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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman July 15, 2020
Emily Venezky
By Emily Venezky July 15, 2020

Common Core isn’t leaving anytime soon

Donald Trump first said he would be "getting rid of Common Core" at a Republican primary debate in 2016. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos declared the Common Core was "dead" in 2018. But the federal government ultimately has very little control over whether states decide to adopt Common Core standards.

The Common Core was developed by governors and state education officials, to be adopted independently by multiple states. The idea was that students would have the same academic standards nationwide and graduate with the same reading, writing, and math skills. It placed extra emphasis on critical thinking skills and outlined how schools would teach their math and English curriculum. It also created standards that were easy to test.

The Common Core was popular at first and adopted as public education standards by most states from 2010 to 2012. After the standards were implemented and testing began in 2014, the tide changed. The Harvard Ed. Magazine described the movement against the Common Core as a "growing nationwide resistance from an unusual coalition of right-wingers, liberals, teachers, and parents, for a variety of very different reasons." 

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 37 states still use Common Core or a revised version of the standards. 

According to the NCSL analysis, two states, Kentucky and Florida, have dropped the Common Core and implemented completely new standards since we checked this promise in 2017.

Trump opposes the state adoption of the standards because they apply a specific national set of standards to local school districts. When Trump ran in 2016, his early ads and speeches argued that "education has to be at a local level."

Early in his term, he ordered DeVos to conduct a review of how the federal government could be "unlawfully interfering" in local education programs.

It's not clear if any review was performed; the Education Department hasn't released a public report. 

Trump's order cited the Every Student Succeeds Act, a 2015 amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Under the 2015 law, states submit their own public education standards so they can receive Title I funding for schools in low-income areas, where students need more support to fulfill academic standards. These standards outline how schools will prepare students in K-12 for higher education and technical schools, including what skills students will focus on in each subject, how to test those skills, and how they will measure student success statewide. The Common Core outlines all of this and was already widely adopted by 2015.

The 2015 amendment also says that the secretary and president can't force states to include or remove any academic standards in the public education standards plans they submit. They can only ask for vague edits to make standards more thorough before a state receives funding. 

This means "the federal government cannot require or incentivize states to adopt Common Core State Standards — or to get rid of Common Core State Standards," said Reid Setzer, director of government affairs at the Education Trust. 

Nicholas Tampio, a political science professor at Fordham University, told PolitiFact that states tend to "use tests and curricula that align with the standards" because "the market for alternatives is small." Plans that are modeled after the Common Core have historically been accepted, without much editing, by the federal government for states to receive funding.

There have been mixed reviews from education experts on how new state standards compare with the Common Core.

The Fordham Institute, a think tank that has been covering the Common Core for two decades, conducted a review of Florida's 2020 B.E.S.T. standards in early June. The Tampa Bay Times reported that the institute's review criticized the English section for not having "any direction for reading of specific disciplines, such as science."

A recent review from the Independent Institute, a center-right leaning organization, disagreed with the Fordham review. Their review of Florida's B.E.S.T. standards commends the English standards for how they support teachers using literature to teach students about "the human condition and the world." The Tampa Bay Times reported that their new review "deemed the critique that Florida rushed its work and needed more time as slanderous." The Times also noted how both groups are on opposite sides of the Common Core debate.

Any moves against Common Core still have to come from the states, and nothing Trump has done has changed that. We rate this Promise Broken.

Our Sources

The American Presidency Project, Republican Candidates Debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016

U.S. Department of Education, Prepared Remarks by US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to the American Enterprise Institute, Jan 16, 2018

NPR, Can A President Trump Get Rid Of Common Core?, Nov 10, 2016

Harvard Ed. Magazine, What Happened to the Common Core?, Fall 2014

NCSL, Common Core Status Map, accessed on June 29, 2020

NPR, Donald Trump's Plan For America's Schools, Sept 25, 2016

The White House, Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Statutory Prohibitions on Federal Control of Education, April 26, 2017

114th Congress, Every Student Succeeds Act, Dec 10, 2015

U.S. Department of Education, Title I, Part A Program, Oct 24, 2018

Achieve, A Review of the Oklahoma January 2016 English Language Arts and Mathematics Academic Standards, March 18, 2016

The Fordham Institute, The State of the Sunshine State's Standards: The Florida B.E.S.T. Edition, June 6, 2020

Florida Department of Education, Standards Review, accessed on June 29, 2020

Tampa Bay Times, Florida's new academic standards are 'weak,' outside review says, June 9, 2020

Email interview with Reid Setzer, Director of Government Affairs at the Education Trust, June 22, 2020

Email interview with Nicholas Tampio, Political Science professor at Fordham University, June 23, 2020

Email interview with Mick Bullock, Public Affairs Director of the National Conference of State Legislatures, June 22, 2020

Lauren Carroll
By Lauren Carroll July 16, 2017

No progress on Trump's promise to kill Common Core

As a candidate, President Donald Trump demonstrated his Republican bona fides by promising to get rid of Common Core educational standards.

But halfway through his first year, the Trump administration hasn't made much progress toward this goal. Thirty-nine states still use Common Core or a revised version of the standards as of June 12, 2017, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In April, Trump ordered Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to conduct a review of the federal government's education-related regulations to assess whether they unlawfully interfere with state and local decision-making.

The review asks DeVos to modify or kill any regulations that the department considers problematic, but experts told us that this won't necessarily chip away at Common Core.

