Ralph Abraham, a backbench member of Congress and now a GOP candidate for governor, has multiple college degrees and a pilot’s license, suggesting he's pretty smart — not anywhere close to the flake-and-nut brigades often attracted to the movement against Common Core educational standards.
But no. “I am the only candidate who was against Common Core from the beginning,” Abraham says, repeating this odd qualification this week during a Baton Rouge Press Club debate, as if that were something to be proud of.
Besides, it’s not a real issue. Abraham’s stand on Common Core, whatever its birth date, comes too late, since the political death certificate on that topic was long ago issued. Agitation against the new and higher educational standards has dramatically subsided.
Gov. John Bel Edwards, a reliable ally of the teacher unions that opportunistically criticized education reformers over Common Core, voted on the House Education Committee for repeal bills in 2014. He had the good sense to acknowledge Monday that the issue is dead and buried. “I don’t hear much about it as I go around the state, at all,” he said.
That’s good for Louisiana education, generally. The standards were launched during former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s administration. It was a cause for conservative education reformers and should have been a rather boring exercise in identifying what students at different grade levels ought to know about English or math or the like.
Instead, Common Core became a target of the kooky right, who said it was a stealth movement — promoted all along by news releases, not very stealthily — to impose a rigid national curriculum on our precious local schools. Jindal, in the delirious throes of his boomlet campaign for president, switched sides on the issue and turned on his allies on the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The heroes of this fight were the leaders of BESE and state superintendents Paul Pastorek and John White. After enduring angry diatribes on social media and intellectually unserious comments from Jindal — this was the Soviet Union in our classrooms, and so on — BESE and White tweaked the standards proposed by a coalition of the states and drew the sting of the allegations of Commie plots.
As stale as this issue is, practically, what is the political percentage in dredging it up?
Abraham and Baton Rouge businessman Eddie Rispone — who first must deny Edwards a majority in the Oct. 12 primary — are engaged in a feud to get ahead of the other guy and make a potential runoff. The former brings up Common Core as an implied criticism of Rispone, who has not been in office but has been a funder of conservative education reformers for years.
Not to be left behind in the competition for who’s-far-righter-than-whom, Rispone abased himself to a tiny minority in this phantom Republican primary: “Common Core is not the answer,” he said, throwing in for good measure that President Barack Obama used federal funds to encourage the adoption of Common Core in the states.
If so, that money was not much, as was reported at the time. And if so, it’s not as if Obama — Rispone said the name as if gravely invoking the terrors of “Stalin” — invented Common Core. Rather, Republican-led states led the way, seeing the need for an overhaul of educational standards so that when students were tested, they would be assessed on the same level of knowledge. Common Core is not a curriculum but a body of knowledge.
Ralph Abraham has a considerable body of knowledge about many things. Among his admirable civic traits is flying his small plane on missions for folks needing medical treatment. But when he brings up Common Core, he gives sensible people — reliable Republican voters in the mainstream — reason to ask whether, when slipping the surly bonds of reason, he puts tinfoil over a hat to block the microwaves from Mars. Or the Soviet Union. Or somewhere.
Email Lanny Keller at firstname.lastname@example.org.