ExxonMobil CEO Bemoans Texas’ Stance on Common Core

Senior Editor

The state of Texas’ political leaders have been proudly defiant in opposing the common-core standards. And the CEO of the state’s biggest company is not happy about it.

Rex Tillerson, the chairman and chief executive of ExxonMobil, the mammoth oil-and-gas company headquartered in the Dallas area, criticized opponents of the standards, saying that too many policymakers are ignoring the merits of the common core and engaging in political opportunism, as reported by the Dallas Morning News.

The ExxonMobil official made his remarks this week at an event hosted by the Business Roundtable, a Washington-based association of representatives of some of the nation’s biggest companies, which has backed the standards. (You can watch a video of Tillerson’s remarks in the video clip, below. His statements about the common core start after the 50th minute.)

Tillerson said he was “extraordinarily disappointed” in his own state officials’ antipathy toward the standards

While some “found it opportunistic” to depict the common-core standards as having been pushed along by federal officials, Tillerson added: “It is not a mandate on your curriculum, yet it has been described as the federal government telling what you will teach. It is anything but that.”

The company officials said he’s “spent many hours on the telephone this last legislative session,” pitching Texas lawmakers on the merits of the common core, “to no avail…the political forces around this are powerful.”

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican who will leave office next month, has been a leading opponent of the common-core standards during his tenure, and has fought to ensure that his state was one of only a handful around the country to not adopt the academic guidelines. (There’s speculation that Perry may be considering a second run for the White House, two years after his 2012 bid failed to gain momentum.)

One of Texas’ U.S. senators, Ted Cruz, a Republican, has also denounced the common core.

Both Perry and Cruz have argued that federal officials have guided the adoption of the common-core—a charge that organizers of the multistate effort say is flatly untrue.

While Tillerson didn’t mention any Texas elected official by name, he made a point of praising a policymaker from another state: Gov. John Kasich, an Ohio Republican who has continued to stand up for the standards despite opposition from some in his own party.

When he was urged to abandon the standards, Kasich’s position has essentially been, ” ‘Why would I do that?, You give me something that’s better,'” Tillerson said.

Backers of the standards note that the effort to create the common core was launched by state officials, who have also guided the process of creating tests aligned to the standards. Federal officials have supported the tests through funding, and incentivized states’ adoption of the standards with money through the Race to the Top competition.

A number of leading businesses and business organizations have urged policymakers, and grassroots organizations, to stand up for the common core, arguing that employers of all sizes and the country’s overall economic growth and ability to compete internationally will suffer if states and school districts aren’t held to higher standards.

The business community’s support for the common core has exposed rifts with some of its traditional allies, including Republicans who advocate for limited government regulation and low taxes. Tillerson’s remarks are a reminder that those divides even play out on an intrastate level.

ExxonMobil is by far the biggest company in Texas, as measured by its annual revenue—more than $400 billion, by one recent state estimate. It’s also one of the largest companies in the world.

Of course, having prominent corporations and other supporters on board hasn’t always been advantageous for backers of the common core.

As we’ve reported, critics of the standards from both the political right and left have in some cases embraced the idea that they’re standing up to powerful interests who aren’t in tune with the concerns of teachers and parents.

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