Donald Trump isn't known for keeping his cards close to his chest, but although President-elect Trump has loose lips for most things, education is not one of them. Therefore what little we do know will be key to figuring out what education will look like in America over the next four years.
The three main objectives that he's discussed publicly are to push the 'school choice' initiative, dispose of the Common Core State Standards, and dramatically reduce - or entirely eliminate - the Federal Education Department.
The appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary gives us some insight into which direction Trump is going to head in. Betsy DeVos is a privately educated, billionaire business woman, who actively promotes school choice and charter schools. Selecting DeVos is a clear sign that school choice will be heavily implemented, and that Trump's proposal to put twenty billion dollars towards school choice might become reality.
The positives and negatives of school choice
School choice is an initiative that seeks to tackle the inequality a large proportion of school children face. Rather than children having to attend the local public school, children will have the choice of where they want to go - whether that be the local public school, a charter school, or a private school.
Federal education dollars will go to states instead of directly to schools, with the intention to then follow the children to whichever school they decide to go to. More choice, it is argued by school choice advocates, will create a healthy competition in the school marketplace and will raise students learning.
The main issue for Trump's team is the fact that the US spends more than most developed countries on education (per child), but their school students get worse results. There is clearly something broken in the US education system, and those hit hardest are, as per usual, the people at the bottom of society.
Those who come from less privileged backgrounds find it increasingly hard to compete with those who can afford private education. The point of this objective is to level the playing field, enabling children from poorer backgrounds to receive the education they need to improve their future prospects.
The problem with school choice is that it will take money away from public schools. Tax-payer money instead will go to private institutions such as privately funded and for-profit schools such as charter schools. This takes money from the state and puts it into private pockets. In the short-term a selection of children may be able to go to a better school, but in the long run it devalues and breaks down the public school sector.
In the UK this is seen through the discussion of bringing back grammar schools, an initiative seen from the off-set as allowing intelligent children who can't attend private school to be able to get a 'better education'. But what does that do for the children who don't get into a grammar? They're branded as failures and left behind, not to mention the divisive impact this has on communities.
We have school systems all over the world which do better than the UK and the US that do not segregate their children. Why would we adopt a model that doesn't work when there are plenty of examples around the world that do?
DeVos's appointment shows how evidence is being ignored by Trump's administration. DeVos had a hand in organising Detroit's charter school system, which is renown for being the biggest school reform disaster in the whole of the United States. With evidence showing that charter schools do not educate children better than public schools, it's hard to see why this idea is being so heavily pushed by DeVos and Trump unless it's about private gain.
What about the Common Core?
The Common Core State Standards is a clear set of goals for the skills and knowledge that children should have at each stage of their schooling. The ambition is that children will then have the competencies they need so that they are prepared to succeed in their later lives, whether that be through getting into college, their career or otherwise.
The idea is reminiscent of the core objectives that you can find in many different education systems throughout the world. For instance, Finland has recently updated theirs to incorporate the contemporary skills that future generations will need in a globalized world.
The Common Core is often criticised by people on both political sides and has become a highly conscientious talking point in education. Trump wants to destroy the Common Core and let individual states decide how education works, as the initiative is seen as the federal government being 'too involved' in state affairs, which leads onto his next promise.
To shrink or eliminate the Federal Education Department.
Of course, as we've seen in countries such as Finland, more power and decision processes being handed to schools and teachers can give them the confidence to do what's right for the pupils they have in front of them. Allowing individualised education to happen.
However, this move wouldn't see that power being handed to schools, it would pass the control to individual states. It's hard to tell what kind of effect this would have on education. Although, it may not matter that much if the public school sector is wiped out thanks to a rise in charter and private school education, which school choice would initiate.
So what's the outcome for education in America?
Due to the appointment of DeVos and the promises made by Trump, it looks like taxpayer money is going to be drained away from the public sector, into private pockets. With no regulation, charter and private schools can provide whatever kind of education they deem fit, and if their school becomes a failing one there's no one they have to answer to. Instead of providing children with a 'better education' we risk providing children with schools which have no guidelines, no targets that they have to hit, and therefore can provide as good - or as poor - an education to their students as they desire.
Trump, DeVos and their supporters' stance seems to be on reducing the regulation of education and letting schools fight it out, like businesses do. But schools aren't businesses, they weren't ever meant to be. The purpose of businesses is to beat the others by making larger profits. School aren't supposed to function like this, their aim is to educate children, not to make a profit and not to compete with other schools. Their focus should be on their pupils.
What happens to the pupils in the schools that don't receive enough funding? And what happens when these schools are eventually shut down? All of a sudden the state is poorer than it was, with no public school system, handing out money to schools who pocket the profit rather than invest it back into the public education system.
Education is supposed to support pupils and prepare them for life. Schools are one of the few institutions left in the world whose primary focus isn't money, whose purposes are to serve the community which they are in. They are not to be turned into competition machines, with test results and profit margins being the overall goal. Of course we want to change schools for the better, but this administration is ignoring the evidence and tackling it from completely the wrong angle.
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