Have States Locked Students into ‘Inferior Education’ through Higher Standards? Quite the Opposite, Actually


In a Town Hall opinion piece critical of Betsy DeVos’ selection to serve as Secretary of Education, Jane Robbins claims that states’ commitment to high, comparable standards has locked children “into an inferior education.”

DeVos “should admit her error and commit herself to work vigorously to fulfill Trump’s promise to restore local control and end federal ties that bind states to Common Core,’ Robbins argues.

Robbins’ claim that high, comparable standards somehow deliver “inferior education” runs counter to the success states are beginning to achieve.

Most states administered assessments aligned to higher standards for the second consecutive year this spring. A majority made significant improvements in student proficiency in math and reading. Some of the biggest gains were made by third-graders, who have spent nearly all of the academic careers learning to higher standards.

“These results send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests,” explains Hanna Skandera, New Mexico’s secretary of education.

States have redoubled their commitment to rigorous, comparable education standards. Oklahoma is the only state to replace its learning goals with a set of demonstrably different criteria. An independent analysis of its new standards finds that they fall short on “nearly all” criteria and “will disadvantage Oklahoma students…to successfully enter college and careers.”

Meanwhile, most states continue to raise academic expectations. A Harvard study this year concludes, “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.”

Robbins’ contention that the Trump administration should “restore local control” and “end federal ties” is a moot point. States are in no way bound to any set of education standards, and, in fact, the Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to take full control over their standards and accountability systems.

Congressman John Kline, head of the House education committee, called the ESSA a “huge win for conservatives.” He explains, “The federal government should not be able to tell states what standards they can or cannot adopt. If states want to use Common Core, it is not the place of the federal government to tell them they cannot do that.”

Most objective reporters point out that the president has little control over the standards state choose to use. “Common Core was never a program of the federal government,” the Daily Caller reported in March. “It’s not possible for Trump, as president, to repeal or otherwise get rid of it, because there’s nothing to repeal.”

The Washington Times reports, “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.”

In fact, as we have noted several times before, the only way the new administration could prohibit states from using a certain set of education standards is by executive action – which would run counter to Mr. Trump’s pledge to restore more state and local control and to the intent of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

States have adopted higher standards and they continue to build on that more rigorous baseline to ensure their students’ needs are met. Now, most are beginning to see student performance improve.

“It’s time to stop fighting about the words ‘Common Core’ and move forward,” writes Jim Cowen. “No matter what label policymakers attach to them, parents and educators support rigorous, consistent education standards that fully prepare students for the challenges of college and to compete in a global economy.”

Ms. DeVos seems to understand that reality. She articulated last month, “I do support high standards, strong accountability, and local control…I believe every child, no matter their zip code or their parents’ jobs, deserves access to a quality education.”