Bush on high education standards: ‘It’s not like pornography’

Jeb Bush on Wednesday brushed aside the need for the controversial Common Core education standards in every classroom, saying that determining whether a state’s education standards are high is “not like pornography.”

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Speaking on the thorny issue of Common Core at the New Hampshire Education Summit hosted by Campbell Brown's news site The Seventy Four, Bush, who supports Common Core, said the standards don’t have to be the solution for every state, as long as schools seek to implement higher standards in general.

Brown asked Bush how one could recognize higher education standards if every state uses a different benchmark.

“You know them,” Bush said. “You know if every state has high standards because you have experts who know it, and if you assess to those standards faithfully, you know. It’s not like pornography where you know it if you see it.”

That’s a reference to the Supreme Court’s landmark obscenity ruling, wherein former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said he couldn’t define pornography, but that “I know it when I see it.”

Common Core State Standards, which outline K-12 standards and expectations that its developers hoped all states would adopt, is among Bush’s biggest liabilities with the conservative base. Activists in New Hampshire, which has a history of supporting moderate, mainstream Republicans, say it’s unlikely to be as big of an issue as it is in other early-voting states.

Although Common Core standards were developed after Bush's time as governor of Florida, he has advocated for the education standards through the foundation he started after leaving office.

On the campaign trail, Bush has sought to diminish his support for Common Core, which was once nearly universally adopted by the states, but has since become toxic among the Republican base.

Bush has argued that the federal government should have no involvement in determining or implementing education standards.

“The states ought to drive this,” Bush said Wednesday. “There should be no federal involvement in curriculum or standards to be sure, either directly or indirectly."

He maintains that he’s for higher standards in general, whether it’s Common Core or something else.

“Clearly low standards, you know it, that’s what most states have had,” Bush said on Wednesday. “Higher standards along with real accountability and school choice and ending social promotion and teacher effectiveness plans, and rewarding teachers for continuous improvement in student learning, all of that together yields rising student achievement, and the whole objective together needs to be about rising student achievement.”

The education forum comes on the same day a conservative think tank, American Principles in Action (APIA), released a report card that grades the GOP candidates on the issue of Common Core.

Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich are the only two who got failing grades because of their support for Common Core.

The group disputed Bush’s argument that Common Core is merely a set of higher standards.

“He has propagated the false narrative that the Common Core standards are merely learning goals and of a high quality,” APIA said. ““He has turned a blind eye to the reasons underlying opposition to Common Core and instead used straw-man arguments to dismiss opponents as relying on ‘Alice-in- Wonderland logic.’”

Bush said on Wednesday that schools should be able to implement whatever set of principles they want, so long as they’re crafted and implemented locally and of high quality.

“To deal with the skills gap and the challenge we face where a third of our kids, after we spend more per student than three countries, ends up not being college or career ready. In my mind the debate needs to be broader,” Bush said. “It needs to be about real accountability, school choice, higher standards, if people don’t like Common Core, fine, just make sure your standards are higher than the ones you had before.”