With the tumultuous presidential election recently behind us, many are anxiously awaiting the changes that President-elect Donald Trump will enact. The prospect of a new regime is a hopeful, and uncertain, time for many.
Among some of the most widely debated topics being discussed is that of the Common Core standards, which many states have adopted in the hopes of increasing students’ college and career readiness and increasing math and literacy skills.
There has been much controversy surrounding the Common Core standards since their inception in 2010. During a recent campaign speech, President-elect Trump referred to the Common Core standards as “a disaster that must end.”
Mr. Trump has also recently announced his pick for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. Although it’s still too soon to assume what changes may be made under Ms. DeVos’ appointment, she has mentioned that the current state of education is “not acceptable.”
This has caused much speculation from both supporters and opponents of Common Core. Supporters of the standards are concerned that their elimination would result in huge gaps in education for certain populations and the promotion of a generation of learners who are ill prepared for 21st the century world. Opponents of the standards feel that they are creating a stifling learning environment and have not proven effective in improving students’ math and reading performance.
College students are a demographic that has the potential to be greatly impacted by any educational policies enacted by President-elect Trump and prospective Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
Along with Common Core, sweeping changes to K-12 and higher education policies may be coming down the pike.
What Is Common Core?
Common Core is a group of K-12 English and math standards designed to standardize educational requirements and increase rigor in school curricula. The purpose of these standards is to prepare students for college and career work and to ensure students in different states are all learning the same things. The standards provide a clear framework of learning goals that students should reach by the end of each grade.
The Common Core standards were first developed in 2007 by teachers, education experts and local school officials, and they were approved by governors and state school superintendents. They were finalized in 2009-2010, with individual states having the power to decide whether or not to adopt them. According to the Common Core website, 42 states, four territories, the District of Columbia, and the Department of Defense Education Activity initially adopted the standards, although a few have already repealed them.
To increase state compliance, the Obama administration introduced the “Race to the Top” program in 2009, offering states that adopted and followed Common Core policy, extra points when applying for federal grants. Though many viewed this action as a positive incentive for states, critics of the standards saw it as coercion and a way for the federal government to assert control over the states’ educational policies.
President-Elect Trump’s Stance on Common Core
With Mr. Trump’s very clear disapproval of Common Core, its supporters have expressed their concerns that his administration may completely do away with the standards or initiate changes that would negatively impact the federal funds received through the initiative.
Common Core supporters also fear that with Republican control of Congress, state lawmakers may feel they can put the pressure on their home states to abandon the standards. Additionally, they’re concerned that Mr. Trump may take the opposite approach of the Obama administration and actually give more federal funding to those states that abandon use of Common Core.
Prospective Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, has also recently announced that she is not a supporter of Common Core, although she does support local control, high standards and accountability of local districts.
In reality, Mr. Trump’s new Department of Education will most likely not have any effect on Common Core. Under a newly passed law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the federal government doesn’t have control over what education policies states adopt. It doesn’t have the authority to force states to adopt or abandon the Common Core Standards.
Under current Common Core policy, states are still free to use their own curricula, and while the Race to the Top Money was federally funded, that is the extent to which the federal government has been involved.
Standardized Testing & Common Core
Once the Common Core standards were adopted by the states, an instrument was needed to measure their effectiveness. Beginning in 2014-2015, a series of standardized test were developed to measure student learning in reading, math and other subjects.
Though many feel that the testing is a valid and accurate measure of students’ skills, there has been much controversy surrounding Common Core based standardized testing and its true purpose.
Although he has voiced his opinion that power to make education decisions should be kept at a local level, President-elect Trump’s stance on standardized testing has not yet been clarified.
Supporters of standardized testing feel that it is a reliable way to assess how well the standards-based teaching improves student scores in subjects such as reading and math. They feel that the standardized tests are a fair way to hold teachers and school officials accountable for what students learn and how successful they are.
Opponents feel that the testing is excessive and that the high-stress testing atmosphere doesn’t benefit students or teachers. They feel that the Common Core has caused the watering down of curricula and created a “teach to the test” learning environment.
Furthermore, they disagree that the standardized test scores should be linked to school and teacher effectiveness, since they don’t take into account things such as student poverty level, English Language Learners, and students with disabilities.
Schools that don’t meet strict passing levels may receive a failing score, opening the door to school choice voucher programs and the loss of valuable federal funding for many public schools.
Vouchers & School Choice
In some states, students in failing schools have the opportunity to receive vouchers, funded by taxpayer money, to attend a private school of their family’s choice. This program offers students in low-income areas an equal opportunity to receive the same quality education as their peers in more affluent areas.
Many are strongly opposed to school choice voucher programs, stating that they have the potential to completely restructure and diminish the public school system by directing funds away from public schools and toward private schools and publicly funded charter schools.
Though not a proponent of Common Core, President-elect Trump is an avid supporter of school choice and vouchers. During a recent campaign speech, Mr. Trump proposed that he would spend billions of federally funded dollars to support these programs.
