Donald Trump’s pledge to parents that he would end the controversial Common Core standards and finally get Washington, D.C. out of education is ready to be tested.
While on the campaign trail, the president-elect described Common Core as a “disaster,” and said that the federal government should leave education to states and local school districts. Some of the names on what has been released as Trump’s short list of candidates for education secretary, however, are troublesome to grassroots parent activists and others fighting to bring education choices back to the states and localities – where the Constitution says those decisions belong.
“Some of the names being floated as possible Secretary of Education are troubling,” explains Jane Robbins, education fellow at American Principles Project. “Trump’s most consistent education-related commitment during the campaign was to end Common Core and restore local control, and that won’t happen if the Department of Education is run by someone who has supported or protected Common Core in the past.”
The list of possible candidates includes many Common Core supporters as well as those who backed former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush – a champion of the unpopular standards:
- U.S. Rep. Luke Messer of Indiana, a supporter of school choice who backed Jeb Bush in the GOP primary and has been an ardent supporter of the new massive education law, Every Students Succeeds Act;
- Former Florida education commissioner Gerard Robinson, who was also a member of Jeb Bush’s Chiefs for Change and is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
- Eva Moskowitz, the pro-Common Core CEO and founder of Success Academy Charter Schools;
- Michelle Rhee, the pro-Common Core former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools and the founder of Students First, an organization whose board of directors once included Common Core architect David Coleman and math standards writer Jason Zimba.
- Tony Bennett, the ousted Indiana superintendent of public education who was investigated for fraud and resigned later as Florida commissioner of education;
- Dr. Ben Carson, former neurosurgeon and 2016 GOP presidential candidate;
- Williamson M. Evers, Hoover Institution education expert who has been vocal in his opposition to Common Core and federal intervention in education.
“Mr. Trump needs to listen to the grassroots forces who are relying on him to restore local autonomy in education,” Robbins says.
Heartland Institute education fellow Joy Pullmann tells Breitbart News there is much Trump can do to make good on his pledge to end Common Core.
“Unlike the media, which insisted on explaining Trump’s statements hyperliterally, Trump’s voters heard their candidate tell them he’s with us in opposition to running the nation’s schools from Washington D.C., she explains. “That’s what it means to oppose Common Core. As president, Trump can do a lot to fulfill this promise.”
For example, under both parties for decades, the federal government has funded and graded states’ curriculum mandates and tests, a mechanism that greased the skids for Common Core and has kept them greased for Common Core’s inevitable successor. With Congress, Trump can and should end this practice. In keeping with federal law, the federal government should have nothing whatsoever to do with funding or evaluating curriculum and tests. It should all be given back to the states and their people.
Pullmann also points to Trump’s pledge to get Washington out of education policy. President Jimmy Carter instituted the U.S. Department of Education in 1979.
“The U.S. Department of Education needs to be drastically right-sized,” she says, adding:
Its power over state education bureaucrats is another factor that greased the skids for Common Core. Congress should write and President Trump should sign a new law cutting the department down to a mere auditor’s office that no longer employs bureaucrats who tell us what children should learn, when, and how. Instead, the department should send states their own money and power back and let we, the people decide how to run our own affairs, as Trump also promised in his acceptance speech would characterize his presidency.
The Common Core is a federally promoted education initiative introduced in the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus bill through a competitive grant program called Race to the Top (RttT). States could apply and compete for federal grant money and waivers from federal regulations as long as they adopted a set of uniform standards and aligned curricula, agreed to a massive system of student data collection, and signed onto a teacher evaluation system that would be based in part on student performance on assessments aligned with the standards.
The standards were developed by three private organizations in Washington D.C.: the National Governors Association (NGA), the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and progressive education company Achieve Inc. All three organizations were privately funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and none of these groups are accountable to parents, teachers, students, or taxpayers.
Eventually, 46 states signed onto the unproven Common Core standards with little, if any, public or media scrutiny, and most of them prior to their state boards of education even seeing the standards themselves.
Parent activist groups have met with substantial resistance from both Republican and Democrat governors and state legislators in their quest to repeal Common Core in the states. Political pressure from big business groups, such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – a major supporter of Common Core – and the threat of having federal funds pulled from their states, led most state lawmakers and governors to dismiss parental concerns.
The 2016 annual Education Next poll shows that public support for the Common Core State Standards has fallen to a record low.
According to the survey, support for the Common Core education plan dropped to 50 percent this year, down from 58 percent in 2015 and from 83 percent in 2013.
The poll finds that, among teachers, support for the program has dropped from 87 percent in 2013, to 54 percent in 2014, to 44 percent in 2015, and continuing at that level in 2016.
In addition, since 2011, state membership in the two federally funded consortia developed to create Common Core-aligned tests has dropped by 62 percent.
A recent report by ACT – the nonprofit that developed the college admissions and placement test administered to more than 1.8 million high school graduates annually – found that only 16 percent of college professors said their incoming students were well prepared overall for college-level work, down from 26 percent in 2009 and 2012, a stunning outcome considering Common Core proponents’ primary selling point for the standards has been that they will make U.S. students “college and career ready.”
Pullmann herself also reported in January at The Federalist that Common Core is estimated to have cost the nation as a whole $80 billion, in addition to the costs to individual states that have seen the tab for the education reform skyrocket.
“The way to end Common Core is to end the superstructures that made it not just possible but inevitable,” she says. “Even though Common Core is technically off-limits for federal influence, its successors will soon arise, and they will be worse than Common Core–unless President Trump fulfills his promise to his voters to end Common Core once and for all.”
“He can do this by defunding the education establishment taxpayers currently pay to oppress us, and sending states’ education dollars back to them for parents and local voters to manage themselves,” she explains. “Common Core is a hydra that consumes federal education dollars. The only way to kill it for good is to stop feeding it. Give us our own money and power back, and Common Core will never happen again.”
In addition, Pullmann observes that Trump can strike a mortal blow to another major lever in the massive Common Core boondoggle – student data collection.
“Trump can put a stake into Common Core by killing the national student information databases the U.S. Department of Education has been paying states to construct in violation of laws forbidding a national surveillance system,” she states. “It interacts with Common Core and expands its reach from birth through a person’s career.”
Writing at Cato, education director Neal McCluskey agrees that while the federal incentive levers to the states – Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind waivers – are no longer in operation, Trump and a Republican Congress can ensure the regulations associated with the new massive education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), don’t “coerce the use of the Core or any other specific standards or tests.”
In a press release following the House’s passage of ESSA, potential Trump education secretary candidate Rep. Messer described the bill, as “a new approach to the federal role in education. It gives power over education back to the people we trust— local administrators, teachers and parents who are best-positioned to make decisions for our students.”
Robbins, however, writing at The Pulse 2016, observed, “ESSA lays out particular requirements for state standards and uses code language throughout that gives the federal government the tools to pressure the states to stick with Common Core rather than risking their federal money by adopting something better.”
“It maintains the federally dictated testing regimen and requires states to implement assessments that are expensive, that have been proven to be ineffective and unworkable, and that operate not by assessing students’ academic knowledge but rather by measuring their attitudes and dispositions,” she concluded.
“This has been a real concern,” McCluskey explains. “While the spirit and rhetoric surrounding the ESSA is about breaking down federal strictures, the Obama education department has been drafting regulations that threaten federal control over funding formulas and accountability systems. And the statute includes language vague enough that it could allow federal control by education secretary veto.”
“A Trump administration would likely avoid that,” he says, and notes as well that Trump’s supporters “don’t seem inclined to do what Beltway types tell them.”