Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Why Does Betsy DeVos Keep Making False Claims About Common Core?


Monday, in an appearance on Fox News, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos once again asserted that “[t]here isn’t really any Common Core anymore” and that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), passed last year by Congress and signed by an enthusiastic President Obama, “essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core.” You can watch DeVos’ full interview below:

BILL HEMMER: When it comes to Common Core, will the administration withhold funds for states that pursue Common Core education, in order to get them to change their mind?

DEVOS: Well as you probably know, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is in the process of being implemented now, essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core, and it leaves up to the states and empowers the states to be able to make decisions on the behalf of their students that is going to be right for that state. We are in the process of receiving their plans now, and I’m very hopeful that many states will be setting – in fact all of the states – will be setting high expectations and aspirations for their students.

HEMMER: Well just to put a fine point out, I know what your position is on Common Core and I heard what the president said during the campaign. Will you make a move to cut off funds if the state pursues it, Common Core?

DEVOS: Well, there really isn’t any Common Core anymore, and 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 to be able to ascertain what is right for that state. We hope that all of them will have very high expectations.

This isn’t the first time DeVos has made such a statement. In a radio interview last month, she argued that the “notion of a Common Core” has been done away with by ESSA.

There’s just one problem: she’s wrong.

As standards expert and former US Department of Education official Ze’ev Wurman commented:

Well, unfortunately Secretary DeVos is misleading, intentionally or not.

ESSA requires “State academic standards [that] arealigned with entrance requirements for credit-bearingcoursework in the system of public higher educationin the State and relevant State career and technicaleducation standards.”

This is a double-speak for Common Core. Neither Race to the Top, nor NCLB Flex waivers, ever required “Common Core.” Instead, they always used a similar stand-in of “Career- and College-Ready standards.”

The catch was that Common Core qualified AUTOMATICALLY and without any validation eve. And it still does! Anything else except Common Core necessitates states to jump through hoops.

Secretary DeVos is misleading.

As Shane Vander Hart summarized at Truth in American Education, ESSA requires states to submit, for USED approval, plans that include the “challenging” academic standards described above by Wurman.

Under ESSA and its precursor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), a state is required to submit a “state plan” to the Secretary detailing how it will meet the requirements of the Act.  If the state meets the requirements of the statute, the Secretary must approve the state plan. If it does not, she can disapprove it.

However, President Obama’s ESSA bill made a critical change to NCLB’s requirements for standards in the state plan. The NCLB language simply stated that a state had to provide a simple “assurance” in the state plan that it had adopted “challenging” standards. This assurance could be easily made by, for example, submitting a copy of the minutes of the State Board of Education meeting. Under NCLB, the Secretary could not require the state to change its standards as a condition of approving the state plan. In contrast, ESSA includes a new provision requiring a state to “demonstrate” to the Secretary in its state plan that it has adopted such “challenging State academic standards”:

Sec. 1111(b)(1)(D)(i): IN GENERAL.—Each State shall demonstrate that the challenging State academic standards are aligned with entrance requirements for credit-bearing coursework in the system of public higher education in the State and relevant State career and technical education standards.

If it is judged by the Secretary that the state has not demonstrated this alignment, she can disapprove the state plan. In this regard, Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary for communications and outreach in the US Department of Education during President Obama’s first term said the following:

There was an incentive to adopt “college- and career-ready” standards in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant program and some conservative pundits and politicians viewed this incentive as “coercive.” But it wasn’t a mandate. It was voluntary and 46 states and D.C. leaped at the opportunity to compete for those dollars by adopting higher standards.

Ironically, the Every Student Succeeds Act, now mandates the very thing he rails against. Under the new law, every state must adopt “college- and career-ready” standards. Thus, the new law all but guarantees that Common Core State Standards—or a reasonable imitation under a different name—will likely remain in place in most states.

At this point the Department should issue guidance as to its present interpretation of this alignment requirement.  It’s all the more important because, under the Obama Administration, many states that repealed Common Core succumbed to Department pressure to rebrand the standards by making cosmetic changes — changes that wouldn’t even fool a fourth grader.

Indiana, for example, slapped a new name on Common Core and then argued that they no longer had it. And they did all that with a straight face even though their schools still used Common Core-aligned textbooks and standardized tests. It’s a bit like re-writing the Ten Commandments and substituting “thou” for “you” and then calling them the Hoosier Commandments.

If this is what Secretary DeVos means when she says ESSA “does away with the whole argument about Common Core,” parents are not buying it.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Emmett McGroarty

Emmett McGroarty is the director of APP Education.

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