Likely Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has made hardly any statements about his policy positions on education issues. But the claims he has made, mostly about the Common Core state standards and the federal role in education policy, have been routinely debunked by fact-checkers, education reporters, and prominent education scholars.
Trump Has Said Little About Education On The Campaign Trail
Trump Does Not Have A Detailed Education Policy Plan. Although presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump's campaign has posted a short video about “education” on the candidate’s website, Trump has not published any sort of detailed policy plan related to early childhood, K-12, or higher education issues. As education writer Erik Robelen explained in The Atlantic on May 5:
If you want to know where Trump stands on education, you might think the first place to go would be his campaign website.
But don’t expect to find much information there. Education is not among the seven “positions” cited, which include “pay for the wall” with Mexico, health-care reform, and 2nd Amendment rights. Under “issues,” education is one in a series of 20 videos on Trump’s campaign site and lasts all of 52 seconds.
“I’m a tremendous believer in education,” Trump begins, “but education has to be at a local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child’s education.”
The real-estate mogul, who has never held elected office, then pivots in the video to the Common Core standards, adopted by most states (though some have since made changes). “Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue.”
Some analysts have noted a disconnect between Trump’s focus on local control and the desire to dismantle Common Core. After all, to do so would mean forcing states to undo their own standards.
To date, the Trump campaign has issued no position papers on education.
Many analysts, education advocates, and journalists have struggled to understand what a Trump presidency would mean for education (and other issues, for that matter). [The Atlantic, 5/5/16]
Feb. 27 Campaign Video: “Common Core Is Dead.” In a second video uploaded only to Facebook, Trump again focused his remarks on “getting rid of Common Core,” and reducing federal education spending, but did not provide specific policy solutions to back his claims. From the short video posted to the Trump campaign’s Facebook page on February 27:
TRUMP: Without education, you cannot have the American dream. Some people say the American dream is dead. I don’t disagree with them. The American dream is dead, but we’re going to make it bigger and better and stronger than ever before. But again, without education you can’t do that. So we’re getting rid of Common Core, we’re taking Common Core. It’s going to be gone. There won’t be education from Washington, D.C. There’ll be education locally. The love of parents, the love of these people that love their children and they’re in the area. That’s what we’re going to do. We’ll have school boards and we’ll have local. We’re not going to have it through Washington. So Common Core is dead, and we’re going to take education and we’re going to make it local. We’ll save money, our education will be much better. Do you know in the world today, we’re ranked number 30. Number 30. So we’re at the bottom of the list and, yet, per pupil we pay the most. You look at other countries, Denmark, Sweden, China, Norway -- these are countries that are right at the top and they spend much less money than us. So we’re going local, it’s going to be great. And we’re going to spend less money, and we’re going to move up that list very, very rapidly. [Facebook.com, 2/27/16]
Trump Has Made Several Statements Indicating He Would “Eliminate” The Department Of Education Or Cut It “Way, Way, Way Down.” As early as January 2015, Trump advocated for eliminating most of the Department of Education as a way to reduce federal spending, reportedly commenting at a tea party convention in South Carolina that “you could cut” the Department of Education “way, way, way down.” In October of 2015, Trump also indicated during a Fox News Sunday appearance that he “may cut the Department of Education.” In January of 2016, Trump doubled down in a campaign interview, pointing to the department as a place he’d do “tremendous cutting” as president. During an April town hall event hosted by Fox News’ Sean Hannity, Trump claimed that “largely we can eliminate the Department of Education” as a way to cut back on federal spending. From the April 4 edition of Fox News’ Hannity:
SEAN HANNITY (host): Would you eliminate any departments?
DONALD TRUMP: Oh, absolutely. First of all -- first of all -- first of all -- we want to bring education back to Wisconsin, right? Right? So we end Common Core, and Department of Education can -- I mean the Department of Education is massive and it can be largely eliminated. Now you maybe want to have a little bit of tentacles out there, make sure everything. But largely we can eliminate the Department of Education. [Fox News, Hannity, 4/4/16; Forbes, 6/16/15; Huffington Post, 10/28/15; Wall Street Journal, 1/11/16]
Fact-Checkers And Education Reporters Have Concluded “Trump Doesn’t Understand Common Core” Or The Federal Role In Education Policy
Wash. Post Fact Checks Have Debunked Trump’s Common Core Claims At Least Four Times. Washington Post fact checks have examined Trump’s Common Core talking points four separate times since January, questioning his claims that the standards are federally driven and that he would “end” Common Core as president. In January, Post education reporters first pushed back on claims from the Trump campaign website video pushing misinformation about the standards. In two separate pieces from February and March, the Washington Post Fact Checker awarded Trump “three Pinocchios” -- which equates to “mostly false” -- for his claims about the origins of the standards and the ongoing federal role in implementing them. The Post Fact Checker also debunked Trump’s talking points on Common Core when he repeated them at a March 10 Republican primary debate. From the March 14 fact check of Republican presidential candidates’ Common Core claims:
Trump continues to say the federal government has “taken over” Common Core, although he knows it has not. It remains a state-led initiative.
