At a CEO town hall on April 4, President Trump said the state of education is "sad" and that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has one of the toughest jobs of anyone in his cabinet. (The Washington Post)

President Trump was asked Tuesday about his education priorities and how he would address “the disconnect” between skills that companies are looking for and what young people entering the workforce are able to offer. This is what he said:

  • “If you look at so many elements of education, and it is so sad to see what is coming, happening in the country.”
  • He really likes charter schools and doesn’t think they are “an experiment” anymore.
  • The Common Core State Standards has “to end” because “we have to bring education local.”
  • Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is “doing a terrific job,” is “highly respected” and has “a tremendous track record.”

At the town hall event in Washington, Catherine Engelbert, chief executive of Deloitte, asked him about his priorities “around education” and around “the work of the future.”

She noted that the New York City public high school graduation rate is 70 percent, but the readiness of students for college and career is assessed at 37 percent, and she asked him to explain his education priorities given the extraordinary pace of change in the workplace and the “disconnect between what employers need and what are our students coming into the workforce are prepared to deliver.”

He responded: “Why are the numbers so horrific in terms of education and what happens when somebody goes through school and then they can’t read?”

She then noted that New York has made “enormous progress” with education in the past decade, but said “we have a lot of work to do” and suggested looking anew at funding projects and program consolidation and public-private partnerships.

Trump said he knows New York City has made progress, but noted that public education in cities is “rough.” He didn’t directly address any of the issues she mentioned but went into a somewhat rambling  explanation of his education priorities.

Here is the bulk of his response:

“Charter schools are another thing people are talking about, a lot, and some of the charter schools in New York have been amazing. They’ve done incredibly well. People can’t get in, you can’t get in. It’s been, I don’t call it an experiment any more. It’s far beyond an experiment. If you look at so many elements of education and it is so sad to see what is coming, what’s happening in the country. … The cities. It’s a very rough situation.”

“Common Core. I mean, we have to bring education more local. We can’t be managing education from Washington. When I go out to Iowa, when I go out to the different states and I talk, they want to run their school programs locally. And they’ll do a much better job than somebody, and, look, these are some very good people in Washington. But you also have bureaucrats that make a lot of money and don’t really care that much about what they are doing or about the community that they have never seen and they’ll never meet and they never will see…. You know Common Core to me is, we have to end it. We have to bring education local. To me. I’ve always said that. I’ve been saying it during the campaign. And we’re doing it. Betsy DeVos, she’s doing a terrific job. Highly respected. Tremendous track record. But she’s got one of the toughest jobs of any of our secretaries.”

He also said that Ivanka Trump — his elder daughter and now White House counselor — and other administration officials are “totally in love” with education issues, and his final words on this subject at this event: “I think we are going to have a great four years.”

Trump’s comment that “it is so sad to see what is coming, happening in the country” is reminiscent of recent remarks DeVos made about public education in the United States. She said last week that U.S. public schools nationwide are in such bad shape that she isn’t “sure how they could get a lot worse.”

Denigrating public schools is a common theme among some school reformers, such as DeVos, whose primary interest in education is to expand school choice, including charter schools, which are publicly funded but operated privately, and vouchers, which use public funds to pay for private school. Public school advocates say that such rhetoric is untrue, unfair and hurts the public schools that educate more than 80 percent of America’s schoolchildren.

It’s unclear why Trump keeps talking about getting rid of the Common Core State Standards, which are a set of math and English language arts standards. The federal government can’t order states to drop the Core, given that they were adopted by state departments of education or legislatures.

The Core was initially adopted fully by 45 states and the District of Columbia, with bipartisan support, but the standards and the aligned federally funded assessments became controversial, with critics from both ends of the political spectrum opposing them. Many critics accused the Obama administration of coercing states to adopt the initiative, though a few states didn’t, and in recent years a few states have dropped it while others have made some changes and renamed the standards. Most states still use the Core because they have invested so much money to implement them.

As for DeVos being “highly respected,” it seems fair to ask among what population. She is a favorite among some school reformers who support the principle of using public money for private education, but her confirmation process to be education secretary belies the idea that respect for her is widespread. Her confirmation by the Senate was assured only after Mike Pence became the first vice president in history to break a tie vote on a Cabinet nominee. She has been booed at visits to a few public schools and is routinely criticized (including on this blog).