Common Core Foes Are Really Worried About Trump’s Ed Sec Choice

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Blake Neff Reporter
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Donald Trump pitched himself as a fierce opponent of Common Core on the campaign trail. But just a week after winning the presidency, the candidates he is considered for Secretary of Education has Common Core foes worrying Trump won’t actually follow through in trying to get rid of it.

On the campaign trail, Trump repeatedly vowed to repeal Common Core, a set of shared math and reading standards adopted in more than 40 U.S. states. In typical Trumpian fashion, he blasted the Core as a “disaster” and said education standards had to be set independently at the local level.

But on Saturday, Trump is meeting with two major education figures in New York, presumably because he is considering them to head the Department of Education. The first, Michelle Rhee, became famous for her 2007-2010 stint as chancellor of Washington, D.C.’s public schools, during which she repeatedly clashed with unionized teachers in an effort to impose tougher teacher accountability measures. After resigning in 2010, Rhee launched a non-profit, StudentsFirst, to promote education reform around the country.

The second person Trump will meet Saturday is Betsy DeVos, a major Republican donor from Michigan. DeVos has been a long-time activist for school choice measures like vouchers and charter schools, both of which Trump has vowed to expand. (RELATED: Trump Pledges $20 Billion School Choice Offensive)

The two interviews come after another potential candidate, Success Academy founder Eva Moskowitz, pulled herself out of contention for a post.

Notably, Moskowitz, Rhee, and DeVos have all shown support for Common Core. Other names that have been tossed around as possibilities, like former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former Indiana school superintendent Tony Bennett, have a pro-Common Core track record as well.

And that has opponents worried Trump is poised to break a campaign pledge.

“We adamantly oppose any nomination for U.S. education secretary who has either openly supported or passively assisted Common Core by enabling education centralization, which includes most of the education establishment on the Right and Left,” says an online petition started by a group of grassroots anti-Common Core activists. “Such a pick would contradict your campaign promises.”

Similarly, The Federalist editor and Common Core critic Joy Pullman said Trump would be totally repudiating his campaign rhetoric if he chose Rhee or any other person not committed to eliminating Common Core. In fact, she argued, the only true way to fulfill Trump’s pledge is to try dismantling the Department of Education entirely.

Despite all the concern, though, it seems unlikely that Trump can actually do anything to eliminate Common Core. Adoption and continued use of the standards is entirely controlled by state and local governments; while the Obama administration used stimulus funds to encourage Common Core’s adoption, those funds have been exhausted and nothing currently compels states to remain on Common Core. They all have the power to leave, and a few, such as Oklahoma, already have. Furthermore, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the current law governing education, prohibits the federal government from coercing states regarding the standards they use. (RELATED: Donald Trump’s Common Core Pledge Makes No Sense)

In order to root out Common Core, then, Trump would have to replace or ignore ESSA and intervene at the state level to get rid of Common Core. That would hardly comport with Trump’s rhetoric about having education controlled at the local level.

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