Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump and DeVos Put Public Schools At Risk


We are rated 28 in the world, the United States, think of it! Twenty-eight in the world. And frankly we spend far more per pupil than any other country in the world, by far; it’s not even a close second. The U.S. is performing so badly that some 'Third World countries' are beating it.”

Donald Trump, January 2016

The words of the president-elect condemn public education in the United States. As an ex-teacher who has many family members still working in the field of education, I view Trump's condemnation as an affront. Why?

American educators work very hard to assure all receive a good public education while so many of the countries that reportedly do much better than us distribute information that pertains to a particular segment of their population. Comparing U.S. students to students in these countries often reveals different standards of measurement.

And, without a doubt, American public education offers much more than basic skills development unlike so many foreign programs. For example, opportunities for socialization and extracurriculars in our schools continue to build character in American youth. Both a broad range of course offerings and endless clubs, teams, and activities remain important features in education. 

Education historian Diane Ravitch argues that the biggest crisis facing public education is the relentless message that public education is in crisis – a message constantly emanating from people like politicians, lobbyists, and CEOs. And, this is a message that comes from many of the privileged like Donald Trump.

Any teacher knows living with this criticism is part of their job description. Since American public teachers' daily flocks are comprised of children with every conceivable learning level and capability, working in the trenches requires incredible flexibility and adaptation. Public schools tout success after success; however, it seems only criticism makes headlines.

Ravitch sees the debate about the quality of education as a message concerning the broad power to shape the nation’s $600-billion-a-year investment in public education. And, she claims the truth is not always easy to discern. In fact, sometimes the criticisms are just plain false. She says the public is encouraged to look at four key talking points — and the facts (and spin) behind them:

1. China is eating us for lunch
2. Kids can't do math and it's killing our economy,3. We're spending more but schools are getting worse.
4. It's not an education problem, it's an equity problem.

After examining theses points, Ravitch comes to the conclusion that “corporate reformers” and “privatizers” have a vested interest in making it sound like teachers and schools are failing so they’ll be invited to run their own schools or sell educational technology at a profit.”

(Stephanie Simon. “Maybe U.S. public schools don't stink.” Politico. September 21, 2013.)

And Now, Trump

What promise does the new Trump administration hold for teachers in America's public schools? The general public may be very interesting in finding out the truth – this election may spell troubled times for those who love and support public education. If Trump has his way, private education may receive much more support while public instruction dwindles.

First, it is important to understand Republicans won a record number of legislative sports – a historic high for governorships. In addition Republicans will control two-thirds of the state legislative chambers – another all-time high. The GOP will control both legislative chambers in 32 states. And, 25 states will have Republican control of the executive branch and both legislative chambers.

Of course, this kind of control certainly suggests the dominate Republican makeup of state governments along with the Trump presidency will greatly influence educational policy.

Most experts are predicting more school-choice legislation, greater conflict over education funding, and increased challenges to teacher-tenure laws. 

The states have always controlled education policy in this country. Given the Trump administration’s priorities, Kenneth Wong, a professor of education and politics at Brown University, predicted that the federal government would continue to take a backseat to the states.

Trump and his advisors will shape the states' agendas on the national stage to advocate for those state-level programs. Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, for example, might encourage states to expand on initiatives that he spearheaded as Governor of Indiana, according to Wong, including new procedures for measuring student growth – through things like testing – and for holding teachers accountable for student performance. Pence also pushed to increase funding for quality charter schools while shutting down the failing ones, and expanded the state’s school voucher program.

(Laura McKenna. “How the GOP's Sweep in the States Will Shape America's Schools.” The Atlantic. November 25, 2016.)

Trump has promised tax cuts, so experts like Wong see that as a sign states will receive less money to spend on schools. In turn, states will be struggling to fund their education priorities. It is likely this means more conflict about the allocation of resources, especially in cities and urban centers because Republicans will likely give less to cities and more to areas with higher numbers of Republican voters.

Trump Chooses Betsy DeVos

It would seem the direction for education is clear since the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

Betsy DeVos, Trump's pick for educational cabinet secretary is reportedly one of the most passionate proponents of steering public dollars away from traditional public schools. She graduated from a private, Christian high school in Michigan and attended a private college, according to Yahoo. For nearly 30 years as an educational advocate, she has pushed to give families taxpayer money in the form of vouchers to attend private and parochial schools while trying to strip teacher unions of their influence.

The New York Times reports: “DeVos’s efforts to expand educational opportunity in her home state of Michigan and across the country have focused little on existing public schools, and almost entirely on establishing newer, more entrepreneurial models to compete with traditional schools for students and money. Her donations and advocacy go almost entirely toward groups seeking to move students and money away from what Mr. Trump calls 'failing government schools.'”

