Donald Trump is wrong about the Common Core State Standards — but, to be fair, he’s not the only candidate running for president who is.
Repeatedly — in debates and speeches — the Republican presidential candidate has said that “we are going into get rid of Common Core,” sometimes in response to questions about how he is going to cut federal spending. During Thursday’s GOP debate, he linked that Core statement with one about eliminating the U.S. Education Department as a cost-cutting measure, and in a recent Trump ad, he said:
“I’m a tremendous believer in education. But education has to be at a local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education. So Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue. We are rated 28th in the world, the United States. Think of it, 28th in the world. And frankly, we spend far more per pupil than any other country in the world. By far. It’s not even a close second.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz (R), another candidate, has said repeatedly that he, as president, would get rid of Common Core. To be exact, he said:
“If I’m elected president, I will direct the U.S. Department of Education — which should be abolished — I will direct the Department of Education that Common Core ends today. Instead, I will restore power back to the states and to the local governments and ultimately back to the parents — those closest to our kids who have direct responsibility for raising our children, each and every one of us moms and dads.”
Candidate Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) website says:
On Day One, Marco will issue an executive order directing federal agencies to stop any and all activity related to implementing or encouraging Common Core. . . . He will ensure no federal education funding is tied to mandates and prohibit the federal government from forcing states or local districts to adhere to principles or interfere in local education.
This is under a headline that says, “Let’s Stop Common Core and Send Education Decisions Back to the Local Level.”
So what’s wrong with all of that?
Well, if students in any state are being taught the Common Core State Standards, it is because their state legislatures approved it — and at one point, nearly all states had done so. Yes, the Obama administration coerced states to do it by dangling federal funds as well as waivers from the No Child Left Behind law. There is no question about that. But the legislatures could have refused. Some states have repealed the Core, but in many of those cases, similar standards were chosen to replace them.
No president can force the states to end Common Core.
Furthermore, the notion that education decisions need to be pushed down to the local level is something of a moot argument, as my colleague Lyndsey Layton wrote here. For years the Obama administration was accused by critics of micromanaging local education decisions, and its education policies sparked a national protest movement against standardized testing and fueled opposition to the Common Core. Late last year, Congress, after eight years of failing to rewrite the federal K-12 education law, No Child Left Behind, as it was supposed to, finally got it together to pass a replacement law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, which sends a lot of education policy-making power back to states and districts.
In other words, Congress has already done what the candidates say they would do if they become president.
Among the four surviving GOP candidates running for their party’s presidential nomination, only Ohio Gov. John Kasich hasn’t said he would get rid of Common Core, which is the set of standards used in Ohio public schools. Ohio did last year pull out of the PARCC Common Core testing consortium, but the standards themselves remain.
Kasich has in the past expressed support for the Core, though while on the campaign trail has seemed to be avoiding actually using the words “Common Core.” In February last year, he called Core opposition nothing more than a “a runaway Internet campaign.”
At one point earlier in the campaign season, when the GOP race was clogged with candidates, only two of them didn’t promise to eliminate the Core — Kasich and former Florida governor Jeb Bush.
Incidentally, Trump’s statement above about the Core has some other inaccuracies. He said the United States is “rated 28th in the world,” but didn’t say exactly by whom, and Trump has actually thrown out different ratings — 26th and 27th — at various points, as a Post colleague notes here. He is presumably talking about international PISA tests that show U.S. students ranking no better than average among major countries around the world — but what he didn’t mention is that the United States has never done well on these tests, even way back when when the country was, as he has said, “great.” It is worth noting that officials in Shanghai, whose education system is No. 1 on PISA, have considered dropping out of the testing program because they want to deemphasize standardized tests, homework and rote learning that has long characterized Chinese education.
And the United States doesn’t spend more on education than any other country, just for the record. A few other countries spend more, but the comparisons are questionable. In most other countries, education funds are more equitably distributed than in the United States, where much of education spending is determined by property taxes. Poorer schools get less money, which is pretty much the opposite of what makes sense.
As for the two Democratic candidates vying for their party’s presidential nomination, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton has expressed support for the Core initiative. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has neither come out in support of or against the Core, but he did, in early 2015, vote against an anti-Common Core amendment that would “prohibit the federal government from ‘mandating, incentivizing, or coercing’ states into adopting Common Core or any other standards,” according to the feelthebern.com website.
One of the unfortunate truths about the current political campaign is that education has been largely ignored in all of the debates — Republican and Democratic — not only by the candidates but by the moderators. So much for education being such an important topic.