Trump’s Education Secretary Pick Is a Strong Supporter of Rigorous Education Standards


President-elect Donald Trump’s announcement that he will appoint Betsy DeVos, head of the American Federation for Children, to serve as Secretary of Education ignited a lot of speculation about whether Ms. DeVos supports Common Core State Standards.

A Breitbart News article calls DeVos “pro-Common Core,” yet other news outlets, like Newsday, claim she is a “declared convert against Common Core.” Meanwhile, the American Principles Project argues that DeVos’ selection “may be ignoring the concerns of the most populist movement American politics has seen since Reagan: the parents and teachers fighting Common Core.”

However, Ms. DeVos’ attitude towards the term “Common Core” doesn’t have a great deal of significance. Overwhelmingly, states have taken full control of their education standards. Most continue to tailor their learning goals to meet their students’ needs, which is exactly how the Common Core was designed.

The standards were always meant to set a rigorous baseline of student expectations which states and districts could continue to build on. In that regard, the initiative has achieved its purpose. A Harvard study notes: “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.”

Moreover, the Race to the Top program, which some criticized for incentivizing states to adopt higher standards, has ended. The Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces No Child Left Behind, prohibits the federal government from requiring states and districts to adopt any specific set of education standards.

Congressman John Kline, chairman of the House education committee, calls 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.”

The Washington Times reported recently, “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, the article adds, would be an “uphill climb.”

Nearly across the board, states have considered the evidence and redoubled their commitment to rigorous, comparable education standards. Most are now beginning to see rewards from that work; this year a majority of states made significant improvements in math and reading proficiency. Importantly, some of the biggest gains came among third-grade students, who have spent most of their academic careers learning to meet higher standards.

Ms. DeVos has made clear she supports rigorous academic expectations. She notes on her website, “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.

Her position aligns with parents, who strongly support high, comparable standards, no matter what labels are attached. Ms. DeVos’ appointment indicates it may finally be time to turn the page on petty arguments over the term “Common Core” and focus instead on preparing students for college and careers through rigorous education standards.

The Collaborative’s Executive Director Jim Cowen explains, it’s time to stop fighting about the words “Common Core.” The standards have achieved their purpose. States have implemented a high, consistent baseline of academic expectations. They continue to take ownership of those learning goals and make adjustments to meet their students’ needs. Most are now beginning to see student performance improve as a result. That is a big achievement for parents, teachers, and students. It would be a mistake for states to turn back.