I’m proud that most of my very good friends are Republicans, and they are beside themselves about the apparent fast track Donald J Trump has for the nomination of the Republican Party for president of the United States. They say they won’t vote for him, but they won’t vote for Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, either.
Back before I was born, President Lyndon B Johnson said, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
I think this is close to what’s happening across America. Mr Trump has read the Riot Act to Mexicans, Muslims, and just about every ethnic group, every nationality, and every college-educated man, woman, and child. In effect, he has given us people to look down on so he can pick our pockets. Several Americans, as President Johnson predicted, empty their pockets.
Hillary Clinton, on the other side of the political aisle, has accepted huge speaking fees from Wall Street financiers and refuses to release transcripts of those speeches—more secrecy than may be good for the country. Maybe she convinced them they could look down on the 99-percenters. Again, they just empty their pockets.
Mr Trump says he’s going to make America great again, which really means he’s going to rid us of Mexicans, Muslims, college-educated scientists who “believe in” evolution or climate change, and he’s going to cut “government” programs, among which he includes the Common Core.
The fact is, my Republican friends, Mr Trump has been coming for a while. It all started with trade deals we cut that meant US corporations could make a few more pennies on the dollar for shareholders, the elite, by shipping off jobs to workers in distant lands who agreed to work for a quarter an hour or something. Both Republicans and Democrats share the blame here, which is why Mr Trump and Ms Clinton’s opponent on the Democratic side, Senator Bernie Sanders, look nothing like previous nominees of their parties.
Anyway, when jobs started being shipped overseas, entire communities in the US lost tax revenues: if people have no jobs in an American town, nobody can buy anything or pay taxes in that town. Mr Trump has tapped into this, and he’s been very smart about it.
He hasn’t been smart about the Common Core, though. In fact, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even know what the Common Core is. So, once again, bear with me as I explain: It’s a minimum list of skills and knowledge students in each grade should be able to do or have. A minimum set. Any good teacher—and there are many in the US—will take his or her students way beyond the scope of the Common Core, and any school will explore subjects besides math and English, which are the only subjects covered in the Common Core.
In videos pretending to explain his intended policies and in minor citations at presidential debates, Mr Trump has said he hates the Common Core State Standards because they are a “total disaster.” He has promised to abolish the federal Education Department and the “Common Core” upon ascending to the presidency, because education “has to be at a local level.”
I really don’t even know where to begin.
Mr Trump, in this excerpt of a position statement, promises to solve a problem that doesn’t exist by using power the president doesn’t have. People are going to fall for it, because they don’t know enough about what powers the president actually has or about how education in this country works, either, but please, let’s try to get the facts right.
First, the federal government—the president, Congress, or the Supreme Court—doesn’t have any authority to abolish the Common Core, because the federal government didn’t create the Common Core. The feds did encourage states to adopt a uniform set of standards, which in most states was the Common Core. But the feds can’t just come in and tell states to abolish it. Some states have already un-adopted the standards, but that had nothing to do with the federal government. President Obama couldn’t tell states to un-adopt the Common Core even if he wanted to, which he doesn’t.
And when it comes to making schools “local,” that notion has popular support among Mr Trump’s followers, because they seem to think the federal government has caused all the problems in their lives. But history tells a different story, one these supporters may not have heard. When the federal government had a lesser role in education policy, before President Jimmy Carter elevated the education secretary to a cabinet-level post, civil rights violations in the schools were too common. Students were allowed to coast through their entire school careers without taking any rigorous courses in science, math, literature, civics, physical education, music, or whatever a local district decided to skimp on.
Between 1990, a few years after education was closer to the presidency, and 2013, the percentage of US fourth graders who demonstrated proficiency in math increased from 13 percent to 40 percent, according to results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, sometimes called the Nation’s Report Card. The percentage of fourth-grade students performing at or above the Basic level was also higher compared to 1990.
I think anyone, including Mr Trump, who says the feds should get out of the education game has a reason to promote low levels of education among Americans. Wanting people not to educate themselves is a civil and human rights violation, in my book.
“The extremists are afraid of books and pens,” writes Malala Yousafzai, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. “The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women.”
Besides human rights, though, Mr Trump seems to think local control is somehow related to the Common Core. Local school districts can try if they want, but they simply can’t set educational standards for themselves. They can establish curriculum, the “how” of classroom instruction, but allowing each local school district to decide for itself what standards to teach kids would be a disaster, especially since many families are highly mobile.