As we’ve noted, Congress took measures to scale back the federal government’s power. The Every Student Succeeds Act explicitly says multiple times that the federal government can’t influence local decisions about academic standards. So what Cruz and Trump are proposing already was done by Congress, and there is no longer any federal connection to Common Core.
Before this law existed, states were allowed to adjust the standards. Then local school boards developed the curricula.
Trump calls Common Core “education through Washington, D.C.” When confronted with the fact that states crafted Common Core standards, he still insisted the federal government has “taken over” the program. That’s not the case. Congress passed a law explicitly banning federal influence on states’ decisions on education standards. We award him three Pinocchios, as we did the last time he made a similar comment about Common Core. [The Washington Post, 1/27/16; 2/2/16; 3/11/16; 3/14/16]
NY Times’ Upshot: “Donald Trump Doesn’t Understand Common Core.” Writing for The New York Times' Upshot blog, New America’s Education Policy director Kevin Carey analyzed Trump’s statements on the Common Core state standards in March, and concluded that “he is promising to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by using power the president doesn’t have.” Carey explained that Trump’s assertion that he will abolish the state education standards “shows Mr. Trump’s ignorance of how American education actually works,” and he attributed Trump’s stance on the standards to a “disinformation campaign.” From the March 8 blog post (emphasis added):
Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has not been driven by detailed policy papers. But on one issue at least, his position is clear: He hates the Common Core State Standards. They are, he says, a “total disaster,” and he promises to abolish them upon assuming the presidency, because education “has to be at a local level.”
This is revealing, and not just because it shows Mr. Trump’s ignorance of how American education actually works. He is promising to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by using power the president doesn’t have. His plan may also have the unintended effect of stultifying American greatness.
The president can’t end the Common Core, because the federal government didn’t create the Common Core. Governors and state boards of education developed and voluntarily adopted the standards in reading, language and math. Some states subsequently un-adopted them, as is their right. When Congress passed a new version of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act last year, it prohibited the secretary of education from requiring or even encouraging states to adopt any uniform standards, Common Core or otherwise.
Why, then, does he hate the Common Core? Because many voters hate the Common Core, which has been subject to an intense disinformation campaign in recent years. Did you know that the Common Core was funded by Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and Bill Ayers as part of President Obama’s plan to impose Sharia Law on American schoolchildren and create a new Islamic caliphate? It wasn’t, but you might think so if you read The Washington Times. [The New York Times, 3/8/16]
AP, PolitiFact, FactCheck.org All Characterized Trump’s March 10 Debate Claims About Common Core As “False” Or “Incorrect.” Following Trump’s March 10 Republican primary debate assertion that the Common Core state standards were “education through Washington, D.C.,” prominent media fact-checkers again pointed out the claim’s inaccuracy. FactCheck.org described Trump’s statements as “incorrect” and “wrong,” explaining that the standards were created -- and are adopted -- at the state and local levels. The Associated Press corrected Trump, writing that “Common Core is not a federal program at all,” and that federal incentives related to high learning standards are a “far cry from the picture painted by Trump.” PolitiFact rated the statement “false,” also explaining that the standards were not created by the federal government, and cannot be controlled by the federal government. From the March 10 PolitiFact piece:
But the federal government didn’t help create the standards, and has no control over how they’re implemented. Even states that have adopted the standards are still free to set their own curricula.
In short, it doesn’t matter who the president is, because there’s not much the federal government can do about Common Core.
The education standards for English and math were unveiled in 2010 after state school officials, nonprofits, teachers, parents and experts settled on broad education goals. Washington was not a player in that game, although Obama has given states that have education standards a leg up when applying for grant money.
US News: Trump “Probably Can’t Repeal Common Core.” In response to a Trump debate statement that a Trump administration priority would be “getting rid of Common Core,” U.S. News & World Report education reporter Lauren Camera explained that Trump’s claims ignored the federal role in education policy:
When GOP presidential front-runner Donald Trump was asked Thursday night during the latest Republican debate to name specific federal programs he plans to ax in order to pay for his proposed tax cut, his answer was somewhat predictable.
“We’re cutting Common Core,” he said. “We’re getting rid of Common Core.”
The academic standards – benchmarks for what students should know by the time they finish each grade – are a favorite chew toy of the Republican candidates. They’ve become a prime example of federal overreach and the government putting its sticky fingers in education, an issue that most people believe is a state and local responsibility.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has denounced the standards. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has promised to “repeal every word” of the Common Core if elected.
“For Cruz and Trump supporters, some part of their brain lights up when they hear that,” says Michael Petrilli, president of The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy organization. “It is something that has become a symbol of whatever you want it to be.”
Maybe it’s time to let them in on a secret, if they didn’t already know: The federal government is actually prohibited from telling states what standards they can and cannot use. And if elected, they likely wouldn’t be able to eliminate the Common Core or tell states not to use it, because that’s a state’s decision. [U.S. News & World Report, 3/4/16]
Wash. Post Reporter On Trump’s Common Core Claims: “Either Nobody Told Him, Or He Is Ignoring” The Facts. Washington Post education reporter Valerie Strauss described Trump’s claims about the Common Core state standards, federal education spending, and U.S. educational outcomes as “ridiculous.” In two separate pieces from March and May, Strauss pointed out that Trump’s assertions that he would “end” Common Core as president show a misunderstanding of the federal role in education policy. From Strauss’ May 8 piece on the Post’s Answer Sheet education blog (emphasis added):
Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, doesn’t talk all that much about education issues, but when he does, it is usually about the Common Core, rankings and spending. And usually he is wrong, wrong and wrong.
