PEMBERTON, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie announced Thursday that he is ordering his state to back away from the Common Core school standards that he once championed but that are hugely unpopular among conservative voters across the country.
The announcement came as the Republican decides whether to seek the presidential nomination next year. He has said he will announce his decision on a presidential run in June.
In his speech Thursday, he made the case that the standards have brought confusion and frustration to parents and classrooms.
The Common Core standards spell out what academic skills students should master at each grade level, with the theory that such an approach can ensure a quality education at schools across the country. They have been adopted by most states and the federal government, through a grant program, encourages states to use them.
But Common Core is unpopular among many parents, teachers, and GOP voters nationwide for a variety of reasons, ranging from fear the federal government is encroaching on areas traditionally controlled by state governments and local school boards to concerns about the details of the standards and, especially, the tests that measure them.
"It's now been five years since Common Core was adopted. And the truth is that it's simply not working," Christie said in the speech at Burlington County College. "Instead of solving problems in our classrooms, it is creating new ones. And when we aren't getting the job done for our children, we need to do something different."
Christie did not announce a wholesale abandonment of the standards, though.
He said his state education commissioner would convene a group of parents and educators to review the Common Core standards, which apply to English and math. Their work is to become the basis for a new set of standards. Christie said the review would be completed this year, but it's not clear when new standards and curriculum on how to teach them might be in place.
Meanwhile, Christie said the state will continue using a new standardized test that was developed to measure how students are doing with Common Core. Thousands of parents and students boycotted the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career exams this year in New Jersey. But Christie said that exams are the only objective way to measure the education system.
"It is time to have standards that are even higher and come directly from our communities. And, in my view, this new era can be even greater by adopting new standards right here in New Jersey — not 200 miles away on the banks of the Potomac River," he said.
Christie pointed out that New Jersey has high achievement on some national tests, but said more needs to be done to address gaps in learning between well-off and poor children and students of different races and ethnic groups.
In his speech, Christie jabbed — though not by name — at the New Jersey Education Association, which has run ads blasting his policies, saying people who disagree with him have "ulterior motives hidden behind gauzy, nice-sounding slogans."
"They want to preserve their own personal self-interest," he said.
NJEA President Wendell Steinhauer, who was at the announcement, said his group favors higher standards and wants a voice in the standards review.
But he also questioned continuing to use the assessment test as the state moves away from the standards that it's designed to measure, calling the governor's approach "illogical".
Patricia Wright, executive director of the New Jersey Principals and Supervisors Association, which supports Common Core and the tests, said she did not take the governor to mean New Jersey would ditch the nationwide standards entirely.
"What I heard was that we need to examine the Common Core and make sure this is what New Jersey needs. And from our association's viewpoint, this is exactly what New Jersey needs," she said in a phone interview after the speech. "We hope that this signals that all we need are some tweaks or things like that"
Christie has been gradually backing away from the support he expressed for the standards less than two years ago, when he declared that it was one area where he often agreed with President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
But he told attendees at a GOP dinner in Iowa in February that he had "grave concerns" about the way the standards had been implemented. In New Hampshire later that month, he appeared to reject the Common Core idea.
Colvin reported from Newark, N.J.
This story has been corrected to show it is the Common Core standards that are to be reviewed, not the previous ones.