Secretary DeVos and States Move Past the Politicized Debate over Standards

On February 16, 2017, Jim Cowen, Executive Director of the Collaborative for Student Success, released the following memo in response to recent comments made by U.S. Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, on what the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) means for the Common Core State Standards:

During his campaign, we heard President Trump vow to “repeal Common Core” over and over again.

As recently as last week, Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway reiterated this commitment.

But this week, Secretary DeVos clarified her position on Common Core – and made it clear that she’s moving past the unnecessarily politicized debate.  

In a radio interview, DeVos noted that the Every Student Succeeds Act, “really does give the states and local districts a whole lot more flexibility and a lot more control over how they deliver education.” She noted that it “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core,” and that the Department of Education will “encourage everyone to shoot for excellence with high expectations.”

With these statements, Secretary DeVos joins the chorus of other conservatives who have reinforced the importance of local control.

ESSA Puts States Back in Charge

 The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) forbids Washington from either encouraging or discouraging states to adopt specific learning goals or assessments. In fact, the law requires states to develop plans to show full ownership of their standards and accountability systems. (It’s worth noting here that the federal government taking steps to “repeal Common Core” would be in direct violation of this law and would actually constitute the kind of federal overreach that Trump has maligned.)

And conservatives agree. Congressman John Kline, former chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, called the law a “huge win for conservatives.” When asked whether the law should put to rest claims of federal involvement in states’ decisions to use the Common Core, he added: “That is exactly correct… 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.” 

States are Moving Past the Politicized Debate

As I’ve written before, states have redoubled their commitment to rigorous and comparable education standards. Many have and continue to make adjustments to meet students’ needs — which is exactly what was intended. The standards were always meant to set a floor, not a ceiling, on which states could review and build on further. And that’s what most have done.

States are also moving on from any further divisive debates over labels. Instead, they are focusing on raising classroom expectations even higher to prepare young people for the demands of college and careers. A new survey of school superintendents from states where high, consistent standards have been implemented shows almost half of them believe that new assessments are doing a better job measuring higher-order analytical and performance skills of students. In addition, 60 percent of district leaders said that most district officials they worked with supported the standards.  Any efforts now to change standards again would be a detriment to students and teachers who have spent the last few years learning, growing and adjusting to the standards they have in place.

As a result of their commitment, states are beginning to see the fruits of that work, as student mastery of critical subject matter is beginning to improve in a measurable way. While there are numerous factors that affect student scores, the 2016 assessments suggest that the promise of higher academic standards is working.

To usurp the powers of the states by attempting to strip them of the academic standards that they have chosen for their students would be in direct contradiction with local control. We must let states continue to move in the right direction for students by implementing high standards.