Could Trump Repeal Common Core Nationally? Here’s What You Need to Know

Monday, May 22, 2017
United States Department of Education seal

n his official campaign video on the issue of education, President Donald Trump declared that he would put an end to Common Core and considered it to be a “total disaster.” Now, Common Core critics and supporters of Trump’s views are waiting to see how Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will approach the future of the standards.


DeVos’s initial statement in November 2016 on Common Core provided a vague outlook. Her official website suggests she is not a supporter and calls the standards a “federalized boondoggle,” although it does indicate that she supported the idea of having a set of high standards driven by local voices. It interesting to note, however, that in a January 2017 article in The Atlantic (“What Betsy DeVos Did (and Didn't) Reveal About Her Education Priorities”) writer Emily Deruy writes “Noticeably absent from the hearing were substantive discussions of the Common Core standards.”


In terms of specific policy changes or actionable steps, DeVos asserted—prior to her confirmation— that the “status quo is unacceptable” but said she would “defer expounding on specifics” regarding policy until her spot was secured through Senate confirmation hearings. During a December rally, however, she spoke of plans to make education great again by “letting states set their own high standards and finally putting an end to the federalized Common Core.”

 

Is repealing Common Core even possible?  

Common Core is a set of standards, not a federal law, and some states chose to implement it while others did not.


States have—and have always had—the power to determine whether to adopt Common Core. Many were swayed by Race to the Top financial incentives, and in the end, 42 states adopted the standards, along with four U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.


The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which will fullly go into effect in September 2017, specifically addresses the influence the federal government can have over state standards—and this does not bode well for Trump’s promise of repeal.

How does ESSA affect federal control over Common Core?

In January, NYU education professor Diane Ravitch hosted a series of questions on her education blog addressing what ESSA means to Common Core. The answers provided a very detailed account as to the power—or lack of power, to be specific—the Secretary of Education and federal policy will have over Common Core.


Throughout the discussion, David P. Cleary, who serves as chief of staff for Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, offered clear answers regarding what ESSA requires of states in order for them to receive federal funding, as well as what the federal government is prohibited from doing.

 

Some of the major points include:

  • ESSA essentially maintains prior law with respect to the requirement that each state adopt challenging state academic standards. States must demonstrate that their standards are aligned to “entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State and relevant State career and technical education standards.” An important note, though, is ESSA explicitly prohibits the Secretary of Education from forcing states to either add or delete specific standards in Section 1111(e)(1)(B)(ii).
     

  • ESSA gets rid of incentives such as Race to the Top and also prohibits “any other method of coercing or incentivizing the adoption of Common Core standards or any particular set of standards deemed ‘acceptable’ by Washington bureaucrats.” However, schools receiving federal funds will still need to comply with ESSA standards.


While it is possible that some states may decide to get rid of Common Core without incentives to keep it, that will be each state's choice. In short, ESSA prohibits a federal mandate on state standards. The law clearly states the restrictions placed upon the Department of Education in determining the standards a state chooses or chooses not to implement:
 

No officer or employee of the Federal Government shall, through grants, contracts, or other cooperative agreements, mandate, direct, or control a State, local educational agency, or school’s specific instructional content, academic standards and assessments, curricula, or program of instruction developed and implemented to meet the requirements of this Act.

- Every Student Succeeds Act, Section 8526A

 

Could Trump enact a federal ban of Common Core?

Morgan Polikoff of the USC Rossier School of Education says there is “no possibility of a federal repeal of Common Core” since individual states hold the power over adopting the standards. Even those against Common Core think a repeal is something that just won’t happen. As the Cato Institute’s Neal McCluskey told NPR:


“Unless Trump tries to coerce states to dump the Core—make receipt of funds or regulatory relief dependent on ditching it—he can’t end the Core.”


Responding to the notion of a theoretical federal ban on Common Core, Polikoff demonstrated how the idea conflicts with the reduced role that the federal government plays in education, which has been touted by President Trump and other Republicans. In fact, Trump’s own campaign video stressed this point, stating that “education has to be at a local level” and that he will not have “bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.”


It is currently unclear what steps President Trump will take to make good on his promises and to appease his voters with regard to Common Core. It is very possible that he will use his position to persuade likeminded governors to get rid of the standards on their own. However, if the pledge to allow states to determine their own standards holds true, what will happen if they decide to stick with Common Core?


Only time will tell.

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