Donald Trump wasn’t Stacey Gyorgyi’s first choice for president ― but when she stepped into a Georgia voting booth and placed a ballot for him in November, she was hopeful.
Gyorgyi, a mother of two elementary-aged children, is deeply involved in public education activism, and after Trump repeatedly spoke on the campaign trail about his desire to dismantle the Common Core State Standards, he seemed like the best hope for creating the type of change she believed in.
Now she’s not so sure.
During the campaign and in the weeks following his election, Trump’s pledge to end the Common Core, a set of education goals that has stirred controversy on both sides of the aisle, became a popular refrain, often greeted by thunderous applause. But since taking office, the president seems to have dropped the topic, anti-Common Core activists say.
Now those same activists are working together to challenge Trump to keep his promise. Groups like the Patriots Journalist Network, a collective of conservative Twitter activists, have rallied around hashtags like #EndCommonCore and #KeepYourPromise, creating viral campaigns to get the attention of other conservatives and, they hope, of Trump himself.
Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the American Principles Project, a conservative think tank, said that the many voices of Common Core opposition have been routinely ignored by Democrats and Republicans alike for years. Consequently, she is certain they will not give up.
“People were so hopeful, and then all of a sudden it’s like, business as usual,” Robbins said of Trump’s election. “It’s a very deflating kind of feeling. But one thing I know about the Common Core grassroots is they don’t give up. Even when things look bad, they ramp it up. I think we can expect that to happen.”
In the past few years, PJNET has come to dominate conversations around Common Core on Twitter, at one point helping to account for about 25 percent of Twitter commentary on the subject, according to a university analysis. Anti-Common Core activists on both sides of the aisle have helped spur an “opt out movement,” where thousands of families around the country have chosen to opt their children out of standardized testing. These activists have helped make the Common Core standards so politically toxic that states started rebranding them with a new name in an effort to fool constituents.
Trump has shown no interest in dismantling the Common Core since taking office, although doing so would be nearly impossible at the federal level since the standards are adopted by states. Indeed, he chose Betsy DeVos as his education secretary, a woman who’d previously helmed groups that voiced strong support for Common Core.
But after Trump tapped DeVos, she immediately tried to distance herself from this past, tweeting that she is not a supporter of the Common Core, “period.”
Since then, DeVos has indicated that she is essentially powerless over the issue, telling a Detroit radio host that a new federal education law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, “essentially does away with the notion of a Common Core.” However, DeVos’ interpretation of the Every Student Succeeds Act is misleading at best. Although the law does not mandate the Common Core ― the Common Core was, indeed, never mandated ― it also does not interfere with the more than 40 states that continue to use the standards.
Instead, DeVos and Trump have focused their energy around expanding a school choice agenda, which would give kids more access to private schools and charter schools.
Still, that’s not stopping Gyorgyi and others from speaking out. Besides her involvement with PJNet, Gyorgyi is a vocal member of Opt Out Georgia, a bipartisan grassroots group that advocates against cumbersome standardized tests. It is through this work that she met Terri Sasseville, another anti-Common Core activist who also tweets with PJNet. Sasseville and Gyorgyi both question whether Trump’s school choice agenda would truly help children.
“Unless we can get Common Core out of the school, school choice is going to change nothing but the location of where you can get your bad Common Core instruction,” Sasseville said.
Sasseville, who has a daughter with autism, opposes the Common Core because she says the standards treat students with disabilities in a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all manner. Sasseville and Gyorgyi say the issue for them is not a matter of politics or partisanship, but one of protecting children. They both recognize that the president doesn’t have the power to implement a true repeal of the Common Core, but they argue there are more steps the administration could take to restore education control to the state and local level.
Through PJNet, they plan to remind Trump of the Common Core activists who helped get him elected.
“We’re going to keep talking to him on Twitter,” Sasseville said, “because he’s the Twitter president.”