Last month Fred Barnes at The Weekly Standard asserted that “Trump’s omission of Common Core from his [post-election] speeches has raised the question of whether abolishing it remains part of his agenda.” Tuesday, however, Trump told a gathering of CEOs in New York: “Common Core — I mean, we have to bring education more local. We can’t be managing education from Washington.”
When I go out to Iowa, when I go out to the different states and I talk, they want to run their school programs locally, and they’ll do a much better job than somebody — and look, these are some very good people in Washington, but you also have bureaucrats that make a lot of money and don’t really care that much about what they’re doing or about the community that they have never seen and they’ll never meet, and they never will see.
And I like the fact of getting rid of — Common Core to me is — we have to end it. We have to bring education local. To me, I’ve always said it, I’ve been saying it during the campaign. And we’re doing it. Betsy DeVos is — she’s doing a terrific job, highly respected, tremendous track record. But she’s got one of the toughest jobs of any of our secretaries (emphasis added)…
It seems Trump hasn’t forgotten Common Core. It’s likely efforts by the grassroots moms and dads who have fought Common Core for five years to get his attention helped re-insert that talking point.
— Shane Vander Hart (@shanevanderhart) April 5, 2017
“People were so hopeful, and then all of a sudden it’s like, business as usual,” American Principles Project attorney Jane Robbins told the Huffington Post in March about Common Core voters’ concerns Trump had forgotten them. “It’s a very deflating kind of feeling. But one thing I know about the Common Core grassroots is they don’t give up. Even when things look bad, they ramp it up.”
Since Trump’s election this loose coalition of parents, teachers, and ground-level Republicans has taken to Twitter and other platforms such as political rallies and raising the issue with elected officials, hoping Trump will come through for them on his many campaign pledges to “end Common Core.”
— Elizabeth Lankford ن (@ECLankford) April 4, 2017
— judy o'hare (@Judy_OHare) March 25, 2017
— Lynne Taylor (@Commoncorediva) March 21, 2017
I’ve been among those nervous at what’s to come out of the U.S. Department of Education. I view education as key to keeping the American Dream alive. Not the modern substitute dream of amassing more stuff than previous generations did, but the dream for good government and human happiness found in the Northwest Ordinance, the only of the nation’s four organic documents to mention education: “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
The purpose of public education in America is to sustain our unique system of self-government. Anything that does not serve this purpose has no place in public systems of education. Public education is to serve the public good, which our nation’s investing documents define as securing our natural rights so we can be free to pursue happiness. Common Core is diametrically opposed to this public purpose for public education. It has nothing to say about the public good or citizenship or self-government. Its goals are narrower, and self-centered: “college- and career-readiness.” This sounds attractive but is in fact subversive, which is why Common Core has crashed and burned in classrooms across the country.
Not everyone who opposes or feels uneasy about Common Core understands these underlying realities, but I believe they are the true substance behind concerns many, including Donald Trump, are unable to articulate well. It doesn’t feel right to Americans because it is not American. At its core it is Marxist, because it rests upon the anti-American idea that people are not endowed with inalienable rights given by a creator but assumes that some are born to govern and others are born to be ruled without their consent, and therefore helps create an education system that feeds into a managed economy.
Although Little Has Happened Yet, Some Is Good
President Trump and his team cannot entirely dismantle Common Core without adopting Common Core’s anti-consent methods of imposing decisions on individuals who have the right to instead make those decisions themselves. But the federal Department of Education can pull many of the keystones that hold Common Core together so that it crashes more quickly under its own weight. There have been a few false starts and remain some concerns about whether USDOE under Trump’s Education Secretary Betsy DeVos will indeed accomplish this. Of late, however, there have been some encouraging breadcrumbs, including Trump’s speech.
For one: Thanks to the Congressional Review Act, Trump was able to reel in Obama-era regulations on the new federal education law that allowed the feds to dictate how teachers should be trained, not only a violation of self-government but also just not consistent with research. We do not have good research that reinforces a suite of effective teaching techniques. So why waste teachers’ time and taxpayers’ money on consultants who can’t back up their recommendations with evidence? Let local instructional leaders determine their own teacher training. It’s none of the feds’ business anyway, and making it so greases the skids for nationalization plans like Common Core co-opting local decisions.
Another was dropping the appointment of a staunchly pro-Common Core state superintendent to a key USDOE post. There are lots of things to like about Hanna Skandera, but she is simply not a good fit for the policy priorities Trump has sold to Americans as part of his political package. And Jeb Bush staffers are already filling USDOE positions. While Bush was a strong early supporter of school choice for what is now one of the nation’s highest-enrollment programs in Florida, he’s also a managerial progressive and has remained one of Common Core’s biggest boosters despite its public collapse. Some ideological diversity in a Trump USDOE would be fitting.
