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What Does Donald Trump’s Education Policy Look Like?

United States president-elect, Donald J. Trump, originally announced his 100-day plan at a rally in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania towards the end of October, as the election was coming to a close. In it, he put forth proposals for legislation that has to do with education, childcare, healthcare, federal regulations, federal employees, economic policy, immigration, and a handful of other things. I’m going to shine light specifically on how these policies will affect students enrolled in K-12 and institutes of higher education.

K-12

Under the School Choice and Education Opportunity Act, Mr. Trump has proposed a plan for universal school choice which would “redirect education dollars to give parents the right to send their kid to the public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school of their choice.” His plan would end common core education and bring the supervision to the local community level, expands vocational and technical education, and a plan to make two and four-year college degrees more affordable.

This is rather vague, so it is necessary to further investigate to understand what this really means for us and what the process entails. His campaign website provides more details as to what his plan and vision is. He highlights that the US spends more per pupil than most major countries, yet perform “near the bottom of the pack for major large advanced countries.” This is objectively true. As the Pew Research Center explains, only 16% of scientists from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and 29% of the general public would rank U.S. STEM education for K-12 to be above average or at the top of the list. The most recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) data shows that we’re ranked 35th in mathematics and 27th in science out of sixty-four total countries evaluated.

This data also shows that apparently students in the U.S. “have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as taking real-world situations, translating them into mathematical terms, and interpreting mathematical aspects into real-world problems.” Despite the fact that the US spends more per student than most other countries, this doesn’t translate into better performance. Let’s take, for example, the Slovak Republic. When you break it down, they spend about $53,000 (USD) per student, as opposed to the US who spends more than $115,000 per student. However, they perform at the same level. It is also worthy to note that Korea, the highest performing OECD country in mathematics, spends much less than the average per-student expenditure. So the problem certainly doesn’t lie within the funding itself.

The method of organization is also an important factor found by this research. On average, schools with more teacher autonomy over their own curriculum and assessments tend to perform better than schools with less autonomy when they are part of a school system with more arrangements regarding accountability and greater teacher-principal collaboration with school management. This is in-line with some of the basic concepts also advocated by proponents school choice with regards to the decentralization of power and allocating it to the local level.

Trump has made cutting federal regulations a huge part of his platform. However, he has pledged to dedicate $20 billion in federal funds to school choice policies that would “give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend” and use federal carrots to enable states to further expand choice policies. Jason Bedrick, policy analyst for the CATO Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, says that if he’s planning to promote a national voucher program to expand educational opportunity is “admirable, but using the federal government to do so is misguided” because it would very likely lead to an increase in federal regulation of private schools over time, especially if a new administration takes over that is less friendly to the concept as a whole. That has certainly been the case in some states that have undermined the effectiveness of school choice policies by excessively regulating them. He elaborates by stating:

“When a state adopts regulations that undermine its school choice program, it’s lamentable but at least the ill effects are localized. However, if the federal government regulates a national school choice program, there is no escape.”

Higher Education

Trump’s plans for higher education aren’t quite as descriptive as those for K-12. He has said he wants to “work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for federal tax breaks and tax dollars.” He also wants to ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year school, as well as a vocational or technical school to attain specific skills, is “easier to access, pay for, and finish.” However, that is the extent of details as to how that will happen.

He has suggested that instead of students dealing with the “albatross” of student debt, they could pay 12.5 percent of their income each year for fifteen years, and after that, their loans could be forgiven. There is already a program in place that requires a payment of 10 percent over twenty years. Jason D. Delisle, of the American Enterprise Institute, has said that Mr. Trump’s plan would give a huge break to students with a higher amount of student debt (like those with more advanced degrees), but would ultimately end up costing the government more.

Controversy

Like many other things, Donald Trump’s education policies have been no stranger to controversy. The Trump transition team announced on Wednesday, November 23rd that his pick to head the Department of Education was to be Betsy DeVos. It was difficult to find an article that wasn’t somehow critical of this decision.

DeVos is the chair for American Federation for Children, a group that promotes charter school education. She also served on the board for an organization called Foundation for Excellence in Education, which is a group led by former Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, and promotes both school choice and common core standards of education. Conservatives were quick to critique the decision because of her involvement in an organization who supports common core. However, she issued a very bold statement on her website saying that “I am not a supporter–period.”

“Have organizations that I have been a part of supported Common Core?”, she continued. “Of Course. But that’s not my position.” She says that she believes every child regardless of their zip code or their parent’s jobs deserves access to a quality education. The National Education Association, the largest labor union in the US, gave fierce condemnation of Trump’s pick. Asserting that she has “done more to undermine public education than support students” and accused her of pushing “a corporate agenda”.

 

Like most things about Donald Trump, his education policy plans have been subject to controversy and debate. The reactions to these education proposals have been a mixed bag. Some are embracing the policies, while others are harshly critical, and there are those that fall between both umbrellas. Either way, the debate surrounding these issues are seemingly far from over with.

Joshua D. Speer

I'm an undergraduate student living in Denver, CO. I am currently working on my prerequisites at Front Range Community College--where I'm a staff writer for the Front Page (campus newspaper) and chapter president of Young Americans for Liberty (YAL). I intend to transfer into a four-year Bioengineering program, sub-specialty of Neuroengineering. Feel free to follow me on Twitter at @JoshuaDSpeer.

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