Bush Jeb  2013
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks while promoting his book "Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution" at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, March 8, 2013. Reuters

WASHINGTON – In the endless speculation on whether Jeb Bush will be running for president in 2016, GOP insiders are starting to think a campaign is more likely. But one thing is clear: He isn't running away from his support of Common Core, the education standards that now draw the hatred of conservatives across the country.

“We should always look to improve our thinking based on the evidence,” the Republican politician said Thursday morning at an education summit sponsored by the nonprofit he oversees, Foundation for Excellence in Education. “This is why the debate over the Common Core State Standards has been troubling.” He added, “In my view, the rigor of the Common Core State Standards must be the new minimum in classrooms.”

While many think his last name could be his biggest liability, the former Florida governor's position on education could prove to be a double-edged sword. The right flank of his party has neared the point of equating “Common Core” with “Obamacare,” both depicted by conservatives as a federal intrusion into the daily lives of individuals. The standards have been ridiculed, with criticism that not even parents can figure out the complicated new method of teaching math.

Bush’s long-term work on education – including a litany of accomplishments while he was governor (from 199 t0 2007), some of which he highlighted Thursday – make for the perfect campaign argument. Florida saw performance increase dramatically thanks to the policies he put in place. And he started the pro-reform education foundation, whose annual summit he was speaking at Thursday.

Talking about education is almost always a successful campaign strategy. It’s simply one of the most basic concerns of millions of voters – will their children, or grandchildren, get the education they need to be successful. His brother, former President George W. Bush, talked about the education reforms he implemented while governor of Texas when he ran for president.

And as Jeb Bush did in his speech today, talking about education can be easily parlayed into a number of other issues. How about the state of the United States in the world economy? Or talking about the U.S. and China relations? Bush touched on all of those in his education address.

“This morning over 213 million Chinese students went to school, and nobody debated whether academic expectations should be lowered in order to protect the students' self-esteem,” Bush said in defending Common Core. “In an international report card on education performance, students from Shanghai ranked number one. Students from the U.S. ranked 21st in reading and 31st in math.”

But while every conservative will agree that the United States should be outperforming China, they aren’t seeing Common Core as the path to get there. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who is likely to run for president, has become one of the most outspoken opponents of Common Core, pulling his state from the standards and even suing the federal government over the standards.

Bush had some carefully crafted words for those who are abandoning the standards.

“For those states choosing a path other than Common Core, I say this: Aim even higher, be bolder, raise standards and ask more of our students and the system,” Bush said. “Because I know they have the potential to deliver it. Even if we don't all agree on Common Core, there are more important principles for us to agree on. We need to pull together whenever we can.”

Common Core hasn’t always been such a controversial issue.

The standards were crafted by bipartisan state government associations, including the National Governors Association. They were adopted by 44 states, including those that were run by Republicans at the time. The goal was to find a way to get national continuity and ensure a student who moved cross-country wouldn’t be met with wildly different expectations.

But despite the lack of federal involvement at the start, President Barack Obama and his administration embraced the standards and incorporated them into their education grant program “Race to the Top,” which later led to a revolt from the right. Since then, two states have repealed the rules and others have changed their use of them.

Bush showed no signs of being concerned about that conservative backlash by sticking with Common Core.

“Let's do that work,” Bush said. “Let's be disruptive. But let us never lose sight of our greater goal: the future of learning in America. The future of an America where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential and earn success.”