Education Secretary Betsy DeVos can’t seem to make an accurate statement about the Common Core State Standards.
The Core was among the most controversial topics in education for years. It started as a bipartisan effort to create a set of math and English language-arts standards for students across the country to use, but it became an educational and political mess. Most states adopted and implemented the standards early in the Obama administration — but failed to give teachers sufficient time to learn it, and critics from every part of the political spectrum found fault with some part of the initiative.
A grass-roots revolt took place against the Core and federally funded standardized tests aligned to the standards, and some states have either replaced the standards or renamed them with minimal changes.
When she was first nominated late last year to be education secretary by Donald Trump, the Michigan billionaire was described as a strong ally of former Florida governor — and Common Core booster — Jeb Bush. She had not at that time attacked the Core publicly but later said she was not a supporter. During the campaign, Trump had promised “to get rid of Common Core,” and at a December rally with the president-elect, she repeated that sentiment, saying that the Trump administration would put an “end to the federal Common Core.”
Here’s the problem: The federal government didn’t technically impose the Core on the individual states; the standards were fully or in part approved by state bodies, departments of education or legislatures in 46 states. Only states can decide to get rid of the standards, and, in fact, some have. The Obama administration did dangle federal funds before states as incentives to adopt the standards — an act some states saw as coercion — but states didn’t have to adopt them, and a few didn’t.
Recently, DeVos told Michigan radio station host Frank Beckmann that the Every Student Succeeds Act effectively does away “with the notion of the Common Core,” Education Week reported. Wrong again. The ESSA, the successor law to No Child Left Behind, left it to states to decide on their standards, but, then again, the states had that right before.
And many states are still using them. A recent analysis found that of the 46 states that adopted the standards, eight states have officially repealed or withdrawn, 21 states have finalized revisions — many of them minor — or have revision processes underway, and 17 states have not yet made any changes.
Then on Monday, Devos told Fox News anchor Bill Hemmer that the ESSA “essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core.” Hemmer asked her whether she would withhold federal funds to states that decide to maintain the Common Core standards as part of their ESSA accountability plans, which must be submitted and approved by the Education Department. This was her response:
There isn’t really any Common Core any more. Each state is able to set the standards for their state. They may elect to adopt very high standards for their students to aspire to and to work toward. And that will be up to each state.
Of course there still is something known as the Common Core. What she may have meant was that the federal government can’t tell states what to do about the Core, though, again, it couldn’t force states to adopt them before ESSA was passed in late 2015.
So, the bottom line is that DeVos, yet again, has talked — incorrectly — about the Common Core.
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