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What K-12 education could look like under Trump

One of the people mentioned as a top potential choice for education policy in a Trump administration isn’t fully in line with Trump’s campaign pledges, but still is seen as a bold reformer.

Michelle Rhee,

the
former chancellor of Washington, D.C. public schools, was mentioned earlier this
week by President-Elect Donald Trump’s spokesperson, Jason Miller, as one of the women or minorities being considered for the new administration.

While Rhee is an enthusiastic advocate for
school-choice initiatives, as is Trump, her support for the Common Core State
Standards Initiative, which Trump has promised to end, has raised some eyebrows.

Rhee is scheduled to meet with Trump this weekend — adding to the guessing game about which direction the new regime will take on school policies.

Trump himself
has not spoken on his choice for secretary of Education, but before the
election he said the Department of Education would be reduced or completely
eliminated under the his administration. 

Neal McCluskey,
director of the Center for Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, agrees
that government should have no place in American classrooms.

“I think the
Trump administration should remove the federal government from all levels of
education,” McCluskey told AMI Newswire. “It has no Constitutional authority to
govern in education—education isn’t even mentioned in the Constitution, to say
nothing of being in the specific, enumerated powers—and there is little
evidence it has done much good.”

Despite federal
and state governments pouring billions of dollars into K-12 education, students
attending private schools still perform better, which could be the reason Trump
vowed to spend $20 billion on school choice during his campaign.

McCluskey
expects the Trump administration will push a program to encourage states to
expand private school choice programs but may face resistance.

“My guess is
it will not make it through Congress unless it is relatively small,” he said. “Instead
of $20 billion, more like $250 million.”

The No Child Left Behind
(NCLB) Act, enacted in 2002, aimed to ensure all children in America are
afforded a good education — but the requirements placed on schools and
educators, and the federal government’s involvement in K-12 assessments, made the law unpopular, particularly among conservatives.

In December 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to replace NCLB,
shifting the responsibility of standardized testing requirements under NCLB
from the federal government to state governments – a victory for conservatives.

McCluskey
noted that while younger children had gains under No Child Left Behind, scores
for 17-year-olds remained flat, as they have been for decades.

“While the
goal should be to remove Washington from education, that cannot be done easily
or quickly,” McCluskey said. “What I expect is little call to increase the
funding or scope of federal programs, and efforts, perhaps, to end some
relatively minor programs, including, perhaps, student loan programs like
Parent PLUS that are poorly targeted to the truly needy.”

Jason Bedrick,
policy analyst for Center for
Educational Freedom at the Cato Institute, said Trump’s desire to expand school
choice is commendable, but advised against a nationwide federal voucher program
because it would not be beneficial and the federal government does not have the
constitutional authority to enact one.

“The dangers of federal regulations outweigh
the benefits of expanding school choice nationwide. School choice policies are
best left to the states,” Bedrick said.

With the new
administration comes renewed opportunity to steer education in the right
direction.

Lindsey Burke,
the Will Skillman fellow in education policy at the Heritage Foundation, said that conservatives view this
as an opportunity to reexamine all of the programs that have accumulated over
the years because they are tying the hands of state and local leaders.

“And we know
that has had no impact on student educational outcomes,” Burke said.

Good policy
would be cutting some of the ineffective programs, particularly competitive grant
programs, Burke said, and then with some of the remaining funding — like the
Title I dollars — give states the option to make those funds portable to
follow a child to any school of choice.

Another
hot-button issue in K-12 education has been the Common Core national curriculum
standards, which sets standards on what students should know in English and
math, and has been adopted by 45 states – a fact Common Core supporters often
laud.

However,
those opposing the standards say states were incentivized to participate by the
Obama administration offering programs like “Race to the Top,” a competitive grant
created to reward states for reforms in K-12 education.

Burke said
that although Trump wouldn’t have the capacity to control whether states decide
to adopt or continue to enforce the standards, he could be instrumental in
encouraging states to take back control of their schools.

“There’s an
opportunity for strong rhetorical support for the idea that states should exit
Common Core and work to reclaim their state education decision-making authority
when it comes to standards and assessments,” Burke said. “But at that point, it’s
really up to governors and state legislature to then exit Common Core.”

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