Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee surprised many conservatives by sending a mailing asking them to “Endorse Mike’s Pledge to Kill Common Core.” It reads, “I, Mike Huckabee, pledge allegiance to God, the Constitution, and the citizens of the United States: As President I will fight to kill Common Core and restore common sense. Education is a family function—not a federal function.”
Huckabee then came out with another mailing in which he vowed not only to kill Common Core, but to abolish the Department of Education.
Huckabee declared his candidacy in May. Reporters and commentators questioned the motivations for his shift on Common Core. At the Daily Caller, Blake Neff called Huckabee’s “strong, total condemnation” a “relatively new trait” and questioned the governor’s explanation: “the unexpected involvement of the Obama administration.” In January, at National Review Andrew Johnson noted that Huckabee had publicly praised Common Core standards that he claimed were developed by governors and state education officials. A blog called “The Truth about Mike Huckabee” basically repeats these claims but in a heightened, defensive style, stating, “It is important to note that The National Governor’s Association Common Core IS NOT the same as the Common Core associated with the Department of Education Grants. If you take the time to research this topic you will see that one of many differences is that the federal government requires those who administer the grant project meet certain diversity guidelines, which is completely foreign to the work done by the National Governor’s Association. These are two completely different programs, begun by different organizations, with different implementation and operational objectives.”
Huckabee’s defense does not stand up to scrutiny. Neff pointed to Huckabee’s 2011 book A Simple Government, in which Huckabee endorsed the role of the federal government, writing, “I fully endorse the new federal program Race to the Top, which has states compete for additional education funds, allowing them to decide what reforms to enact, rather than having specific reforms imposed on them from above.” This was two years after the Race to the Top program required that states agree to adopt the federal Common Core guidelines as part of the application process.
As he contemplated his presidential run, Huckabee knew that his “complicated history with Common Core” could be the reason he’d lose a significant portion of the evangelical base that supported him in 2008, according to Johnson. Conservatives already had a problem with Huckabee’s record as governor that included increases in taxes and pardons for criminals.
Furthermore, Huckabee’s efforts continued in 2013 and included sending a letter to Oklahoma lawmakers ahead of a vote to dump Common Core in that state; he encouraged them “to resist any attempt to delay implementation.” That year, Huckabee also told the Council of Chief State School Officers to “rebrand” Common Core, and not “retreat.”
The authors of Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates (by American Principles in Action and Cornerstone Policy Research Action) write that Huckabee’s “rebrand advice to the owners and supporters gut-stabbed the national grassroots movement right when it was gaining traction.” Rebranding, or renaming, the Common Core standards, while making superficial changes, has been a favorite strategy of politicians and bureaucrats trying to fool voters and legislators who really are trying to kill Common Core in their states.
Huckabee claimed his comments were “misconstrued.” By December of 2013, Huckabee was using his Fox News show to outline his concerns about “what Common Core has become” – a divisive issue. He encouraged “activists on both sides of the issue to move past Common Core,” and “argued for a renewed, broader effort to improve education,” according to Johnson.
What is the federal government’s role, and specifically a president’s role, in improving education? On his campaign site page Huckabee pledges to abolish the Department of Education, while insisting, “We must demand results, accountability and success for every child in every classroom. I oppose watering down our education standards or automatically promoting every student.”
The rationale behind federal education programs, including the No Child Left Behind initiative of the George W. Bush administration, is precisely the demand for “accountability.” NCLB was built on the false notion that every child can achieve “success” and that it is the federal government’s role to see to it. Indeed, the current education reauthorization spending bill is called the “Every Child Achieves Act” (ECAA). Common Core was hustled through on such pretexts of accountability and standards.
The Common Core Report: Grading the 2016 GOP Candidates gives Huckabee a “C,” in spite of his “checkered past.” (Grades range from “A-” for Ted Cruz and Rand Paul to “F” for Jeb Bush.)
Raising his grade is Huckabee’s “forceful general argument” of late about the problem of special interests currying the favor of the federal executive branch, which then puts mandates on the states. State departments of education, state boards of education, and governors then become “supplicants” to the U.S. Department of Education.
Real Clear Politics puts Huckabee in ninth position in a field of 15 candidates. Four major polls show him garnering four percent of the support. It appears that Huckabee will not be the candidate who ends the system of “supplication” to the Department of Education. Let’s hope we get one, nevertheless.
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EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.