Christie’s latest comments came at a stop in Iowa, where the governor has been a frequent visitor in what many expect to be his bid for the Republican nomination for the presidency.

Asked specifically for his stand on the Common Core, he said: “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.”

“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.”

The comments came as New Jersey is on the verge of launching new tests aligned to the standards next month, and has been holding events across the state to promote and explain them.

Nonetheless, Christie’s contention was hardly a surprise to those who have watched the political hot potato that the Common Core has become in several states.

“What the governor was speaking to was a perception of an enticement that has been out there,” said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington, D.C, think-tank.

“It’s just not true,” she said. “It’s simply politics.”

The Obama administration shares some of the blame for the misperceptions since its top officials promoted the Common Core over the years, Ferguson said.

“Did [the administration] enhance and incentivize it and allow people to make these kinds of comments?” she said. “Yes, it certainly didn’t help itself.

“There’s been a morass of confusion about the Common Core,” Ferguson said. “And that has allowed people to play loose with the facts.”

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