We can’t let kids miss the opportunity to learn important content because they move from or to a school district that doesn’t support that important content.
Let’s get away from this circus
Meanwhile, the Senate education committee approved President Obama’s nomination of John King to serve as secretary of education for the remainder of his term, the New York Times reports. Mr Sanders is on the committee, and since he’s campaigning in Florida, he voted by proxy to recommend the Senate confirm Mr King’s nomination.
The nomination was the final agenda item at yesterday’s Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee hearing. You can watch a video of the entire hearing here. Democrat Elizabeth Warren said she will vote to move Mr King’s nomination to the Senate floor but won’t fully support it until she gets more direct answers to some of her questions.
Ms Clinton hasn’t spoken much about education in the campaign, but she has posted a few position statements about education.
“I really believe that it takes a village to raise a child, and the American village has failed our children,” she said in the Democratic presidential debate in 2007.
In June 2015, she updated her message for this election cycle. “We need a president who will fight for strong public schools in every ZIP code and every community across the country. I want to be that president. I want to fight for you and for educators, and for students and for families. I think they go together.”
From her time in Arkansas, she has been a staunch supporter of government programs and even standards-based instruction, fighting for the rights of disadvantaged students in obtaining a world-class education. At least in her words.
“We can do more to meet the needs of students by providing opportunities geared toward their individual skills and educational goals,” she believes. “She will work to ensure students with disabilities, in particular, have the resources and support they need throughout their school years,” her website promises. Good words, but it’s not a specific plan.
John Podesta is her campaign manager. He’s a lobbyist who has fought for high-stakes testing, the implementation of the Common Core, and charter schools.
In 2012, he delivered a speech at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a corporate education reform think tank established by Jeb Bush, who was formerly running for the Republican nomination for president. Chester Finn, a member of the Maryland State Board of Education and president of the nonprofit Thomas B Fordham Foundation, was also at the luncheon. Here’s a quote from that speech:
I think this emphasis that President Obama and Secretary Duncan have placed on competition, not just Race to the Top but competition throughout the system of education, is quite a good one. And I think the federal resources can be used to both support the development of new models and can force state experimentation in a way that’s quite healthy.
I would prefer to emphasize collaboration and de-emphasize competition when it comes to education. The drive to win or even compete in any kind of contest will do little to improve the quality of education, which should be our primary goal for schools.
“Rather than improving social circumstances, free market competition would actually expand inequalities among students,” wrote the South Carolina Law Review in 2013, citing a note written by Stefani Carter in opposition to Milton Friedman’s idea that a competitive free market approach forces public schools to improve in order to compete against private schools.
Public schools have simply failed to show much improvement in the face of competition from private school tuition assistance programs or from charter school networks in the neighborhood, perhaps because they’re already operating at the maximum potential of quality, given demographic and other constraints.
Plus, through selective enrollment, private schools can skim the best students from the public schools and leave the worst students, even if programs from the federal or state government make it financially easier for public school students to afford the tuition at better private schools. And when those selected students leave the public school for a private or charter school, the public school loses money, nullifying any benefits competition might have delivered.
Mr Podesta has dismissed the idea of vouchers or education tax credits as a “distraction,” but he has encouraged educators to turn their attention to building public charter schools and to offering parents more “choice” in where they send their children.
In his mind, and I would assume in Ms Clinton’s ear, charter schools are no longer a laboratory for experimenting with different teaching methods; they are a cash cow for corporations that run huge networks of these charter schools across the country. Not exactly local, is it, Mr Trump?
Ms Clinton has said she would strive to make college a debt-free experience for students. Her Democratic opponent, Mr Sanders, would take it a step further and add a tax on financial transactions on Wall Street to make state-funded colleges in the US tuition-free.
So I get it, my Republican friends. There’s not much anyone with a decent education who strives to help schools keep improving can do. Meanwhile, we empty our pockets, sending millions to companies that build computers and routers, standardized tests, “personalized” learning “ecosystems,” and nationwide networks of charter schools. None of which make our schools any better or help our government preserve civil rights and rigor in our classrooms.
This election is just going to be one bright, shiny moment in history! We will look back on it and reflect as we tell our grandchildren we were there when the American government was turned upside down.