The Associated Press projected at 1:36 Eastern Time this morning that Donald Trump had been elected the 45th president of the United States. The vote trumpeted a repudiation of the establishment and an incomprehensibly complex American political landscape. His election marks the first time a president has been elected who has never held elective office or a military post.
Since President Barack Obama just signed the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, neither Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton nor President-Elect Trump said much about education at the federal level during the campaign. They instead chose to focus on issues that were more troubling to the nation as a whole, topics that had some chance of real change in federal law, or semi-innuendos that gave them an advantage over their opponent.
But there was some reflection on federal education policy during the campaign. For example, both candidates said they would address the issue of college debt, though their approaches differed. Both favor school choice and the development of charter schools, though their exact implementation might be different on that front as well.
As Mr Trump, a Republican, has been elected, I wanted to take a closer look at how Republicans can work with the country and a Republican-controlled Congress toward a consensus on developing strategies in public education.
First, both parties need to be champions for higher education, science, technology, and civics education. These are the jobs of the future. Mr Trump tried to convince uninformed voters that jobs were disappearing to foreign countries, but evidence on the ground suggests that they are also disappearing to technology, including robots. This has been happening for decades, and we can no longer remain in denial.
We also can’t deny the science of climate change. Nobody will have a good life if they can’t breathe the air, and both parties need to come together on this—soon. Increasing the knowledge of the American public when it comes to high-tech jobs can help. The use of technology to address some of these concerns should be a common ground for Republicans and Democrats: doing so will help stabilize the climate, and the use of technology means that less government regulation will be required, which is a strategy Republicans have favored historically.
Third, school choice is a good idea in theory, and Mr Trump’s website was full of information that showed he will be a champion for school choice. Kids shouldn’t be forced to attend failing schools. In practice, though, we haven’t been able to agree on a way to determine whether a school is failing, and we haven’t figured out how to fund public schools in the process. Too often, schools lose money when kids decide not to attend them, and that widens the achievement gap and the opportunity gap.
Furthermore, the widening of both gaps is a self-perpetuating phenomenon, since as more kids step away from a failing school, the funding that school receives, based on student enrollment, goes down, which in turn forces the school to cut programs and reduce the quality of education kids have an opportunity to receive even more. That leads more kids away from the school, and the cycle repeats.
Fourth, charter schools are good in theory as well, but in practice, many actual charter schools have become profit-seeking instruments of corruption and greed. I can live with people being greedy—and the close election we just had shows that about half of America would have no problem with greed either—but what many charter operators do isn’t done in the interest of improving the education of the kids who attend their schools.
In addition, we need to provide early childhood education opportunities for all Americans. A good way would be universal pre-kindergarten but there are other strategies that might come from a more Republican-centered playbook as well. While this is largely in the domain of the states, the federal government could direct funding in one of the entitlement programs that would provide pre-K for every student in America. Perhaps Title I or VI would be a good place to start looking, since we are now supporting affirmative action protocols in education that Republicans oppose. Funding universal pre-K would go a long way toward eliminating the need for affirmative action programs.
Finally, we need to look at Title IX, the law that guarantees equal protection under the law for people of every sex. Not only do we need to improve the way our laws incorporate modern understanding, based on scientific research, of gender identity and sexual preference among young people, but we also need to improve the way federally funded institutions, such as colleges and secondary schools, handle allegations of sexual assault, hazing, bullying, and similar issues. We need to step up the quality of the investigations that occur in these cases so that all people are protected from the abusive behavior of others.
I have missed having lively discussions with conservative thinkers, I really have. Mr Trump’s wife, in fact, said she would focus an initiative on reducing bullying in our schools. Presumably she meant to address bullying that actually occurs, such as bullying of Muslims, members of the LGBT community, and the like. This type of initiative is worth pursuing from the bully pulpit of the presidency.
Instead of being all-or-none when it comes to some of these education policies, we ought to first listen to both sides, including the side put forth by Mr Trump and Mrs Clinton, and do what we can to improve our schools. In the interest of simply winning, we have, I fear, lost the ability to reach consensus or compromise. As a result, nothing gets done, and corruption brews in our schools.