Conservatives Erupt over Betsy DeVos Announcement: ‘Common Core Is Dead’

Betsy DeVos
AP/Andrew Harnik

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continues to struggle with the conservative base of the GOP as she again declares, “Common Core is dead.”

“I agree – and have always agreed – with President Trump on this: ‘Common Core is a disaster,’” DeVos allied herself with Trump last week during a major policy speech at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). “And at the U.S. Department of Education, Common Core is dead.”

The secretary’s statement led Alex Newman of the Freedom Project to write:

Despite blasting federal overreach in education and making other statements sure to delight conservatives and constitutionalists, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos continued to mislead Americans on Common Core last week. Indeed, despite the dumbed-down national standards still being in place in almost every state, DeVos falsely claimed that Common Core was “dead” at the Department of Education.

In yet another address that at least superficially put forward sound statements reflecting the Constitution’s lack of mention of any federal role in education, DeVos has again failed to convince the base of her party that she actually believes this fact.

Indeed, the education secretary gave a good conservative run-down of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations’ contributions to entrenching the federal government further into education policy via No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Common Core:

Where the Bush administration emphasized NCLB’s stick, the Obama administration focused on carrots. They recognized that states would not be able to legitimately meet the NCLB’s strict standards. Secretary Duncan testified that 82 percent of the nation’s schools would likely fail to meet the law’s requirements — thus subjecting them to crippling sanctions.

The Obama administration dangled billions of dollars through the “Race to the Top” competition, and the grant-making process not so subtly encouraged states to adopt the Common Core State Standards. With a price tag of nearly four and a half billion dollars, it was billed as the “largest-ever federal investment in school reform.” Later, the Department would give states a waiver from NCLB’s requirements so long as they adopted the Obama administration’s preferred policies — essentially making law while Congress negotiated the reauthorization of ESEA.

However, as Shane Vander Hart writes at Truth in American Education, the “reauthorization of ESEA,” i.e., the “bipartisan” Every Student Succeeds Act – engineered by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Patty Murray (D-WA) – essentially cemented Common Core into every state in the country:

Sure, the U.S. Department of Education is not actively pushing Common Core, they don’t need to. The standards and assessment consortiums don’t need to be funded anymore. The damage is done.

They don’t need to publicly push it because ESSA essentially codified Common Core.

At best, DeVos’s views on Common Core are murky, and conservatives have never been sold on her statement that she has “always agreed” with Trump that Common Core is a “disaster.” In fact, DeVos never was a fan of Trump and actually served as an at-large delegate of Common Core supporter John Kasich at the GOP convention in 2016.

American Principles Project senior fellows Jane Robbins and Emmett McGroarty write at Townhall:

Especially in her home state of Michigan, conservatives were discouraged by DeVos’s nomination because of her past support of Common Core and her efforts (through organizations she founded and/or funded) to thwart the parents who opposed them. She disavowed her previous support and then sought to put the issue to bed by simply declaringmistakenly, that “the Every Student Succeeds Act [ESSA] . . . essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core.”

As Robbins and McGroarty note, in April 2017, the secretary actually said during a Fox News interview, “There really isn’t any Common Core anymore.”

“The Every Student Succeeds Act, which is in the process of being implemented now, essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core,” she added.

DeVos’s pronouncements that Common Core is “dead” seem disconnected from reality to parents across the country.

Education Week reported, “at least 37 states” are still using the Common Core standards or its “rebrands” – renaming the Core with a state-friendly title – as of the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, Education Dive notes Timothy Shanahan, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois at Chicago – and one of the authors of the Core, says the standards are still in effect in 42 states.

“Even if Common Core were ripped out from the roots, the federally controlled government ‘education’ system in America would continue to dumb down and indoctrinate students on an industrial scale—literally threatening the future of the nation,” Newman writes.

In dulcet conservative tones, DeVos also announced during her AEI address that federal mandates are not working to improve education. The thousands of parents fighting against Common Core in their states for years now have been saying that to establishment Republican and Democratic lawmakers – but to no avail.

DeVos herself, however, continues to plug ESSA – a federal mandate.

“Under ESSA, school leaders, educators and parents have the latitude and freedom to try new approaches to serve individual students,” she said. “My message to them is simple: do it!”

Vander Hart asserts DeVos should heed her own advice.

“That’s a nice sentiment, but what is Secretary DeVos going to do about it?” he asks. “If this is something she truly believed she would support the repeal of ESEA instead of touting it in its current form as the Every Student Succeeds Act.”

A big part of conservatives’ problem with DeVos is the fact that she has invited many followers of her close friend Jeb Bush to advise her. Bush has been a primary supporter of Common Core and school choice.

Robbins and McGroarty observe that while DeVos has declared Common Core “dead,” she has followed Bush’s lead in the areas of school choice – without detailing the mechanisms for bringing about the “choice,” and “digital” or “personalized” learning – which is a major platform for student data collection.

“She didn’t mention the central problem with [school choice],” the authors write. “[T]he danger that when the money follows the child, government regulations will be close behind to strip private schools of the characteristics that made them appealing to parents in the first place.”

The authors add:

[S]o-called personalized learning is actually depersonalized, computerized training rather than genuine education. It replaces a liberal arts education with pared-down workforce-development training that concentrates on “skills” corporations deem necessary for the (current) job market. It props children in front of computer screens that feed them curricula (probably not available for parental review) that children can click through without really learning anything. It indoctrinates children with government-approved attitudes, mindsets, and beliefs. It collects literally millions of data points on children that will allow the government and vendors to create profiles and algorithms that may control each child’s future life path. It minimizes human interaction, converting professional educators into data clerks.

Of course, ESSA is fully on board with digital learning and DeVos is fully on board with ESSA.

Constitutionalists note that until DeVos can put into action the words she apparently believes make sense to Trump’s constituents, she will continue to have battles with both the left and the conservative wing of her own party.

“If DeVos is sincere about her philosophical rhetoric, she will devote her efforts to three things: freeing the states from all federal mandates to the extent she can under the law; working with Congress to revise ESSA to eliminate all mandates; and creating a workable plan to shut down her department,” Robbins and McGroarty write. “That would be something conservatives can cheer.”

Newman warns, however: “T]he fact that DeVos continues to dishonestly try to mislead Americans into believing Common Core is ‘dead’ should alarm everyone. It’s way past time to shut down the whole unconstitutional Education Department.”


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