The chambers of commerce of a growing number of states are setting themselves up as defenders of the common core in the face of increasingly fierce opposition to the new standards from some of their traditional Republican allies.
Take Georgia. At a January meeting of the Georgia House Board of Trustees in Atlanta, candidates for the state superintendent voiced their position on the state’s common core standards. Eight candidates weighed in – seven Republicans and one Democrat – and most expressed reservations or outright resistance to standards for English / language arts and math.
Objections ranged from the quality of the standards to the belief that common standards represent centralized control by an over-ambitious federal government.
“It has become a divisive question, especially in Republican circles here in Georgia,” said Matt Shultz, one of the GOP’s candidates for state superintendent, in a telephone interview after taking speaking during the chamber session. “If we took out the ‘common core’ brand, that would defuse some of the problems. “
But defusing these problems may not be as simple as renaming the common core, some experts point out.
“The battle lines are informally drawn nationally between the business establishment and a more conservative, more politically motivated element,” said David C. Adkisson, who chairs theEducation, Employment and Training Committee and is also President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce.
This battle for “hearts and minds” on the core is taking place at an “elite” level, attempting to influence governors, state legislators and heads of public schools, according to Patrick J. McGuinn, professor. associate of political science and education at Drew University in Madison, NJ
State chambers of commerce, with long-standing relationships, networks, and well-established resources, are considered to be among the most proactive and valued interest groups. They defend the core curriculum on the grounds that standards are essential to business interests and the long-term economic viability of their states.
Standards are at the heart of Georgia’s number one chamber advocacy problem: education.
The president of, a national research and advocacy group that helped develop the standards, traveled to Atlanta from Washington to address the recent chamber board meeting. And, as the Georgia State School Board conducts an independent standards review at the request of Republican Gov. Nathan Deal this spring and summer, the chamber plans to have a high-profile presence.
Chris Clark, president and CEO of the Georgia Chamber, said he expects the process to be fair and balanced. “We want the business community to engage,” reinforcing that “we are a state that is committed to higher standards, and we want to move forward with that.”
Nationally, emerging resistance to the standards, which have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, are prompting organized responses from business leaders.
“The opposition is strong. They’re very loud, and I don’t want to dismiss people’s concerns about it, ”said Cheryl A. Oldham, vice president of education policy for the US Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why it’s incumbent on us to say why we support” the standards.
Last summer, the United States House convened state and local chambers to discuss the issue.
“Common basis: college and career preparation standards”,, was released earlier this month, and in the coming weeks, the national organization will be releasing online tools to help state and local chambers wishing to tackle opposition to standards in their communities, according to Oldham. . Part of the funding to develop these online tools comes from a $ 1.38 million grant the chamber foundation received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation late last year, he said. she declared. (The Gates Foundation also provided support to Education week for its coverage of the education market and new approaches to schooling.)
Beyond these strategies, the national chamber is considering the production of locally targeted videos – in partnership with state and local chambers and school districts – which could be used on the Internet to rally support for the common core.
Because it is “a different battle in each state,” the national chamber has not created a single response to the grassroots opposition, according to Oldham. Chambers in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia and Missouri have requested direct assistance with approaches to rallying core support. As for dissensions within the ranks of State Chambers over grassroots support, Ms Oldham said she had not heard of it.
Public relations tactics
Some state chambers are monitoring Kentucky because it was the first state to adopt the Common Basic Standards. Kentucky has already administered its first standards-based assessment. The state has seen declines in student scores, as expected, but with little public protest as a result, unlike in New York State when scores plummeted. Mr Adkisson said a large public information campaign that included the chamber helped defuse any public outcry about the test score drops.
Mr Adkisson and state education commissioner Terry Holliday conducted an alert tour, giving 15 joint presentations around the state to help explain the core curriculum and manage outcome expectations in testing, Adkisson said.
To mobilize supporters, the Kentucky chamber also worked with the Prichard Committee on Academic Excellence, an education advocacy organization based in Lexington, Ky., On a joint initiative to launch the Business Leader Champions for Education, a group of 75 business leaders in the state. Today, these three groups represent a “response team” to common challenges.
“We were fortunate to be in front of this before some political crosswinds started to blow,” said James R. Allen, chairman of the Champions Group.
Even with the level of acceptance in Kentucky, a group of Republicans introduced a bill in the House this month to repeal the core curriculum, but the chairman of the House education committee, a Democrat, refused to call him for a vote.
“One of the favorite tactics in all of these legislative debates is how many bills are tabled in how many states. Just having a bill does not mean anything. If he walks past a committee or a house, that’s another thing, ”said Derek Redelman, vice president who focuses on education and workplace policy for the Indiana Chamber of Commerce. , which has been active in supporting the common core.
In Indiana, where the Common Core encountered strong opposition, Redelman said the chamber aired radio spots at the end of the last legislative session as support waned.
“We constantly heard that Republicans felt the need to go back to the core or deal with the repercussions of Tea Party activists in future elections,” he said. The aim of the radio campaign was to “remind Republicans that we also care about the issue, and (…) to show that we are capable of exerting pressure,” he added.
A little surprised by the growing backlash, most supporters of the chamber seem to think the standards will stand the test of the high tea backlash. But they want President Barack Obama and his Education Secretary Arne Duncan to stop publicly endorsing it.
“The more the administration talks about common core, the worse it is for the effort,” said Oldham, who worked for eight years in the administration of President George W. Bush, most recently as deputy secretary by acting for post-secondary education while also serving as Chief of Staff to the Under-Secretary for Education.