What will public education be like in Trump’s presidency


By Elpidio Estioko

If we base our decision from readings and pronouncements made by President-elect Donald Trump before and after Election Day, there’s a likelihood that the U.S. Department of Education might be shrunk or… abolished!

We, however still don’t know the thoughts of the incoming president about the matter because he has a lot of surprises in the vetting process for his cabinet people. In his first public announcement on what he will do for his first 100 days, education was not mentioned. In some reports, however, a couple of names are being floated to the position of Secretary of Education.

Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer think that “the repeal of a ban of bilingual education in California to a smack down of charter school expansion in Massachusetts, a wide range of education issues were subject to voter scrutiny across the United States on Election Day. But the fate of the nation’s K–12 public schools and institutions of higher education never became a prominent issue in the presidential race, leaving some Americans to wonder what the education agenda of President Donald Trump will be”.

Dwyer noted during Trump’s victory speech in the early hours of Wednesday morning that Trump vowed “to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. The specifics of how the nation’s public schools will be improved went unmentioned”.

In the case of prominent education historian, author, and New York University professor Diane Ravitch. She wrote in an email to TakePart, “It is a mixed picture… Certainly Trump said nothing during the campaign that showed any interest in public schools.”

If, however, we follow Trump’s campaign rhetoric, one of the major changes he may attempt to do is to “shrink, gut, or completely eliminate the U.S. Department of Education”, Ravitch explained.

“We want to bring education local, so we’re going to be cutting the Department of Education big league because we’re running our education from Washington, D.C., which is ridiculous, instead of running it out of Miami or running it out of the different place that we have so many people,” Trump said in a speech in Florida in August.

There may be truth to this with the names of two education activists or reformers being floated to be Education Secretary. They are Michele Rhee and Betsy Devos. Michele Rhee strongly supports charter schools, a good government alternative to traditional public schools. She is a well-known education activist who is married to Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a Democrat. She is a Democrat herself. She and Trump, according to the report during their meeting, “enjoyed an in-depth discussion about the future of public education in our country. This included the possibility for increasing competition through charter and choice schools. They also brought the idea of merit pay for teachers going above and beyond their classrooms into the conversation”.

There might be some disagreement on her ideas but on the whole, Trump sees in her a match of his revolutionary ideas to chart the destiny of education under his term. While she was chancellor of schools in Washington, D.C. from 2007-2010, Rhee gained prominence as an education reformer. In 2010, she formed Students First, a states-based education reform organization that advocates for school-choice initiatives.

Rhee has been a strong proponent of charter schools and currently chairs the board of the Sacramento-based charter school organization St. Hope Public Schools started by Johnson. She supports the Common Core curriculum that is unpopular with many conservatives, and which Trump has vowed to end.

As to Devos, the conversation was, “focused on the Common Core mission and setting higher national standards and promoting the growth of school choice across the nation”.

If we follow the conversation, it points out to a leaner department while working on national goals. Both Devos and Rhee are education reformers and activists, so there’s likely much overhaul to be done in the education sector if either of them is appointed Education Secretary.

Dating back, Trump is not the first politician to suggest that the nation get rid of the Department of Education. In 1980, Ronald Reagan ran on a platform that included abolishing the department. Even though Reagan won the election, he kept the department, thanks in part to opposition from a Democratic-controlled Congress. Well, the case of Trump is different, Congress is Republican-controlled. Again, if he goes for it, it will be upheld by Congress, so we should be ready for it.

But even before Congress’ opposition set in, Reagan found that slashing the Department of Education “could produce disastrous results for students, teachers, and the economy”. Similarly, an analysis this September from the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund found “that if the Department of Education were dissolved, roughly 8 million low-income students would lose the Pell Grants they depend on to afford college, and 5 million children and students with disabilities would lose $12.7 billion used every year to ensure that they receive a quality education.”

Vouchers and charters seem to be among Trump’s priorities for education policy. In an October event where he made his remarks about downsizing the Department of Education, Paladino, who served as Trump’s cochairman in New York State, said that Trump would seek to “encourage competition in the marketplace and eventually dismantle the corrupted, incompetent urban school districts that we have in America today,” reported The Washington Post.

Also in the Fact Check by Trump, he said to “let schools compete: charters, vouchers, and magnets. Competition is why I’m very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids. I guarantee that if you forced schools to get better or close because parents didn’t want to enroll their kids there, they would get better. Those schools that weren’t good enough to attract students would close, and that’s a good thing”.

With all the facts presented, we can safely say that following are policies that are more likely to be pursued by President Trump: school choice, charter schools, voucher schools, and merit system for school teachers. What does this mean? This means streamlining the education sector towards more local control!

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