During every campaign stop he made last year, now-President Donald Trump assured parents he knew the education reform known as “Common Core” was a “disaster,” and that, if elected, he would help to get rid of it.
Trump was especially fond of throwing Common Core in the face of former GOP rival Jeb Bush, a prominent promoter of the unpopular K-12 standards and their aligned testing and data collection. Bush was forced out of the primary, largely because of his views on amnesty for illegal immigrants and Common Core.
Now, the words “Common Core” have just about disappeared from Trump’s speeches, including his most recent at CPAC last week and that to a joint session of Congress Tuesday evening. Instead, when education is the topic, Trump now focuses almost solely on “school choice.”
Fred Barnes notes at the Weekly Standard the absence of what was once Trump’s regular anti-Common Core rhetoric while on the campaign trail:
Trump joined opponents of Common Core who saw it as a raid on states’ rights and local control of schools and as the epitome of the top-down approach to education reform. “I am totally against Common Core,” he said at the South Carolina Tea Party Convention two years ago.
“Thumbs down for Common Core,” he said in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in January 2016. “We’re gonna bring education back to the states and back to the people and the parents.” In Cleveland in September, Trump said, “We spend more by far [on schools] and we’re doing very poorly. So obviously Common Core doesn’t work.”
“Trump’s omission of Common Core from his speeches has raised the question of whether abolishing it remains part of his agenda,” Barnes concluded. “Nor is it clear how Education Secretary Betsy DeVos intends to handle the issue.”
In an interview with Breitbart News, Frank Cannon, president of American Principles Project (APP), asserts that while school choice is a good thing, the current Trump administration social justice focus on children simply switching school buildings from one “zip code” to another is not going to accomplish real “choice.”
“I think it’s a contradiction in the sense that it’s hard to have a bottom-up choice when you have the imposition top-down of a one-size-fits-all education curriculum,” Cannon states, and continues:
I’m a firm believer in choice, but you need to have choice in content as well as in the place that you go to school. If the content is controlled by the federal government through Common Core, then you’re not going to get the diversity in schools that produce the range of results that allow you to go ahead and pick the best schools. So, I think the two concepts have to go hand in hand for there to be any genuine choice.
Numerous reports have observed the presence of Jeb Bush supporters and Obama holdovers in the federal education department. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos herself was both a generous contributor to and board member of Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE), which promoted Common Core nationwide. Bush himself said of DeVos’s nomination, “I’m so excited.”
In his address to Congress Tuesday, Trump said, “I am calling upon Members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African-American and Latino children,” a statement that suggests he would like to see the federal government in charge of “school choice” policy.
Cannon says Trump should first return to his original idea of dismantling the U.S. education department to bring control back to the states and local governments.
“There has to be a concerted effort to remove the federal government’s role in testing and gathering data, and in imposing content on education,” he says. “And that agenda was part of what allowed Donald Trump to surge out ahead of Jeb Bush in the early primaries.”
Cannon explains further:
There are a number of people who support Common Core, or who have been proponents of Common Core, including the Vice President, who are central to education policy it seems in the Trump administration, and I think it’s important for Trump to personally drive to completion on this promise, as he has on so many other promises.
What we can’t have is the components of Common Core and have it be rebranded as something else. We can’t have the testing, we can’t have the lowering of standards that is part of Common Core, we can’t have the one-size-fits-all and pretend because the words Common Core have been removed from the education lexicon, that we removed the content and substance of that. And that’s what worries me about the sense that people can argue when Common Core became Indiana Core under now-Vice President Pence – that was not a change in the elements of Common Core that were objectionable. And, so, I’d hate to see the Trump promise be really an obfuscation with the elimination of the words ‘Common Core’ without a true delegation to states and local government for the control of content.
When asked about Common Core in a recent interview with Frank Beckmann on Detroit’s WJR News Talk 760 AM, DeVos delivered what has become the standard establishment Republican line: The new federal education law – the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – has already repealed Common Core.
ESSA “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core,” DeVos said, adding the law “encourages states to set forth their own levels of achievement expectation.”
However, education reporter Shane Vander Hart, writing at Truth in American Education, observes:
Here’s the kicker… she said the approval of state plans is a “good and important role for the federal government.”
Somebody tell me where that is at in the Constitution? DeVos is in error, and if President Trump is serious about dealing with Common Core he will set her straight. This is a complete 180 from the agenda he set forth and what she said she planned to do.
APP senior fellow Jane Robbins also suggests at Townhall that DeVos may have an education agenda all her own.
“Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is exhibiting some noteworthy resistance to the education agenda of President Trump,” Robbins asserts. “One indication of this disposition is her insistence that the Every Student Succeeds Act did away with Common Core over a year ago, and her declaration that the federal government properly plays a role in approving states’ education plans.”
“Both of these positions contradict commitments that were central to Trump’s agenda,” she adds.
Cannon says what Jeb Bush and his followers are getting wrong is the idea that education is “about filling a global workforce for the coming decades.”
“That’s the part Bush gets wrong and the [Bill] Gates Foundation gets wrong,” he explains. “Education is much more than that; it’s about creating citizens – and thinking citizens – in its best form. And that is best accomplished by addressing the values and concerns of parents.”
Cannon notes, nevertheless, that while children should be able to leave poorly performing schools, that goal is not accomplished “without genuine options in the difference in content from school to school.”
“And, if you focus on choice without content, you have no real choice at all,” he asserts.