— Truth in American Ed (@TruthinAmEd) March 23, 2017
Since her confirmation, I’ve read some just flat-out uninformed statements from DeVos, which are worrisome. For example, a big one was telling a Michigan outlet that the No Child Left Behind replacement law, 2016’s Every Student Succeeds Act, “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core,” when in fact that law gives USDOE great powers to reinforce Common Core or any similar system of curriculum mandates and tests.
Yet this is not a criticize Betsy DeVos post. The poor lady already gets enough bad press, and thanks largely to the hatred of teachers unions has perhaps the highest public opinion negatives of any cabinet member — striking especially for a feel-good position like education secretary. No, I come not to bury DeVos, but to praise her.
Right’s School Choice Thinking Is Starting to Align
She met on March 20 with a low-profile national advocacy group for private schools, and her remarks were stunningly good. Either she hired a new speechwriter or she’s been hitting the books hard (or the media reports about her are not very accurate). Regarding the $1.6 billion for school choice in Trump’s 2018 dream budget, the Council on American Private Education newsletter says, DeVos said “she doesn’t want the federal government to dictate to states whether or how to create a school choice program.” Yes, please, and thank you.
“Secretary DeVos indicated that there are multiple paths to productive adulthood besides a four-year college and that a policy strategy addressing lifelong learning might be appropriate for an era in which individuals change their pursuits and careers with greater frequency,” the newsletter continues. “She said the upcoming conversation about the reauthorization of higher education offers an opportunity to look at new ways to meet the needs of young people in light of new realities.”
That sounds very promising. Federal higher education subsidies are harming the quality of education and locking kids into postsecondary pursuits not fitted for everyone.
A week after this meeting, DeVos participated in an education panel at the left-leaning Brookings Institution. There, she rightly yet courteously tarred the Obama administration’s expense of billions on so-called “School Improvement Grants” that the evidence showed before, during, and after the expenditures does not actually improve schools.
There was also this: “state and local leaders are best equipped to address the unique challenges and opportunities they face, not the federal government. Locally driven innovation and customization are far more likely to generate meaningful results than are top-down mandates.” Yes, ma’am! This is an alignment with what a coalition of conservative education analysts discussed recently at the Heritage Foundation:
Total private spending on K-12 education,[Rick] Hess said, equals about $50 billion to $60 billion annually. Adding $20 billion more, Hess said, could replace much of parents’ spending, giving the federal government a 30% market share in the sector.
‘This is going to have enormous effects on private schools,’ Hess said, ‘because it’s going to distort the marketplace.’
To become eligible for the funding, he said, schools will likely do whatever it takes. With Republicans in the White House and in control of Congress, regulations would likely remain minimal for now. But he asked what happens ‘when you get a Democratic administration, an Elizabeth Warren administration, and they decide that eligible schools … need to have anti-bullying programs and other accommodations? We will very quickly wind up and wonder, ‘What were we thinking?’
This is why I’ve been extremely nervous about having a choice-friendly presidential administration. Republicans at the federal level like to love good ideas to death. They often think that just because something is good they should do it, when very often assuming responsibilities at the federal level eviscerates the very responsibility-taking at the local level that makes an idea work well.
The House, at least, seems to have a good woman at the education helm: “The federal government has wrapped itself around many issues—healthcare and education. What we’re trying to do is unwind that involvement and that control. That’s going to take a while. It’s difficult to do,” House Chair of the Education and Workforce Committee Virginia Foxx told CAPE.
House ed chairwoman @virginiafoxx rightly tells private schools that states are where the choice action is, feds need to get out of the way.
— Joy Pullmann (@JoyPullmann) April 4, 2017
Now, look, President Trump’s priority is probably not education. His priorities are obviously tax reform and Obamacare, and for better or worse those are eating up all the steam in Congress, especially since Republicans are content to lie to themselves that ESSA is a good placeholder for NCLB. It’s not really appropriate for presidents and the executive branch to be deciding what kids learn or how, so there’s some rightness to this.
But there is also the fact that, whether it’s effective or proper or not, the federal government does have way too much power over what kids learn, and if conservatives do not get at least a large reduction in the federal role in education during Trump’s tenure and a Republican majority in Congress, it will be not only a major missed opportunity but very likely a threat to the health of the American Dream.
The present difficulties of Americans and their representatives to even comprehend what self-governance means or why they ought to do it is a threat to the American way of life, and a federally bloated education bureacracy left unslain will only increase that difficulty. Big government feeds garbage education like Common Core, and garbage education like Common Core feeds big government. This cycle needs to end, and as quickly as possible.