Quite aside from other considerations, a new president will always have an impact upon education policy. The incoming president may possibly represent more of a discontinuity than we have seen for a while, since every president since Reagan has followed roughly the same course, whose recent developments include: an emphasis on standards and accountability (including Big Data about students), an increase in federal involvement, a growing acceptance of market-based thinking about education policy, a concomitant increase in the influence of corporations and activist philanthropy, and a continued normalization of language and thinking about education as an industry like any other, including the growth of privatization at many levels. Also what I might call a continued weirdness in American attitudes towards teachers. (See Emily Talmage’s reflections on this interesting continuity in policy here).
So one might expect that some of these themes will continue or pick up steam under the Trump administration; other trends might diminish. (See Emma Brown in the Answer Sheet for her reflections on this topic). It is certain that the future of education in the US will be shaped by state and local forces, perhaps even more than federal ones — which in any case are always filtered by local interpretations. I have been trying to scan the blogosphere in the past few days, to pick up straws in the wind. Here are a few gleanings, but I encourage you, if this topic stimulates you to answer, to especially let us know what you are seeing from the vantage point of your locale and also your role in the educational “system”.
EdWeek’s Andrew Ujifusa has an interesting story on the people from the Trump team who seem to be especially influential with respect to education. As Frederic Hess of the American Enterprise Institute (a source from which Trump seems likely to draw much guidance) emphasized recently, “Personnel is policy.” Until it’s embodied in staffing and reified in regs or statutes, policy has rhetorical power, but not much else. As Hess writes:
When education does come up, who really knows what a Trump administration would actually try to do on schooling? Sure, Trump’s said… he wants to spend $20 billion for some kind of federal program to promote school choice. He said he wants to abolish the Department of Education. He said that he wants to prohibit states from making schools gun-free zones. I think it’s a mistake to take any of this at face value. As I’ve noted before, “There’s no reason to believe that Trump necessarily means what he’s said on any issue. In truth, he seems to regard policy declarations as performance art.” So we’ll see if he devises a clear agenda on school choice or higher education, and whether he pushes it.
Though some names have been floated for Secretary of Education (Scott Walker, for example, or former governor Mitch Daniels), right now the action is taking place in the transition team, and the names there give a hint about points of view that are resonating with Trump and his team. Williamson Evers, from the Hoover Institution, has a long education policy pedigree, including positions in the Bush administration. At the Hoover Institution, Evers has written widely on education p0licy, and been an outspoken opponent of centralization, and of the Common Core. A piece from 2014, “Against the Common Core,” lays out his philosophical position fairly fully (IMHO), including his views about the theory of “competitive federalism” as a driver of institutional and social change.
The American Enterprise Institute is supplying several members of the developing Trump brain-trust (for example climate denier Myron Ebell for the EPA transition). For education, the AEI resource is Gerard Robinson, who has in the past served as Sec. of Ed for Virginia. Robinson’s interests include constructive ideas about educating prisoners, but with regard to K-12 education, his emphasis is on school choice and opportunity, with a Milton-Friedman tinged interest in competitive mechanisms for school improvement; “entrepreneurship” is a word of power for him. Unsurprisingly, he is also an advocate for “digital learning,” participating as a founding member of the Digital Learning Council, whose natal press release says:
The members of the Digital Learning Council share a sense of extreme urgency about the need to bring digital learning to every school, every classroom and every child,” stated Governor Bob Wise, co-chair of the Digital Learning Council. “We must not squander the opportunity to promote digital innovation to reform our nation’s schools and ensure that all students are prepared to confront the challenges in our economy and society with the tools and skills that digital technology offers.
Regardless of the point of view that shapes your STEM ed work, now is a really good time to clarify your values in dialogue with those who both agree and disagree with you. As Sontag used to say, “Wake up!” Emily Talmage is very clear about what she sees coming towards us, but advocates for engagement:
So what does this mean for us? For our kids, our schools and our communities? More than likely, it won’t be much different nor any less dismal than what I wrote when I assumed Hillary would be president: more screen time for even our youngest children, inflated local budgets to support one-to-one tech initiatives, invasive (waymore invasive) school-wide and individual data collection, and a proliferation of low-quality online K-12 and higher education programs.
Unless! And this is a big unless..
Unless parents and activists from across the political spectrum can mobilize now and stand up now to say enough is enough. We know what the big agenda is, and we aren’t going to manipulated by superficial policy change anymore. This means that those who lean right can’t afford to go back to sleep once they hear talk of school choice and vouchers and the elimination of Common Core, and those leaning left can’t afford to throw in the towel or be led astray by phony anti-privatization movements run by neoliberal groups pushing the same darn thing as everyone else.
And Rachel Levy, of “All things Education”, argues for 4 constructive recommendations which which I leave you, hoping to hear all of you making sense of What Is To Be Done:
Recommendation #1: Read, respect, and support high quality social scientific research that studies people of all groups and researchers that represent people of all groups.
Recommendation #2: Read people who you don’t agree with and who make you uncomfortable–they can tell you things you won’t pick up on by only reading people you agree with.
Recommendation #3: If you are not already, now is the time to get engaged in your local and state governance.