After Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos declared recently that “there really isn’t any Common Core anymore,” partisans on both the left and the right pounced.
One leading blogger who is known to carry water for organized labor concluded the new federal education chief “can’t seem to make an accurate statement” about the standards. While Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, insisted the standards haven’t been repealed and that classroom curricula prove it.
So who’s right — Betsy DeVos or her critics?
Answering that question requires some historical context.
Eight years ago the Obama administration began using the lure of federal funds to incentivize, pressure, and even coerce cash-strapped states to adopt a specific set of K-12 academic standards. Like so many other well-intentioned liberal programs, the Race to the Top initiative — funded by the notorious $850 billion government stimulus — led to a bipartisan grassroots revolt.
The question of how to repeal those federalized standards is one of several that lawmakers, including myself, grappled with for months on end in 2015 as we were working on a legislative replacement to the erstwhile No Child Left Behind law.
As Chairman of the House Education Committee, I came to the conclusion that the very best way to put an end to federalized standards, and the most effective way to ensure they never return, is to erect a statutory prohibition that prevents the Secretary of Education, the Department of Education, and for that matter, anyone else in Washington from pushing specific education standards onto states.
So with my Senate counterpart, Chairman Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderMcConnell gets GOP wake-up call The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate MORE, we coauthored the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to shift education authority and accountability out of Washington and back to the states, where it belongs.
As a result, many states now have in place a formal process for regularly reviewing and adjusting their K-12 standards. States have customized their academic benchmarks to meet the needs of students at the local level. Most state superintendents of education, if asked, will affirm that the standards they have in place aren’t Washington standards; they are local standards.
That’s the reason Secretary DeVos insists, correctly, that ESSA “essentially does away with the whole argument about Common Core.”
Now some critics of the new education law argue that the Obama administration’s decision to promote a specific set of standards constituted such an extraordinarily egregious overreach, that Congress should resolve to root out and destroy any remnants of those standards that may exist in the states.
They argue Washington should withhold funds from states that refuse to throw out Obama-era standards. They want the President and Secretary DeVos to essentially bend states to their will, through incentives, pressure and coercion.
If that sounds like familiar overreach, it’s because it is. Doing so would create the very Washington's interference in local education decisions that we sought to end in producing the new education law.
Secretary DeVos deserves credit for pushing states to reclaim that mantle of education.
Right now every state is hard at work determining how to best implement ESSA, which means establishing a set of high academic standards, selecting a quality summative test to measure gains, and determining what steps are necessary when schools are failing so that students, parents, and taxpayers get a valuable return on their investment.
It’s time to look beyond Washington’s past overreaches on matters of education.
ESSA has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity for states to demonstrate that the principle of local control works.
John Kline (R-Minn.) is the former chairman of the House Education & Workforce Committee.
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