Former Governors Tackle Common Core Foes

May 22, 2014

Five former governors who have long supported Common Core standards in their states took on the program’s critics and came out in strong support of the voluntary standards during an event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

"Frankly, I’m embarrassed by some of my conservative friends. We shouldn’t have to sell higher standards…I don’t know how in America you could be against higher standards,” said former Gov. Sonny Perdue (R-GA), who helped lead the development of the standards and continues to support them.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation (USCCF) and its President John McKernan Jr. hosted Perdue, along with former Governors Jim Douglas (R-VT), Linda Lingle (R-HI), John Engler (R-MI), president of the Business Roundtable (BRT) for the event, which was hosted by USCCF, BRT and the Bipartisan Policy Center. “There’s nothing more important to a governor than the education of his or her state’s children and no issue more critical to the future success of the state, the economy, the workforce and each individual,” said McKernan. “Here at the Chamber we have three pillars to our overall agenda – they are jobs, growth and opportunity. High quality education undergirds all three.”

Despite the fact that the Common Core standards are voluntary and were developed by America’s governors and state school superintendents, they have recently come under attack by parties who claim they are a federal government takeover of kindergarten through Grade 12 schools. In the face of this misinformation campaign, states have begun to waiver in their support, according to Perdue. Legislation has been introduced in several states to prohibit implementation and states have dropped out of the two major Common Core assessment consortia.

The opposition, the governors said, are growing louder as new assessments show students aren’t performing as well as they had on easier state tests offered previously. However, the program has support from those who understand the goals. “I’ve never met a parent who doesn’t want their child to read proficiently,” Engler said.

Public relations and future political backlash were never primary considerations in the adoption of Common Core, Lingle said. “We didn’t’ even think about that. It was for the good of our children and our nation.”

The quality of student education and a strong future workforce was at the heart of the effort, Lingle said. “When you get major employers not only in your state, but across the nation telling you that what you are doing now is not preparing workers, that’s just a fact.

What is the value of a high school diploma if the students can’t compete in a global workforce or have to be remediated? We had employers coming to us and saying students didn’t know how to read a ruler.”

Douglas agreed, noting that parents support Common Core once they understand the impact on their pocket books. “I ask them, ‘do you want to pay for that extra remedial course they’ll have to take in college?’ This makes sense to them, and we should get them involved in this effort as well.”

The lack of an educated and skilled workforce is a global competitiveness issue, the governors said. According to Gallup’s World Poll, there are 3 billion people looking for work and only 1.2 billion potential jobs available. The jobs will go where the skilled workforce is, and the United States is in danger of falling behind if the bar is not raised for students, Engler argued.

 The most recent Program for International Student Assessment shows that even once-struggling nations, such as Estonia, Poland and Vietnam, are surpassing the U.S. “To remain competitive in the global marketplace, American companies need employees who can read, write, use mathematics and make well-reasoned decisions. Ideally, we would educate all of our students to succeed in innovative 21st century jobs that will require greater skills. Unfortunately, at present, we are not.”

It’s also a national security issue, Engler said. According to a report released by Mission Readiness, nearly 75% of Americans aged 17 to 24 do not meet one or more of the basic qualifications to join the nation’s armed forces.

The governors warned that failure to implement Common Core would have a tremendous impact on future generations. “If we fail to implement the Common Core and go back to the drawing board again, there’s going to be another generation that falls further behind internationally,” said Lingle.


The May 21 event was live tweeted. You can catch up on the discussion by checking out the #CoreTruth hashtag. To learn more about Common Core, visit

Also check out social media highlights of the event.