President Donald Trump announced that he signed an executive order directing U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to conduct a study to “determine where the federal government has unlawfully overstepped on state and local control,” a White House official said. The executive order is “intended to return authority to where Congress intended—state and local entities.”
One such report is unlikely to have a dramatic impact on K-12 education policy. But the directive is a way for the Trump administration to make it clear it supports local control of schools.
“For too long, the federal government has imposed its will on state and local governments. The result has been education that spends more and achieves far, far, far less,” Trump said in remarks about the executive order Wednesday before signing it. “My administration has been working to reverse this federal power grab.”
In response to the executive order, a task force at the department, led by Robert Eitel, a senior adviser to the secretary, will take a hard look at all of the K-12 regulations put out by the past administration and decide which step on local control, Rob Goad, a senior U.S. Department of Education aide, said. After 300 days, the department will release a report on its findings.
“Parents will no longer have to worry about being required to adopt a curriculum,” Goad said on a conference call with reporters. (The federal government is already prohibited from telling states or districts which curriculum to use.)
Jeanne Allen, the founder and CEO of the Center for Education Reform, praised the executive order, saying in a statement, “The process will also allow the public to learn just how much oversight occurs as a result of bureaucracy, not law, and pave the way for all schools to focus on outcomes, not compliance.”
To be sure, DeVos doesn’t need an executive order—or a task force—to strike down regulations or rescind guidance put out by previous administrations. She can already delay or decline to enforce regulations, or change guidance.
The executive order also seems to be a not-so-veiled shot at the Obama administration, which used $4 billion in Race to the Top funding to entice states to adopt the Common Core State Standards, teacher evaluations using test scores, and more. President Barack Obama’s education department also offered states waivers from many mandates of the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, in exchange for adopting other policies, such as using dramatic strategies to turnaround low-performing schools.
The Every Student Succeeds Act, the law Obama signed in 2015 to replace NCLB, is designed to reduce the federal role in K-12 in part by prohibiting the education secretary from using money or flexibility to influence states’ standards, teacher evaluations, and school turnaround strategies. In fact, because of ESSA, Trump can’t fulfill his campaign promise to get rid of the Common Core State Standards, which remain in place in more than 35 states and the District of Columbia.
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten highlighted ESSA in her statement criticizing the executive order, saying the law already addressed the concerns the administration is raising. “Rather than another executive order, perhaps the president and DeVos need to read the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, as well as laws covering the civil rights and privacy of students, and then listen to stakeholders, including educators and parents,” Weingarten said.
On Monday during an appearance on Fox News, DeVos shared her own views about where the common core stands.
Andrew Ujifusa, Assistant Editor contributed to this article.