The presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWSJ: Trump ignored advice to confront Putin over indictments Trump hotel charging Sean Spicer ,000 as book party venue Bernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin MORE, has said flatly he would end Common Core, though he hasn’t yet said how.

The close-to-presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBernie Sanders: Trump 'so tough' on child separations but not on Putin Anti-Trump protests outside White House continue into fifth night Opera singers perform outside White House during fourth day of protests MORE, has said she continues to be a fan of Common Core. And why wouldn’t she be, given that she is the grandmother of the national education standards movement that was born in the early 1990s?

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Sponsors of this fall’s presidential debates ought to devote one debate entirely to education, with Common Core being the primary topic.

Trump should be pinned down on how he believes a president could quickly end a program that is not a freestanding federal enactment. Clinton should be made to walk Americans through her game plan for ensuring Common Core’s permanence using a similar strategy as the one utilized by the Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Dem senator ties Kavanaugh confirmation vote to Trump-Putin controversy Don't place all your hopes — or fears — on a new Supreme Court justice MORE administration through the School-to-Work Act of 1994. And by all means, the Libertarian Party candidate, who will be selected Memorial Day weekend, should be included as well and asked to explain how he or she plans to extract the federal government from education entirely, root and branch.

Millions of parents, students, and teachers have a stake in this issue. Many have been working hard in their states to alter or abolish the Common Core standards for math and English. On May 3, North Dakota became the latest to launch a statehouse-directed review and rewrite in response to public pressure.

The next president could make a difference with his or her appointment of a new secretary of education. President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Trump was right to ditch UN’s plan for handling migrants Ex-White House stenographer: Trump is ‘lying to the American people’ MORE’s education chief for the first seven years, Arne DuncanArne Starkey DuncanWe could save some lives with reforms that gun owners would support Obama Education secretary: Boycotting schools would 'shock the nation' into changing gun laws Biden says 'enough is enough' after Santa Fe school shooting MORE, used Race to the Top bribes, selective regulatory enforcement, threats, and bluster to draw 45 states into the Common Core web—and mostly keep them there. His successor, John King, is no less fanatical about hawking nationalized standards.

How would a new education secretary under Trump or Clinton interpret the fine print of the mammoth Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which Obama signed December 10 as the successor to No Child Left Behind? As he was leaving office, Duncan basically gloated about his lawyers having snookered the Republican-led Congress into enshrining the Common Core agenda into federal law. One of the main congressional sponsors, Sen. Lamar AlexanderAndrew (Lamar) Lamar AlexanderMontana governor raises profile ahead of potential 2020 bid Dems pressure GOP to take legal action supporting pre-existing conditions Trump administration to explore importing prescription drugs MORE (R-Tennessee), argues instead ESSA is a triumph for local flexibility and has said he expects King to interpret it that way.

In an education debate, would Clinton argue for the feds using ESSA to make states toe the line on assessing all students, even on their dispositions, attitudes, and grit, and denying parents the right to refuse Common Core-linked testing? Would Trump say he would use his executive powers to impose a moratorium on all mandatory federal testing? Would the Libertarian candidate, which likely will be the former two-term New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, assert the real answer is to shut down the worthless U.S. Department of Education, which the Republicans once vowed to do?

As for Common Core, numerous states are gradually backing away from its strict requirements and dropping out of the federally financed testing consortia in search of more reasonable options. Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina were among the first, and battles now rage in such states as Massachusetts and Michigan.

Piecemeal dismantling of Common Core state by state is a long, slow slough. Writing in the January issue of School Reform News, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, invoked the image of a house with an underwater mortgage. “The United States has invested so much in Common Core that it can’t easily get out,” said Wood. “The investments include very large amounts spent on textbooks, computers to support the Common Core tests, and teacher training.”

Sadly, Wood added, there is the harder-to-quantify harm being done to students subjected to a “discredited educational experiment.”

“Undoing some forms of bad policy can take years,” said Wood. “Build a road or a bridge in the wrong place and chances are it is a permanent mistake, but if the government builds the wrong curriculum, chances are it has robbed a generation.”

A presidential election is exciting because it inspires hope that big changes can be made for the better. Were a presidential debate to focus Americans’ attention on moving beyond Common Core in education, perhaps that could happen more quickly.


Robert Holland is a senior fellow for education policy with The Heartland Institute.