On April 26th President Trump signed an Executive Order to return control of education to the states.  In its press release, the White House said the order “will launch a 300 day review of Obama-era regulations and guidance for school districts, and directs Education Secretary Betsy Devos to modify or repeal measures she deems an overreach by the federal government.”

Specifically the order states:

[I]n order 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, including section 103 of the Department of Education Organization Act (DEOA) (20 U.S.C. 3403), sections 438 and 447 of the General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), as amended (20 U.S.C. 1232a and 1232j), and sections 8526A, 8527, and 8529 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) (20 U.S.C. 7906a, 7907, and 7909), it is hereby ordered as follows:

Section 1.  Policy.  It shall be the policy of the executive branch to protect and preserve State and local control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, and personnel of educational institutions, schools, and school systems, consistent with applicable law, including ESEA, as amended by ESSA, and ESEA’s restrictions related to the Common Core State Standards developed under the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Sec. 2.  Review of Regulations and Guidance Documents.  (a)  The Secretary of Education (Secretary) shall review all Department of Education (Department) regulations and guidance documents relating to DEOA, GEPA, and ESEA, as amended by ESSA.

(b)  The Secretary shall examine whether these regulations and guidance documents comply with Federal laws that prohibit the Department from exercising any direction, supervision, or control over areas subject to State and local control, including:

(i)    the curriculum or program of instruction of any elementary and secondary school and school system;

(ii)   school administration and personnel; and

(iii)  selection and content of library resources, textbooks, and instructional materials.

Read the full order here.

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t touch federal law (ESSA, among many) which has been criticized for not going far enough to repeal federal meddling in education. By definition Executive Orders cannot change law, but this means that many things the public does not like coming from Washington are untouchable by Secretary Devos, so the EO’s effect will be limited. By referring only to overreach enacted during the Obama administration, the EO misses the decades of federal rules and laws which have erected a massive structure to influence K-12 education.  Take a look at all the regional centers, established by different federal laws over the last 4 decades, that are funded by the USDED and most assuredly exercise direction, if not actual control, over areas subject to state control.

USED Centers

This chart is just a small sample of the numerous centers and programs USDED operates outside of Washington, all authorized by Congress and funded with US taxpayer collars. These would be untouched by any review.

Let’s zoom in a little on the Central Comprehensive Center (C3) that Missouri is a part of and take a look at what they are or have been doing for Missouri. Let’s start with their mission from C3’s web page:

“[T]he U.S. Department of Education’s (ED’s) stated goal is to ensure all students are ready for college and careers at high school graduation. To achieve this goal, ED is encouraging states to

  • adopt and implement the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) initiative,
  • implement common student assessments used to measure student academic achievement,
  • intervene to assist low-performing schools, and
  • develop accountability systems that reward progress and identify areas in need of improvement.

The resulting improvement in college and career readiness will result in America’s increased competitiveness in the global economy. The U.S. Department of Education has also created the College and Career Readiness and Success Center to support this effort.”

The goal of the CCRSC seems to be to defy federal law by exercising direction over local curriculum and testing.

Drilling down further we can see some of the specific projects that C3 has done with Missouri. Special projects that they have “assisted in” include:

“Missouri Educator Evaluation System – DESE’s ESEA Flexibility Waiver Renewal was approved in June 2015, and requires the use of student growth measures as a piece of its educator evaluation system beginning in the 2015 – 2016 school year. Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) provide the means for assessing the impact of a teacher’s classroom instruction on student growth. In April 2014, C3 and GTL Center provided technical assistance and professional development to DESE for 14 hours of SLO training sessions with over 30 participants. DESE’s Office of Educator Quality invited key leadership and educators across the state of Missouri to these training sessions to provide resources, expertise, and guidance to practitioners as they developed quality SLOs that may be used to improve instruction, student learning, and as a possible component of the evaluation of educator effectiveness. In May and June 2015, C3 partnered with Community Training and Assistance Center (CTAC) to provide 28 hours of advanced training sessions to 17 participants that included statewide SLO trainers, DESE staff members, and state technical assistance providers.” See full description here.

“Career & Technical Education State Funding Formula Revision – The funding formula and accompanying criteria for Missouri’s CTE state funds have not been reviewed or revised since 2005 despite major changes to the state-level data that inform these criteria, including labor market needs, number and types of programs and campuses served, state-level student participation rates, and appropriation level. To reach its goal to ensure these funds are allocated so all programs receive adequate resources to support student needs, DESE realized the need to bring stakeholders together across Missouri to create a new CTE funding structure for the 2017-18 school year. The process for aligning the broader college and career-ready goals and revising the CTE funding formula included mapping college and career readiness policies, programs, and funding streams using external expertise in process facilitation to gain consensus from the stakeholders.”  See full description here.

According to the first bullet, taxpayers funded more than six days worth of training for almost 50 DESE staff on a system that schools were to use to evaluate their teachers. By developing SLOs, they are fundamentally changing how teachers teach, merely for the goal of obtaining documentation that teachers have been helping students progress. When asked how useful the SLOs were in helping guide instruction, one teacher told me they were told that SLOs were already things that teachers did, but now they were required to track data on them. This takes away from teaching time and further narrows the focus of instruction since it would be impossible to have a SLO for every single standard. As a result, students can, for instance, identify the TAG (theme, author, genre) of a passage of text, but they cannot string two sentences together and their writing is full of spelling errors. TAG is measured on the assessment. Spelling is not.

We saw firsthand what facilitators can do to direct the outcome of a meeting with the Standards Development work groups so, while it may have been necessary to update Missouri’s funding formula, having outside facilitators oversee the process begs the question; were they helping reach a predetermined goal, and who set that goal?

Congressman Massie’s HR899 goes a lot further than President Trump’s EO by calling for the termination of the entire Department of Education by December 31, 2018. Even that bill, as broad as it seems, leaves the future of all these regional centers in question and thus the long lasting influence of forces outside of state departments of education a possibility.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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