"The review in and of itself doesn't actually do anything," said Kelly McManus, government affairs director at the Education Trust, an advocacy organization. "The department has almost a year to put together a report on this and at that point we will see what they find and then what they do about it."

Individual states choose whether to adopt Common Core standards for their schools, and the federal government actually doesn't have control over that decision. So there's not much Trump can actually do.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Barack Obama signed in 2015, bars the education secretary from incentivizing states to adopt any particular standards. So DeVos can't force states to adopt or reject Common Core or any other educational parameters, said Abigail Swisher, program associate with the Education Policy program at New America, a think tank.

Further, Trump's April executive order actually said that his administration's policy is to "protect and preserve State and local control over the curriculum" and "program of instruction."

We'll see what happens after the Trump administration finishes its review. But until then, we rate this promise Stalled.

Our Sources

White House, "Presidential Executive Order on Enforcing Statutory Prohibitions on Federal Control of Education," April 26, 2017

White House, "On-the-Record Press Call on the Education Federalism Executive Order," April 26, 2017

New York Times, "Trump Orders Review of Education Policies to Strengthen Local Control," April 26, 2017

National Conference of State Legislatures, "Common Core Status Map," June 12, 2017

Email interview, New America program associate Abigail Swisher, June 13, 2017

Email interview, Education Trust government affairs director Kelly McManus, June 12, 2017

Email statement, DeVos spokeswoman Liz Hill, July 14, 2017

Joshua Gillin
By Joshua Gillin January 19, 2017

Lack of federal authority will make this tough

Donald Trump railed against the nation's education system during his presidential campaign, expressing in no small measure his distaste for Common Core.

During a March 3, 2016, debate in Detroit, Trump said he'd cut government waste, fraud and abuse in part by paring down government agencies, starting with the Education Department.

"We're cutting Common Core. We're getting rid of Common Core. We're bringing education locally," Trump told moderator Chris Wallace.

COMMON CORE BACKGROUND

The Common Core State Standards are a voluntary set of benchmarks for English and math created by state education departments and private, nonprofit groups. The idea was to create a common set of educational goals across the states to prepare kids for college in a comparable way.

State education officials in the Council of Chief State School Officers first discussed the idea in 2007. Two years later, the council and the National Governors Association used input from teachers, parents and education experts to create Common Core.

The final guidelines were released in 2010, and states could decide to implement them or not. Currently 42 states use the standards. While adoption was largely bipartisan, support is not uniform: Minnesota only chose to use the English standards, for example. South Carolina, Indiana and Oklahoma initially agreed to use Common Core but have since withdrawn.

WHY HE'S PROMISING IT

Opposition to Common Core is a key issue among many Republican voters, who see them as an attempt by the federal government to impose standards in what they feel should be a local decisions.

Critics say Washington unfairly tried to tie federal funding to adopting Common Core when one of President Barack Obama's grant programs awarded points for having defined state standards (although not specifically the Common Core standards).

In the 2016 presidential race, several GOP candidates vilified the standards, accusing the federal government of overreach in trying to unify school boards under the U.S. Education Department.

Trump attacked the standards in debates, calling it "education through Washington, D.C." in a Miami debate, a statement we rated False.

Results of the new standards are debatable, but some research shows Common Core doesn't entirely meet the needs of college-bound students, and isn't being implemented uniformly.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN

It will be difficult for Trump to deliver on a promise to get rid of Common Core and make education policy a local decision, because that's already a local decision.

"Whether a state uses the Common Core State Standards is and always has been a decision in the hands of states," Council of Chief State School Officers spokeswoman Olympia Meola said.

Implementation is done at the district and school level. States are allowed to build upon those standards, but participation in the nationwide consortium is voluntary.

Because it's not a federal program, there is nothing for Trump to repeal, and the Education Department is forbidden by law to tell states what to do.

Obama in 2015 signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which specifically said the secretary of education "shall not attempt to influence, incentivize, or coerce State adoption of the Common Core State Standards."

Theoretically, any state government could choose to drop the standards. The issue then becomes what states do after that.

HOW MUCH WILL IT COST

It would be expensive and time-consuming to drop the Common Core standards, and the cost would depend on the state.

Because states make education decisions and not the federal government, states would bear the financial burden to make those changes.

A state would have to develop new standards, revamp its curricula and materials, create new annual state assessments, and pay for implementation and training for teachers.

POSSIBLE TIMELINE

There's a chance that every state could decide to drop Common Core entirely, but it's not likely.

Despite some concern over multi-state standardized tests, many states are still committed to the consortium. And even if a state leaves the compact, that doesn't mean the tenets of Common Core automatically disappear.

As governor of Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence oversaw the Hoosier State's withdrawal from Common Core after the state was one of the first to adopt it.

The state replaced it with its own benchmarks, which some detractors said was a "warmed-over version of Common Core's standards."

Trump has nominated Michigan billionaire Betsy DeVos to be his education secretary. The businesswoman is an outspoken opponent of Common Core, but again, there's little she can do directly.

"While neither Trump nor DeVos have any clear legal avenue to mandate or coerce states into replacing their academic standards, they do have the power of the bully pulpit at their disposal," said Abigail Swisher, an analyst at the New America Foundation's Education Policy Program. "Ultimately, though, the bully pulpit alone can only influence local decisions so much."

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