Trump moves to promote local control over education

Last week, President Trump issued an executive order directing Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to determine which regulations and guidance documents issued by the U.S. Department of Education have unlawfully overreached on education policy to the detriment of state and local control. A Department of Education official said the order “puts an end to this overreach, ensuring that states and localities are free to make educational decisions” as required by three federal statutes that prohibit federal “direction, supervision, or control” over various aspects of education policy.

Actually, the order doesn’t ensure anything. It will be up to DeVos and her team to implement the president’s directive.

Emmett McGroarty wonders whether the order will truly lead to a restoration of local control. He writes:

[Q]uestions arise on a close reading of the order. Its stated purposes are “to restore the proper division of power under the Constitution between the Federal Government and the States” and “to further the goals of, and to ensure strict compliance with, statutes that prohibit Federal interference with State and local control over education.” Once the review has been completed, will the timid, establishment forces in the administration and in Congress claim, “Mission Accomplished”?…

In this regard, it must be mentioned that DeVos herself was a fan of Common Core until she wasn’t, and that she has populated USED with like-minded bureaucrats who have backgrounds with the Jeb Bush wing of education philosophy — pro-Common Core, pro-education-as-workforce-development, and pro-intrusive data-collection. Trump cannot let these underlings hijack his agenda.

As the reference to “the Jeb Bush wing education philosophy” shows, conservatives have been divided on the extent to which education policy should be “nationalized.” Common Core made sense to some conservatives because they thought it would promote rigor in education.

Other conservatives, such as George Will, objected that “unless stopped now, the federal government will not stop short of finding in Common Core a pretext for becoming a national school board.” They also argued that “to improve education, choice is the only ‘common standard’ that is needed.” Thus “parents should have choice among schools, teaching methods, and, critically, curricula.”

In my view, the objecting conservatives had the better of the argument from the start. Experience with Common Core has only strengthened their position.

As a candidate, Donald Trump promised to restore local control in education and eliminate the pressure exerted by the federal government to keep the Common Core national standards in place. His Executive Order shows that he takes this promise seriously.

But the Order is only a beginning. It remains to be seen how seriously, in practice, the Department of Education takes it.

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