by Maggie Gallagher
Last week, The Huffington Post noted that, absent a strong intervention by President Donald Trump himself, his team is taking a pretty lackadaisical attitude to Common Core so far:
During the campaign and in the weeks following his election, Trump’s pledge to end the Common Core, a set of education goals that has stirred controversy on both sides of the aisle, became a popular refrain, often greeted by thunderous applause. But since taking office, the president seems to have dropped the topic, anti-Common Core activists say.
I decided to check back in with Heather Crossin, one of the two pioneering Common Core activist moms I interviewed for National Review back in May 2013. Almost four years later — after the election of a new president who has promised to end Common Core, a Common Core brand that has become a serious political liability for members of both parties, and an alleged vote to remove Common Core from Indiana schools — how has the education landscape changed in her neck of the woods?
“Nothing has changed,” Heather Crossin told me. “Our schools are using the same Common Core textbooks and materials, and our state assessment is still aligned to Common Core.” Instead of ending Common Core and bringing back Indiana’s excellent state standards, legislators merely rebranded the effort. Meanwhile, student achievement in Indiana as measured by test scores is plunging.
She called Trump “a little slow out of the gate” on Common Core. “So far, the appointments he has made to the Department of Education are concerning, as many of them have a history of supporting Common Core and favor an active federal role in education. My hope is that he will become aware of this, make the necessary changes, and fulfill his campaign promises.”
I hope so, too. But what would that mean exactly, given that the push by the federal government to adopt Common Core has already happened, and the federal government doesn’t control states’ standards directly? Like many anti-Common Core activists, she sees Betsy DeVos’ appointment to head the Department of Education as problematic, given DeVos’ strong early support for Common Core and her mistaken assessment that Common Core has already been repealed. As The Huffington Post pointed out: “DeVos has indicated that she is essentially powerless over the issue, telling a Detroit radio host that a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, ‘essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core.'”
School choice advocates (including DeVos) still do not seem to deeply understand that federal control over the curriculum through standards and assessments obviates the prime benefits of choice in education. As Terri Sasseville, another Common Core mom/activist told The Huffington Post, “Unless we can get Common Core out of the school, school choice is going to change nothing but the location of where you can get your bad Common Core instruction.”
What can Trump do? Crossin says Trump can do several things to reassure voters like her who relied on his promise to end Common Core, including: appoint a deputy secretary whose opposition to Common Core is well-known, well-founded, and pre-dates wanting to be a Trump appointee; push legislation to remove the federal control over standards and assessments embedded in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) passed during the Obama years; and pursue new legislation protecting child and family privacy in any public school testing.
As American Principles Project’s president Frank Cannon put it: “I’d hate to see the Trump promise be really an obfuscation with the elimination of the words ‘Common Core’ without a true delegation to states and local government for the control of content.”
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore