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President Trump’s Common Core Challenge

Donald Trump said many times that he will end the Common Core.

President Trump cannot directly remove the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) from the states. The states chose to adopt the standards as their benchmarks for learning, and only states can rid themselves of the flawed standards (review the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution).

Special interest groups developed the CCSS with D.C. connections (Gates Foundation & Achieve, Inc), the National Governors Association (NGA), and the Chief Council of State School Officers (CCSSO). The United States Department of Education (USED) did not develop the standards; however, USED did incentivize their adoption. Through executive fiat, President Obama used a Trojan Horse to lure states to accept a series of competitive grants known as the Race to the Top (RttT). By adopting the standards, states were ensured more money but other conditions came attached. The purpose of accepting the RttT was to rid cash-strapped states from the unrealistic and bureaucratic law of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) orchestrated by President George W. Bush. This attractive offer from RttT was like taking candy from a baby as school districts were drowning under the unrealistic law under NCLB and suffering financially to keep the doors open in the Great Recession.

The RttT competitive grants initiative has since expired and the damage has been done. The initiative impacted almost every state. Many states used the money to create large data systems (too expensive to continue and vulnerable to breaches), teacher effectiveness reforms (which are not working), testing design incentives (greatly flawed), and developing college and career readiness standards (which are unproven). Those standards had to be approved by USED to be worthy of receiving the federal bribe. The only standards deemed “college-and-career-ready” at the time of grant approval were the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The infrastructure built to measure the effectiveness and sustain the CCSS are cemented in the states, and it will be hard to uproot this cancer from the public system. Such states like Illinois and Georgia, seized the bribe and adopted over 80 % of new education policies into law to ensure the sustainability of the CCSS and position their chances for further federal funding. Currently, the standards are in classrooms of 45 states. President Trump cannot attack the standards directly; however, he can attack the infrastructure which maintains their viability.

Policy experts believe that RttT was the largest effort of federal overreach ever experienced since the inception of the US. Department of Education – almost every state was affected.

common corePresident Trump could not even remove funding from states who may choose not to undo the Common Core because current funding is not conditional on keeping the standards. Furthermore, the new Every Student Succeeds Act (Revised No Child Left Behind Law – passed Dec. 2015) strictly prohibits the Secretary of Education from incentivizing and coordinating the development of standards for state adoption. The new Every Student Succeed Act (ESSA) has clear prohibitions of the Department’s influence on state testing as well as other infrastructure needed to measure performance. If President Trump targeted Title I dollars to censure the Common Core, that would create a huge controversy from both sides of the isle. House Republicans tried to do this with Title I portability while revising the new ESSA which favored the portability of those dollars to charter schools and other schools of choice. Furthermore, this would create an opening for vouchers which has been favored by the Trump Presidential Campaign. States have put forth millions of dollars in infrastructure in data systems, misaligned textbooks claiming to support the flawed pedagogy promoted by the Common Core resources, testing programs, and professional development for teachers. The federal footprint is massive, and the haphazard implementation of Common Core has caused further harm.

So, how could President Trump get rid of the Common Core?

One way to get rid of the Common Core is to abolish the U.S. Department of Education entirely. This abolishment would likely need the support of Congress, but based on the sausage making of the new ESSA in Dec. 2015, many Congressional Republicans, such as Sen. Lamar Alexander (former Secretary of Education), and his allies may oppose such efforts within the GOP. However, the “drain the swamp” mentality is unyielding in the electorate, and many House members might get nervous if they oppose President Trump before the 2018 midterm elections. It would behoove the grassroots to strike while the iron is hot to derail the Common Core.

Another approach is to drastically cut the Department’s budget and allow states to assume the responsibility of upholding the infrastructure which supports the Common Core. States are still recovering from the economic recession. Local tax digests and state appropriations will not accommodate this large federal footprint; therefore, it would be likely that states would abandon those policies that do not directly affect classroom instruction. School districts would then focus on “must-haves” than “nice-to-haves”. President Trump could also decline and severely reduce the regulations on accountability directly tied to an already unstable implementation of the Common Core. Recently, a group of Senators warned President Obama of the new ESSA regulations being considered as they view the regulations not “within the statutory text” of the new law.

The reality is states cannot continue to defend the current testing and standards reform efforts when national proficiency in reading and math are not improving considerably. Touting improved graduation rates is not a true picture of the educational systems’ overall improvement as the flawed testing designs may ensure score invalidity. Removing the federal influence will cause withdraw symptoms from decades of addiction to failed federal rules, but in the end, schools will adapt and find ways to concentrate more on learning.

Teachers just want to teach; not uphold experimental ideas of bureaucrats and special interests.

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Jeremy Spencer

Jeremy Spencer is a conservative education activist in Georgia with many years of education/teaching experience. He is a former teacher and associate state school superintendent who holds advanced degrees in education, and has advised and written policy for state officials on education.

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