New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie may have won points with conservatives when he announced Thursday he was pulling his state out of the federal Common Core education standards, but his concerns about the program don’t appear consistent with his two-term record on the program, according to an examination of his past statements and actions.
“It's now been five years since Common Core was adopted. And the truth is that it's simply not working," Christie, a likely Republican presidential candidate, said during a speech Thursday at Burlington County College in Pemberton, N.J.
But Christie praised the program for years after voluntarily adopting it in 2010. “We're doing Common Core in New Jersey and we're going to continue. And this is one of those areas where I've agreed more with the president than not,” he told a Las Vegas school summit in August 2013.
During that speech, he derided members of Congress who were distancing themselves from Common Core, which was becoming increasingly unpopular with conservative activists, saying they were bowing to political pressure.
“Part of the problem in Congress right now, on both sides of the aisle, is that folks care more about their primaries than they care about anything else,” he said during the speech.
But by November of the following year, Christie himself started citing his worries about the program. “I have some real concerns about Common Core and how it's being rolled out and that's why I put a commission together to study it," he said during his monthly "Ask the Governor" radio show appearance.
Christie did set up a nine-member commission of educators, state officials and administrators in July 2014, but its goal seemed geared towards evaluating student testing, not the Common Core curriculum itself.
“The Commission is charged with reviewing and providing appropriate recommendations about the effectiveness of the volume, frequency, and impact of student testing occurring throughout New Jersey school districts,” the announcement of the commission read in part.
Plus, the group’s interim recommendations, released in January 2015, only referred to Common Core in the context of the tests that assessed students' grasp of the curriculum, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC). The commission warned PARCC, which was phased in to New Jersey schools this year, was regarded by parents and teachers as “an example of over-testing.”
But Christie has defended the implementation of the PARCC test, even as it is explicitly linked to Common Core. "This will in no way affect our efforts to continue effective testing and measurements of our students through the PARCC test,” he said during Thursday’s speech.
While less infamous on the national stage than Common Core, PARCC remains unpopular in New Jersey. A February Monmouth University poll, the most recent on the topic, found PARCC’s disapproval rating among Garden State residents on par with Common Core’s.
And the New Jersey Education Association, the state's teachers' union, told NJ.com it was “completely illogical” for Christie to eliminate Common Core and not PARCC.
“He’s saying you don’t need to teach what the test requires but we’re still going to make the kids take the test,” said Brigid Harrison, political science and law professor at Montclair State University.
Christie said his education commissioner, David Hespe, would be evaluating PARCC, but that getting rid of it entirely might jeopardize federal funding. “I’m not going to permit New Jersey to risk losing vital federal education funds because some would prefer to let the perfect get in the way of the good,” he said.
But that assertion was incongruous with a concern Christie had previously raised about Common Core: that the government was tying funds to the adoption of a specific federal education program.
“I have grave concerns about the way [Common Core] is being done, and especially the way the Obama administration has tried to implement it through tying federal funding to these things," he told attendees at an Iowa dinner in February.
He made those comments despite New Jersey’s federal education funding not being contingent on the adoption of Common Core. The state applied for and received nearly $38 million in federal funding as part of the administration’s “Race to the Top” program in 2011, but a fact sheet for that program said it required states to apply “common standards” but “does not endorse any particular consortium or set of standards.”
When asked for comment on the discrepancy between his previous concerns and actions and those articulated on Thursday, spokesmen for the governor would not comment other than to refer back to his speech.
Harrison, of Montclair State University, said Christie’s opting out of Common Core despite his past, vociferous support for the program might help his presidential bid in the short term, but could lead to pitfalls down the campaign trail.
“Sure, this is going to perhaps open up a door in terms of Mr. Christie being able to garner some support among conservatives. I think it also opens him up to criticism that he flip-flopped on this issue,” she said.