U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos seems to be indicating that, as far as she’s concerned, the Common Core State Standards aren’t really a big point of discussion in education any longer. But how did she express that idea, and does it hold up to scrutiny?
During a Fox News interview Monday, anchor Bill Hemmer asked DeVos whether the U.S. Department of Education would withhold federal money from states that use the standards.
“The Every Students Succeeds Act ... essentially does away with the whole argument about common core,” DeVos responded, adding that the law gives states more flexibility in education policy decisions. She added that she hoped all states in their ESSA plans would include high expectations for students.
But Hemmer pressed her again on the question about withholding federal funds over the common core. DeVos replied, “There isn’t really any common core any more. Each state is able to set the standards for their state. They may elect to adopt very high standards for their students to aspire to and to work toward. And that will be up to each state.”
You can watch the full clip of DeVos’ interview with Hemmer below; her remarks about the common core begin at about the 2-minute, 12-second mark:
In the first part of her answer about the standards, DeVos appeared to be saying that the common-core debate has died down because ESSA leaves decisions about standards up to states. This was true even before ESSA, which was passed in late 2015. However, ESSA’s language made it clear that the education secretary can’t try to influence states’ decisions about which standards to use. This part of ESSA was a reaction to her predecessor, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who incentivized (but did not require) states to adopt the common core during the Obama administration. So some common-core watchers might agree with DeVos that ESSA has helped defuse arguments about the standards.
Her response to Hemmer’s follow-up question, that “there isn’t really any common core any more,” doesn’t match information we published late last year showing that at least 37 states used the common core at the time—others might put that number a little lower or higher. While the number of states officially using the standards has dropped over the past half-dozen years, and many states have abandoned aligned tests developed by state consortia, the standards are still used in many states.
President Donald Trump has said repeatedly he wants to end the common core. But that would require a change in federal law. And by our calculation, what Hemmer asked DeVos about would involve withholding money from the majority of states, something that ESSA would seem to prohibit.
In her interview with Hemmer, DeVos praised the schools she recently visisted in Van Wert, Ohio, saying, “They’re meeting the needs of those students very well.” Devos also said “many students are doing well” in the country’s educational system and are prepared for a changing economy, but that others are struggling. And addressing past comments about the need for innovation in education, DeVos said she would continue to support “empowering parents to make the decisions that are best for their children.”
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