What will Betsy DeVos’ confirmation as education secretary mean? Among other things, according to President Donald Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway, it means the president can move ahead with his campaign promise to repeal the Common Core State Standards. But that’s a problematic assertion.
Conway made the claim during a Tuesday interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper. Her remarks about the common core begin at around the 50-second mark:
“He wants to repeal common core. He doesn’t think that federal standards are better than local and parental control, for example,” Conway told Tapper.
As we’ve reported previously, states adopt content standards like the common core—the federal government doesn’t get to choose for them. Washington also didn’t write the common core. There was intense debate during President Barack Obama’s administration about whether Washington improperly coerced states into adopting the common core through programs like Race to the Top grants. But regardless of that debate, the president by himself doesn’t have the authority to scrap the standards with the stroke of a pen.
What about Congress? The Every Student Succeeds Act explicitly bars the education secretary from influencing states’ decisions about standards. So right now, neither Trump nor DeVos can bar states from using the common core. Absent a change to federal education law that bans the common core outright or in some way relaxes those prohibitions on the secretary (neither of those possibilities appears at all likely right now), their hands are tied.
DeVos promised to abide by those prohibitions on standards in ESSA in responses to question from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., before DeVos was confirmed Tuesday. But DeVos’ reply to Murray didn’t sit particularly well with Joy Pullmann, a managing editor at the Federalist website and a critic of the common core—Pullmann told us in an email that DeVos’ response was focused on compliance and wasn’t particularly creative.
“I do think there are a number of things a motivated education secretary and her team could do to address the intellectual monopoly ... her department helps create that helped fuel common core,” Pullman told us. Such new approaches could include promoting new accountability systems and teacher training methods, for example, Pullman said.
None of this is to say Trump and DeVos can’t use the bully pulpit to speak out against the common core. After all, political pressure has played a role in some states’ decisions to review and at least nominally replace the common core. Right now, we calculate that at least 37 states and the District of Columbia officially use the common core, although that’s a number open to reasonable debate.
Conway also indicated to Tapper that the Trump administration would be looking to expand school choice, charter schools, and home schooling. Trump pitched a $20 billion voucher plan on the campaign trail.
“Children should not be restricted in their educational opportunities just by their ZIP code,” Conway said.