U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has not said much about Common Core since being confirmed, and what she has said has been entirely incorrect.
In February DeVos told Frank Beckmann on Detroit’s WJR News Talk 760 AM Wednesday that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core.” She also said that ESSA “encourages states to set forth their own levels of achievement expectation.”
During that same interview, she also said the approval of state plans is a “good and important role for the federal government.” She was wrong then, and she was wrong again Monday in an interview on Fox News with Bill Hemmer.
Here’s the relevant transcript:
Bill Hemmer: “When it comes to Common Core, will the Administration withhold funds from states that pursue Common Core education in order to get them to change their mind?”
Betsy DeVos: “Well as you probably know Every Student Succeeds Act, which is in the process of being implemented, essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core, and it leads up to the states and empowers the states to be able to make decisions on 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 am very hopeful that many states, in fact, all of the states, will be setting very high expectations and aspirations for their students.”
Hemmer: “Just to put a fine point on it, 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 a 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 student to aspire to and work toward, and that will be up to each state to ascertain what is right for that state. We hope that all of them will have very high expectations.”
First, she has misguided faith in what the Every Student Succeeds Act accomplishes. ESSA offers all sorts of dog whistles to indicate Common Core or Common Core-aligned standards are the expectation.
The Every Student Succeeds Act requires the alignment of state standards, assessments, and accountability systems to the Common Core. While it does not explicitly say “Common Core” within the law, ESSA does use the “college-and-career-ready” lingo employed by Common Core advocates.
Also, if the Secretary of Education claims that any part of the plan submitted by the state fails to fulfill the requirements of the Act – that is, that in her opinion, it fails “to [prepare students to] graduate from high school prepared for postsecondary education and the workforce without remediation” – the Secretary can deny the state plan. This new authority for the Secretary of Education is an action that DeVos said in February was an appropriate role for the Department.
States will be pressured into keeping the Common Core rather than risk having their plans disapproved for using different standards or aligned assessments which are what we’ve primarily seen leading up to state’s submitting their accountability plans.
Second, the notion that “there really isn’t any Common Core anymore” is blatantly false. Most states have retained Common Core, and states that have implemented some review have only just tweaked the standards and rebranded them.
Third, she is right that states are free to apply their own standards. The same was true under former U.S. Secretaries of Education Arne Duncan and John King. States in 2010 faced fiscal uncertainty that led many of them to adopt Common Core in order to be eligible for a Race to the Top grant. Now they face regulatory uncertainty as to whether or not DeVos will approve state accountability plans that use different standards.
She mentioned twice her desire that states will be setting “very high standards.” If I were Bill Hemmer I would have followed up to ask “what do those standards look like and do you consider Common Core to be high standards?”
By using the same “high standards and expectations” lingo, she sends a message to maintain status quo.
Fourth, the answer to Bill Hemmer’s question should be “no.” Using the federal power of the purse strings to compel states to adopt education policy favored by the Administration would be wrong. It was wrong when the Obama Administration used the Race to the Top program to force states to adopt Common Core. It will be a mistake to threaten federal funding to compel states to repeal Common Core. I want to see a decrease in the federal government’s reach into K-12 education, respecting a state’s responsibility and authority in education also means recognizing that state has the right to keep standards we dislike.
President Trump’s campaign promise to “end Common Core” was a misguided one as only states can get rid of it. What his administration can do is get out of their way. The best way for DeVos to signal her willingness to do this is to act as a rubber stamp for state accountability plans and send a clear message that states who repeal Common Core can expect that decision not to have any bearing on her decision.
Then Congress needs to repeal ESSA and allow real local control in education, not just give lip service to it.
DeVos can lead the way, but at the moment she just appears to be willing to channel Jeb Bush’s doublespeak on Common Core.