What Will New State Stewards Mean for Common Core?


Most national attention related to the midterm elections has focused on the Congressional races, but there are sure to be equally significant changes at the state level.

A whopping 37 states are holding gubernatorial elections this year, and 24 of those races are guaranteed to result in a new governor because incumbents are term-limited or have chosen not to run again. Meanwhile, 8 states will be selecting top education officials. All this impending turnover is critical for education, because governors and chief state school officers have considerable influence over state education policies and decisions.

One much-watched effort under the purview of governors and chiefs is the Common Core State Standards Initiative, led by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). To date, 39 states and D.C. have signed on to the common core but many will have to entrust a new crop of leaders, who haven’t been involved in the effort, with putting the standards into practice. At least 8 states and D.C. (which will have a new mayor, superintendent, and school chancellor) will have entirely new leadership tasked with implementing the common core standards:

  • California, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Wyoming will have both new governors and new school chiefs after midterm elections.
  • New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee will have new governors who are in charge of appointing the state school chief.

New Mexico Under the Radar, but for How Long?
New Mexico is an interesting case. Susanna Murphy, the state’s outgoing secretary of education, quietly adopted the standards just last week, perhaps taking the opportunity before the new governor appoints her replacement, who may or may not be as supportive of the effort. It is unclear what Susana Martinez, the Republican candidate for governor leading in the polls, thinks about the recent adoption.

On one hand, Martinez has questioned current Governor Bill Richardson’s education record, which means she could be skeptical about the common core adoption. On the other hand, she has criticized the state’s culture of low expectations for students, calling for higher standards. Martinez and Diane Denish, her Democratic opponent who also has called for higher standards, along with New Mexico’s papers and current leadership, have been oddly silent on the issue and the state’s recent adoption.

California Chiefs on Board
In California, common core adoption moved from contention to certainty this summer, with a unanimous school board vote. Now both the governor and chief state school officer seats are up for grabs. Although the governor’s race has focused largely on public school funding issues, both candidates for school chief, Larry Aceves and Tom Torlakson, have gone on the record in support of the common core.

Fuzzy Future in Georgia?
Although Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, Nathan Deal, supports the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education and local district flexibility in choosing education reforms and making spending decisions to streamline bureaucracy, he’s not in the same camp as Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, who described the administration’s support of the common core as being akin to a “federal mandate.”

Deal, who leads his opponent Roy Barnes in the polls, seems convinced of the state-led nature of the common core. He’s created an education plan that commends the common core for the costs it saves Georgia and the flexibility the state and districts have to make the standards their own. Barnes’s education platform, which doesn’t explicitly mention the common core, focuses on preserving teacher pay, giving educators more of a voice in legislative and policy discussions, and “targeting the essentials.”

John Barge, the Republican candidate for state superintendent, isn’t as supportive of the common core. This past summer, he wrote a blog post equating the standards with more federal control over education and has also questioned whether accepting the state’s Race to the Top grant is worth the extra federal involvement in the state’s education system.

New Stump Season for Common Core
Regardless of what happens November 2, the NGA and CCSSO leaders of the common core effort will have to think about how to engage and educate new leadership on common core next steps. They may even need to be prepared to resell the common core to a few skeptics.

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