Then there are Trump’s comments about the Common Core, which he repeatedly says he would “end” or “get rid of” if he became president, sometimes a response to questions about how he would cut federal spending. Either nobody told him, or he is ignoring, the fact that state legislatures individually approved the Core, and only state legislatures can decide to change or drop the standards and the standardized tests that are aligned to them. There is no way he can wave a federal wand and eliminate it all at once.
Could Trump entice the states to drop the Core by dangling federal funds in front of them? After all, the Obama administration used its $4.3 billion Race to the Top competitive program to persuade — critics say coerce — states to adopt the Core; 45 states and the District of Columbia fully adopted the standards, but the rest refused. Spending billions to get state legislatures to dump the Core doesn’t sound like something that a president who said he wants to eliminate the Education Department would probably want to do.
This isn’t the first time that I, or other writers, have pointed out Tramp’s incorrect and exaggerated claims about education. Something tells me it won’t be the last. [The Washington Post, 3/4/16; 5/8/16]
Education Writers And Educators Are “Baffled” And Concerned By Trump’s Stances
Trump's Education Views Leave Bipartisan Experts “Fearful, Curious ... And Baffled.” Education Week reporter Andrew Ujifusa surveyed a bipartisan group of education experts and advocates about Trump’s education stances, and found widespread confusion over what Trump believes and what he could actually accomplish. Several conservative and centrist experts concluded that Trump did not know “what the federal role is, or could be” when it came to education policy, and that he “doesn’t know what ESSA is,” referring to the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind in December. Ujifusa summarized the article:
So when education policy mavens and advocates contemplate a Donald Trump administration and its impact on K-12, what do they see? In many cases, they're confused or uncertain about what a Trump-led U.S. Department of Education would do, or not do, if it even survives. But in some cases they have clear concerns, or other thoughts about how he might significantly alter what's been happening with federal education policy. [Education Week, 3/7/16]
Education Week: GOP Education Policy Experts Question Trump’s Positions. Recently, Ujifusa also chronicled statements from prominent Republican education policy wonks expressing concerns about Trump’s lack of policy specifics on K-12 education issues and trepidation about advising Trump on these issues. Among the list of right-wing education policy veterans criticizing Trump’s lack of an education platform are two former education advisers to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign and a former Department of Education official under George W. Bush. The March 9 article described a range of skeptical views on Trump’s education stances (emphasis added):
Marty West, a professor of education at Harvard University who advised Gov. Mitt Romney's Republican presidential bid in 2012 and has worked with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., on K-12 issues, isn't about to sign onto the Trump train—and he doesn't know anyone else who is.
“The central challenge for any presidential candidate, especially on the Republican side, is to translate his or her vision into a policy agenda that respects the federal government's limited capacity to effect change,” West said. Trump has “picked up Republican talking points” including on school choice, “the influence of teachers' unions, the importance of local control, [but] he does not appear to have given any thought to what it would mean to take action on those issue from Washington.”
It's not all about Trump's edu-views, which West acknowledges are a “wild card” at this point. West has other problems with the candidate. “His behavior over the course of the campaign should disqualify him,” West said.
Andy Smarick, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush, has a different take. He's happy to provide advice to any policymaker who wants it. But he has no idea at this point who Trump is listening to on K-12.
“In my adult life I've never seen a top-tier candidate be so light on policy,” Smarick said. “I've never seen a candidate so light on governing principles. I don't know if he believes in parental choice. I don't know if he believes in Title I portability. I've never been in a position of not knowing what the North Star of a major candidate is on education policy.” [Education Week, 5/9/16]
Many Educators Have Warned Against Trump’s Candidacy. In a recent informal survey of 2,000 K-12 teachers by the Southern Poverty Law Center, some educators reported an increase in bullying among students -- particularly paired with anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiments. Students who identify as “immigrants, children of immigrants, Muslims, African Americans and other students of color” are also reportedly expressing concerns about personal safety in greater numbers. The survey respondents attributed this change in school environment to the 2016 election; the report itself is titled “The Trump Effect.” Local teachers unions have also taken action against what they perceive as bullying rhetoric stemming from Trump’s campaign. In April, the Maryland State Education Association protested a planned Trump campaign stop at a local high school, stating:
Donald Trump and his divisive, fear-mongering rhetoric have no place in the halls of Maryland’s public schools. Trump’s eagerness to bully minorities would be unacceptable if it came from any of our students.
School should be a safe place for all students, no matter their background. Allowing Trump to speak in a public school normalizes and condones bullying attitudes and behavior that go against the tolerance and acceptance that educators strive to teach our students every day. [Maryland State Education Association, 4/19/16; Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/13/16]