The 2016 Democratic and Republican primaries are well under way and every candidate has staked her or his position on national security, economic, and various social and global issues. The one issue, however, that seems to be getting very little attention is education. On the one hand, it is disappointing to think that our future president sees no reason to discuss the quality of our nation’s public schools; on the other hand, maybe it’s a blessing.
After his convincing win in South Carolina, Donald Trump used his acceptance speech to both thank his supporters and to rehash his political platform. Uncharacteristically, however, he added something about education. He said that once he is president he will eliminate Common Core. His comment received polite applause from the audience. Apparently, Mr. Trump and his followers are under the impression that Common Core is a federal initiative. Someone needs to tell him and his advisers – before he makes his next speech – that the state governors and their chief education officers, not the U.S. Congress or the president, were responsible for adopting Common Core; each state can also decide if it wants to use the agreed upon academic standards associated with Common Core or develop its own standards. Yes, the Department of Education offered financial incentives, in the form of Race-to-the-Top dollars, for states that agreed to use Common Core – but the decision was, and continues to be, left up to each state.
It is highly unlikely that Donald Trump is the only presidential candidate that does not understand how education policies are formulated in our country. Sadly, such ignorance hurts our nation’s efforts to improve its educational system and become more competitive at the global level. Let’s not forget that Ronald Reagan tried to abolish the Department of Education during his first term in office.
The U.S. Constitution does not address education. Our Founding Fathers determined that some issues, like education, are best left to the individual states. We need to be very careful, however, not to confuse academics with equity and equality. Yes, the decision to use or not use Common Core State Standards should be left to the discretion of the states, but when an elementary student in an economically deprived school district receives an inferior education to one who lives in a more affluent county, it is the federal government’s duty to ensure both equity and equality in education. Yes, the federal government does have a role to play in education.