Emails released Thursday by Buzzfeed reveal that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan sought and received advice about Common Core from an unlikely source: former Florida Gov. and possible Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.
The emails date to Sept. 23, 2013, when Common Core was first becoming a national issue.
The emails on Duncan’s end were very brief. The first contained the subject heading “Rick Scott,” with a body text of “Is calling me. Any advice?” Duncan was apparently reaching out to Bush for help addressing the concerns of Florida Gov. Rick Scott. Scott, like many other Republicans in 2013, was starting to have second thoughts about Common Core as the conservative backlash against it picked up momentum.
I am on a plane.
He is fearful of the rebellion. Wants to stop using the term common core but keep the standards. Wants to get out of PARCC [standardized tests aligned with Common Core]. I asked him if he had specifics [sic] things that the federal government is doing or perceived to be doing. He didn’t have them when I spoke to him last Thursday evening.
Duncan gave a succinct reply: “Thanks.”
A representative for Bush told Buzzfeed the emails reflect the bipartisan nature of Bush’s work on education since leaving the governor’s mansion.
“Since leaving office, Gov. Bush has focused on reforming education, state by state, through the education foundation he established that is committed to improving education for every American child,” the spokesperson said. “Gov. Bush has worked with leaders in both parties to introduce state-based reforms that hold the power to transform education in America by providing more choices for parents and greater accountability for schools and teachers.”
The very brevity of Duncan’s exchange with Bush raises its own questions, as it suggests the emails may have been part of a longer pattern of conversations between the two about Common Core. Whether that is the case, and if so to what degree, is unclear.
The emails are also illustrative of the intersection between policy and branding that has been so central to the Common Core debate. The same day the Bush/Duncan exchange occurred, Scott made an announcement that he was withdrawing the state from PARCC and working to “protect Florida from the federal government’s overreach in education policy.” However, Bush’s prediction proved true, as Scott’s “protective” action amounted to a Common Core name change. In 2014 Florida rebranded Common Core as “Next Generation Sunshine State Standards” without substantially altering its content.
Such a solution to the Common Core debate has occurred in several other Republican-run states. In Arizona, Common Core was renamed as “Arizona’s College and Career-Ready Standards” despite no shift in content. Even in states that have made changes, such as Indiana, activists have complained that the “new” standards remain extremely similar to the Core.
Bush himself has said these renaming efforts are replacements in name only, something he regards as a good thing. In 2014, he campaigned alongside Scott and said he accepted Scott’s Core turnabout.
“They’re not substantially different, but they’re Florida-based,” Bush said at the time. “I think he was correct to do the review and I think the review ended up with really good results.”