by Félix Pérez; image courtesy of Gage Skidmore
Donald Trump has said education is a central part of his campaign to “make America great again.” But based on the absence of policy proposals to date and an analysis of his campaign website, you’d have to come to a different conclusion.
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Perhaps this week we’ll learn more beyond generalities and sound bites. The Trump campaign has announced that the reality TV star and real estate developer will finally release his plan this week.
In the meantime, what we do know shows Trump has little understanding of the challenges facing the nation’s students, educators and public schools.
In his most recent pronouncement, the candidate said:
It is time to have school choice, merit pay for teachers, and to end the tenure policies that hurt good teachers and reward bad teachers. We are going to put students and parents first.
More to the point, Trump, the product of private schools, stands behind school vouchers, which in community after community have diverted scarce resources from community schools to private and religious schools that are allowed to reject students with special needs.
His support for merit pay parrots a well-worn idea pushed by corporate ed reformers. But research shows that linking teacher pay to student achievement is rife with unanswered questions, such as, ‘How do you reward teachers who do not teach tested subjects?’ ‘How do merit pay advocates account for study findings that merit pay has no overall effect on student achievement?’ ‘What of the factors unaddressed by merit pay that are more important to recruiting and retaining quality teachers, such as collaborative environments and adequate resources?’ ‘How do you measure factors other than a teacher that affect student performance — his or her motivation, for example, or the amount of parental support?’
Trump’s overall assessment of public schools is as harsh as it is uninformed. “Schools are crime-ridden and they don’t teach,” he wrote in his book “The America We Deserve.”
What do we know about who Trump would turn to inform and implement his education policies?
According to Trump, Ben Carson, who was vanquished by Trump in the primaries, will play a major role. “I’m going to have Ben very involved with education, something that’s an expertise of his.”
Tellingly, Carson takes a dim view of public school students. “The best education is the education that is closest to home, and I’ve found that for instance homeschoolers do the best, private schoolers next best, charter schoolers next best, and public schoolers worst.”
When it comes to teacher-led unions, Trump, not surprisingly, is not a fan. “Our public schools have grown up in a competition-free zone, surrounded by a very high union wall. Why aren’t we shocked at the results? After all, teachers’ unions are motivated by the same desires that move the rest of us.”
Beyond any policy prescriptions Trump might propose, there is the matter of the leadership he would project to the world, including our students. So far on that score, the results, commonly referred to as “The Trump Effect,” are alarming. According to a national survey of educators by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the presidential campaign “is producing an alarming level of fear and anxiety among children of color and inflaming racial and ethnic tensions in the classroom.”
Characteristic of comment after comment in the report, one teacher from a middle school with a large population of African American Muslims said:
My students are terrified of Donald Trump. They think that if he’s elected, all black people will get sent back to Africa.
The report revealed that:
- More than two-thirds of the teachers reported that students—mainly immigrants, children of immigrants and Muslims—have expressed concerns or fears about what might happen to them or their families after the election.
- More than half have seen an increase in uncivil political discourse.