In the race for the GOP presidential nomination, Donald Trump has said little about education except to occasionally bash Common Core, the new academic standards that have been adopted by more than 40 states.
Now Trump has released a new 45-second video that reiterates his disgust with Common Core, a favorite target for many conservative politicians, but sheds little additional light on his ideas for how to improve American public schools.
“I’m a tremendous believer in education, but education has to be at the local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education,” Trump says in the video. “Common Core is a disaster. We can’t let it continue.”
Trump goes on to offer the nation’s high per-pupil spending and poor performance on international tests as proof of Common Core’s disastrous nature. His message is obviously resonating: The video has more than 1.7 million views. But is he right? Let’s take a look.
1. “We are rated 28 in the world, the United States. Think of it, 28 in the world. … Third-world countries are ahead of us.”
It’s not clear what Trump’s source for this figure is; his campaign spokeswoman did not respond to a request for clarification. It’s true, however, that the United States does not fare particularly well on international exams.
Take the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, a test given every three years to 15-year-olds in dozens of countries by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. U.S. students ranked 27th out of the 34 OECD countries on the 2012 math PISA, the latest for which results are available. The United States also ranked behind several non-OECD countries, including China, Vietnam, Latvia and Russia. In reading, the United States ranked 17th, and in science, 20th.
So Trump was not exactly right. But he wasn’t too far off.
Is it Common Core’s fault that the United States fared poorly on the 2012 PISA? States began adopting Common Core as early as 2010, but by 2012, few had begun using the new standards to shape classroom instruction.
Does it matter that the United States scores poorly on international exams? Not everyone thinks so. Education historian Diane Ravitch, a fierce critic of the Obama administration’s education policies, argues that the nation’s poor showing has been used to justify wrong-headed interventions and reforms in recent years — but in fact, the United States has never done well on these tests over the decades, yet it has always had the world’s dominant economy.
“Let others have the higher test scores. I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people, on its character, persistence, ambition, hard work, and big dreams, none of which are ever measured or can be measured by standardized tests like PISA,” Ravitch wrote on her blog.
2. “Frankly, we spend far more per-pupil than any other country in the world. By far! It’s not even a close second.”
Again, Trump’s spokeswoman did not respond to a question about the source for this statement.
It’s not quite true, according to the OECD, which collects and publishes education spending data for all its member nations. The United States spends $11,732 per student, which is among the highest in the world, according to the OECD. But Norway and Luxembourg spend more.
And if you rank countries by the percent of GDP they spend on education, the United States is 18th.
3. “We’re going to end Common Core.”
The federal government doesn’t have the power to get rid of Common Core.
Common Core was a bipartisan, state-led initiative that gained traction with the help of major support from the Gates Foundation. The Obama administration used its Race to the Top grant program to encourage states to adopt the new math and reading standards, and the administration also gave states hundreds of millions of dollars to develop new tests based on the standards — moves that led critics from both ends of the political spectrum to decry the new standards as a federal overreach into local affairs.
But No Child Left Behind, the nation’s main education law from 2002 until last year, expressly forbade the federal government from setting standards. And the nation’s new federal education law, which President Obama signed into law in December, goes further, preventing the U.S. Education Secretary from offering incentives to states to adopt certain standards.