Prospective Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, is also a supporter of school vouchers, believing that every child deserves a proper education regardless of their household income or where they live. She is also a supporter of charter schools and homeschooling. Ms. DeVos has supported national candidates who advocate for school choice and has been instrumental in increasing the number of school choice programs around the country.
This is an acceptable stance to conservatives who agree with school choice programs, but it’s a divisive one to public school supporters.
How Common Core Has Impacted College Students
One of the key topics on which Common Core focuses is college and career readiness. These 21st century skills include technology, problem solving and teamwork skills.
Students in the United States need to successfully complete a college education to become competitive in an ever-changing global marketplace. This need was made evident by the high remediation rates that colleges were seeing in math and literacy.
With the advent of Common Core education, teaching has become sharply focused on improving math and literacy skills. The theory behind the standards is that learning these 21st century skills from the primary grades will help students become competitive members of society, able to succeed in both college and career settings.
Supporters of Common Core feel that standards-based education still has the greatest potential to offer all students an equal education that will best prepare them for their college and career endeavors. They believe that the true benefits of Common Core on upcoming college students have not yet been fully realized.
However, results of a 2015 Brown Center Report revealed a less than two point higher difference in reading and math scores in states that strongly implemented the Common Core standards than in states that moderately implemented the standards or didn’t use them at all.
Future test score studies will reveal if the point difference between those states implementing Common Core and the ones who don’t continues to increase, thus proving that the standards are indeed effective in increasing students’ math and literacy rates.
The Other Side of the Debate
Opponents of Common Core feel that it has created a stagnant learning environment in schools across the country and has not proven effective in reaching its goal of increasing college and career readiness.
The graduating high school seniors of 2016, who were in fourth grade when the standards were enacted, are the first group of college-bound individuals to come out of Common Core.
According to a 2016 Huffington Post article, only 37% of graduating high school students demonstrated proficiency in college level reading and math, when assessed by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Those results would suggest that seven years of Common Core education did not prove very effective.
The absence of a standardized Common Core based college readiness test and a universal definition of what “college readiness” means are two rather large issues in need of remediation.
Many colleges and other higher education institutions have not truly prepared for the upcoming groups of Common Core educated students. Even after five years of preparation time, many colleges have still not aligned their curricula and policies with the standards.
Luckily, a newly formed group, called Higher Education for Higher Standards, is developing solutions to these obstacles. They are optimistic that Common Core is effectively working to improve graduation and college readiness standards and are currently working to help colleges and higher education institutions align their programs with Common Core. This includes things such as adjusting their introductory courses and admissions requirements to students who have learned through Common Core education.
President-Elect Trump’s Stance on Higher Education Issues
In addition to Common Core, President-elect Trump has voiced his opinion on some other higher education issues he would like to change.
Although he has not formally announced any of these policies, Mr. Trump may enact some changes that could both positively and negatively alter the current situations of college students.
Student debt is an extremely important issue facing many college students today. According to a 2015 report from The Institute of College Access and Success, the average college student graduated with a little over $30,000 in student loan debt.
On this issue, President-elect Trump has proposed a plan where students would pay 12.5% of their annual income over 15 years to satisfy their student loan debt.
However, this plan doesn’t look to be a successful one, since a similar program is already in place. Both conservatives and liberals are not in support of programs like these since they cost the government billions of dollars, a number that is apparently too high to justify. Many also argue that it would give a bigger advantage to students pursuing advanced degrees who often have a greater amount of student loan debt.
Endowments are sums of money or other assets donated to universities with the purpose of being invested. They exist to generate more money for further investments.
On the topic of endowments, Mr. Trump has suggested that universities should invest more of their endowment money in student tuition assistance than in other avenues.
While this also sounds like a logical solution to the student debt issue, many universities don’t have the endowment funds necessary to provide a significant amount of student tuition assistance, and those that do already provide a liberal amount of financial assistance to their students.
Wasteful Spending on College Salaries & Programs
Mr. Trump has voiced his opinion that college costs have become extremely overinflated due to high administrative salaries and wasteful spending on programs.
He has proposed lowering these costs by cutting some current regulations, though he has not named any specifically. Although this sounds like a logical solution, many are concerned that important regulations, such as those regarding campus sexual assault complaints, may be eliminated.
The Future of Education Under the Trump Administration
In truth, it’s still too soon to tell what educational changes will result from the Trump administration. The next four years will be a time of critical decisions regarding important issues such as Common Core, school choice, standardized testing, and higher education.
In that time, more information about the effectiveness of Common Core and how it has impacted upcoming college students will be available. Hopefully some of the concerns of supporters and opponents will be resolved, and schools and colleges can work toward giving all students the quality education they so deserve.
It is the hope of many that the Trump administration will take a long hard look at current and proposed educational policies and will ultimately make decisions that are in the best interests of the students of the United States.