Calls for President-Elect Trump to End Rigorous, Comparable Education Standards Are a Moot Point


Among the items President-elect Donald Trump has signaled he wants to accomplish in his first 100 days in office is to “end Common Core,” an analysis by the New York Times notes. The piece acknowledges that the move would require support from Congress, and “it is unclear how Congress would get rid of Common Core when the federal government did not create it.”

An “action plan” by the Heartland Institute encourages President-elect Trump to end “the national government’s endorsement of Common Core State Standards by ending government support of the failed experiment and de-linking federal funding currently attached to it.”

As we have written before, however, calls for the next president to end rigorous and comparable education standards are hollow. Congress already prohibited the federal government from incentivizing or pressuring states to adopt education standards or accountability systems through the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Congressman John Kline, head of the House education committee, calls the ESSA a “huge win for conservatives.” He points out, “The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt.”

Likewise, the Race to the Top program has ended, so there are no incentives for states to use a specific set of education standards – Common Core or otherwise.

As the New York Times alludes to, the president has little control over states’ learning goals. That’s because education standards are determined and implemented by state and local leaders. There are no federal mandates requiring states to adopt education standards, and the Every Student Succeeds Act ensures the Department of Education can’t change that.

To that point, the Washington Times reported this month, “Supporters and critics alike agree the incoming president has little, if any, power over the education standards that are already in place across the vast majority of states…Making good on his campaign promise to get rid of the standards…would depend almost entirely on Mr. Trump using his bully pulpit to convince states to dump Common Core” – which would be an “uphill climb.”

In fact, President-elect Trump could only force states to replace their standards through executive fiat or federal incentives, which are the very criticisms many have in the first place. It would require usurping states’ decision-making powers, which runs counter to the intent of the ESSA and President-elect Trump’s own positions.

States have demonstrated a commitment to rigorous, comparable education standards, and most are now beginning to see the rewards of their work to raise academic expectations. This year a majority of states made significant gains in student proficiency in math and reading. Some of the biggest improvements were made by third-grade students, who have spent most of the academic careers learning to meet higher standards.

As Jim Cowen wrote before, it’s time to stop fighting about the words “Common Core.” The initiative has achieved its purpose. States have implemented a high, consistent baseline of academic expectations. And they continue to take ownership of their standards and tailor them to their students’ needs, which is exactly how they were designed.

A Harvard study observes, “In short, the Common Core consortium has achieved one of its key policy objectives: the raising of state proficiency standards throughout much of the United States.”

We agree with those who believe education should be handled at the state and local levels. But that should not serve as an excuse for policymakers to lower the bar for students or to return to old models of education. New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera explains:

“Under ESSA, states have been given broad new authority over the steps they take to produce better outcomes. [The improvements states are making] send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests.”