A bipartisan initiative to create learning standards for American school kids is creating an unlikely resistance to two of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet choices: Betsy DeVos for education secretary and Rex Tillerson for state.
Notably, the right-wing news site Breitbart, which was until recently run by Trump’s top adviser Stephen Bannon, ran a story over the weekend calling out Tillerson for his past support for Common Core. Trump announced that Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil, is his pick to run state in a tweet praising him as “one of the truly great business leaders of the world” Tuesday morning.
Breitbart dug up the oil magnate’s 2013 Wall Street Journal op-ed calling Common Core, an initiative launched by the National Governors Association, a “path to renewed competitiveness” for the U.S.
“Tillerson has a history of supporting policies opposite to many of the themes the president-elect highlighted during his campaign, including on Common Core education standards,” Breitbart reporter Matthew Boyle wrote.
Opposing Common Core was one of the few education issues Trump consistently touted on the campaign trail. He repeatedly promised to end Common Core if elected president. (He can’t — states that voted to adopt the standards would have to individually repeal them.) The standards set guidelines for what concepts and skills students should know in math and language by the end of each grade, allowing each state that adopts them to determine the lesson plans and curriculum to reach that goal.
The Obama administration poured funds into helping states create standardized tests aligned with Common Core; the administration also incentivized states to adopt the standards by making it easier for them to receive federal funds if they did.
Some conservatives see the standards as a federal overreach into local control over education. Many homeschool advocates in particular are vehemently opposed to the standards.
But Tillerson argued that Common Core would help the American workforce learn crucial math and technology skills they are currently lacking. He chided his home state of Texas for refusing to join the 45 states that adopted the Common Core standards in a speech in 2014. Tillerson said he was “extraordinarily disappointed” in Texas for refusing to adopt the standards.
“I don’t think the [K-12] schools realize that we’re their customer,” Tillerson said at a Business Roundtable meeting. “They need to produce students with skills that allow them to get a job. If they don’t, they are essentially producing a defective product. And in this case, the product is a human being. It’s tragic.” He also chided Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett for delaying the implementation of the program in his state in 2013.
Common Core may matter to many of Trump’s supporters, but it’s unlikely to be an issue in Tillerson’s Senate confirmation. Some Republican senators, including Sen. Marco Rubio, have expressed reservations about Tillerson’s friendship with Russian leader Vladmir Putin, signaling he may face a tough path to nomination on entirely different grounds.
Common Core has also been a flashpoint for Betsey DeVos, a Michigan billionaire who is Trump’s Cabinet pick for education.
DeVos is an advocate for private school vouchers and charter schools, and served as a board member for Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education, a nonprofit that backs Common Core standards.
After Trump announced his decision to appoint her to his Cabinet, Devos quickly disavowed any affiliation with the standards on Twitter and linked to a personal website explaining her views.
Many of you are asking about Common Core. To clarify, I am not a supporter—period. Read my full stance, here: https://t.co/qB2nAXvX0B
— Betsy DeVos (@BetsyDeVos) November 23, 2016
“Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core?” she wrote. “Of course. But that’s not my position. Sometimes it’s not just students who need to do their homework.”
Earlier this month, she appeared at Trump’s “thank-you” rally in Michigan, again assuring Trump’s supporters that she would “put an end to federalized Common Core.” DeVos also criticized the media for spreading “false news” about her, without specifying which claims she believed were untrue.
Karen Braun, an anti-Common Core activist, was unconvinced. She told Breitbart she was “not fooled” by DeVos’ words. “We know the truth,” Braun said. “We experienced it first hand.”