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Trump and Potential Education Secretaries Talked Choice, Common Core

By Alyson Klein — November 21, 2016 2 min read
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President-elect Donald Trump Saturday met with two education leaders rumored to be under consideration to serve as his education secretary Saturday: former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and Betsy DeVos, the chairwoman of the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy group.

So what did they talk about? According to a statement from the transition team Trump and Rhee, “enjoyed an in-depth discussion about the future of education in our country. This included the possibility of increasing competition through charter and choice schools. They also brought up the idea of merit pay for teachers going above and beyond in their classrooms.”

Meanwhile, the conversation with DeVos, a former Michigan Republican Party chairwoman and GOP donor, was “focused on the Common Core mission, and setting higher national standards and promoting the growth of school choice across the nation,” the transition team said.

It’s unclear if Rhee, whose husband, Kevin Johnson, is the outgoing Democratic mayor of Sacramento, would serve in a Trump administration. Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that supports ideas like merit pay and charters, has urged Democrats not to work for the president-elect because his campaign rhetoric gave “both tacit and express endorsement to a dangerous set of racial, ethnic, religious, and gender stereotypes that assault the basic dignity of children, causing incalculable harm not only to their sense of self but to also to their sense of belonging as accepted members of school communities and neighborhoods.”

Johnson also attended the meeting, but it was unclear if he is under consideration for a gig, giving his views, or just along for the ride.

And as recently as 2013 Rhee wrote an editorial in Politico supporting the Common Core State Standards, which Trump has said he wants to end. (In order to do that, he’d have to reopen the Every Student Succeeds Act.) Rhee’s selection as education secretary may not sit well with some conservative parent activists who sent a letter to Trump asking him to pick a common-core foe as his secretary last week.

The American Federation for Children, the group where DeVos is chairwoman, promotes choice, including vouchers and tax-credit scholarships. She’s also a member of the board of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, started by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a fan of the common core.

In fact, DeVos has also championed some ideas closely associated with Bush, including A through F grading systems. In fact, back in 2013, she wrote this editorial with former New York chancellor Joel Klein promoting them. A-F accountability models were popular back in 2013, but some states have begun to back away from them.

And others have chaffed at a requirement in the Obama administration’s ESSA accountability regulations that calls for schools to be given an overall “summative rating” such as a letter grade.

[UPDATE (Nov. 21): Trump has narrowed down his search to either Rhee or DeVos, according to this BuzzFeed story.]

Photos from top: President-elect Donald Trump shakes hands with Michelle Rhee, a former chancellor of Washington, D.C., schools, and her husband, former NBA basketball player Kevin Johnson, left, as they leave Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., on Nov. 19. (Carolyn Kaster/AP); President-elect Donald Trump calls out to the media as he and Betsy DeVos pose for photographs at Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J., after meeting on Nov. 19. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

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