(Kate Zernike. “Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Education Pick, Has Steered Money From Public Schools.” The New York Times. November 23, 2016.)

Kate Zernike also reports …

“... if Michigan is a center of school choice, it is also among the worst places to argue that choice has made schools better. As the state embraced and then expanded charters over the past two decades, its rank has fallen on national reading and math tests. Most charter schools perform below the state average.

“And a federal review in 2015 found 'an unreasonably high' percentage of charter schools on the list of the state’s lowest-performing schools. The number of charter schools on that list had doubled since 2010, after the passage of a law a group financed by Ms. DeVos pushed to expand the schools. The group blocked a provision in that law that would have prevented failing schools from expanding or replicating....

DeVos-backed group was the chief force behind the defeat of legislation that would have established standards for identifying and closing failing schools, both charter and public, in Detroit, where a flood of charter schools in the past decade has created what even charter school supporters call chaos.” 
Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association (largest labor union in the United States – 3 million members) slammed the choice of DeVos, saying it would undermine public education. DeVos "has consistently pushed a corporate agenda to privatize, de-professionalize and impose cookie-cutter solutions to public education," Eskelsen Garcia said in a statement. 
Garcia continued, saying, "By nominating Betsy DeVos, the Trump administration has demonstrated just how out of touch it is with what works best for students, parents, educators and communities."
Rabbi Jack Moline, president of the Interfaith Alliance, called the pick "deeply disappointing. It suggests that he has little regard for our nation's public schools or the constitutional principle of separation of church and state."

(Eric Westervelt. “Trump Chooses Betsy DeVos For Education Secretary. National Public Radio. November 23, 2016.)

And, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (1.6 million members) said,“The president-elect, in his selection of Betsy DeVos, has chosen the most ideological, anti-public education nominee put forward since President Carter created a Cabinet-level Department of Education. Trump makes it loud and clear that his education policy will focus on privatizing, defunding and destroying public education in America.” 

The group says with DeVos as the pick, it means the country is “far from ensuring that every child has the option of a great public education” and warned some that “have it now will lose it.”

(Margaret Chadbourn. “What We Know About Betsy DeVos' Views on Education. ABC News. November 23, 2016.)

What Direction Home?

Do you smell what's cooking? Could that aroma be part of the con job readily accepted by the voting public because they somehow felt that a Trump administration was going to better conditions for the average American? In fact, how many educators across the country voted for Trump never realizing the effect of his presidency on their profession? Of course, “private” is a word associated with Trump in many ways. Now, he intends to bring that exclusion to public education.

Now, if you support Trump on education, you must believe private school vouchers provide students and parents with real and meaningful choice. Yet, private schools can reject students based on numerous factors – economic status, gender, religion, academic achievement, sexual orientation, and even disability. Public schools, on the other hand, are required to accept all students.

Some students have even less choice than others. Students with disabilities often aren’t guaranteed the same services in the voucher school that they would ordinarily receive in a public school and can find few voucher schools that offer them the services they need.

Studies consistently show that private school vouchers don't improve reading and math achievement. For example, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – the country’s oldest voucher program – a recent study shows that the students in the voucher program do no better in reading or math than their peers in public schools. These figures were based on annual statewide test scores reported in 2011 through 2014; and a study by researchers based at the University of Arkansas

Such studies support the general claim that no research shows that vouchers are going to improve student learning.

(Tom Kertscher. “No evidence that choice students outperform public school students, Mary Burke says.” Politifact. May 28th, 2014.) 
Similarly in Louisiana, 67% of public school students pass their standardized tests, whereas only 44% of voucher students do. Louisiana has the fifth-largest voucher program in the country.

(Lauren Camera. “Louisiana Voucher Program Leaves Students Behind, One Study Shows” U.S. News. February 03, 2016.)

Vouchers and privatization also present the very real threat that school buildings, themselves, will lack appropriate amenities because many of them operate from less-than-modern facilities. In support of this claim, the District of Columbia voucher program had a similar problem: students in a school accepting vouchers in D.C. had to go to the day care center downstairs because the school’s only bathroom wasn’t usable.

Are you content to help public education achieve even more in our own community? No doubt, schools have problems with many things, many of which are directly related to lack of funding. Or are you a supporter of Trump's educational philosophy? Donald Trump is not a fan of public schools. He is a product of a privileged family, and he has chosen an education secretary who is married to Dick DeVos, heir to the Amway fortune, and who is product of private schooling.

Think, for a moment, of the schools in our own county that will suffer under the Trump plan – Portsmouth, Bloom-Vernon, Wheelersburg, Valley, Minford, Northwest, Portsmouth West, Clay, Green … more. As an ex-public school teacher, I am proud to say I supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Presidential Election. If you didn't, you still may want to fight for public education as it suffers attack and possible reform based on faulty reasoning.


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