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What Will a New Trump Administration Mean For K-12 Education?

By Laurence Peters, Ph.D.
Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins School of Education


As the reality of the Trump election sinks in, many are now somewhat wearily reflecting on how various parts of Trump’s policies would affect their world. In my world of K-12 education policy, there is a potential for some quite dramatic change so it may be worth spending a few moments contemplating how a Trump presidency may affect our lives as educators if only to distract us from some of the more sordid elements of this bitter election season.

Three themes seem likely to take center stage when it comes to Trump’s views on education. A sector that he chose not to focus on very much during the campaign, preferring instead to rail against unfair trade deals and ill-advised wars. From his campaign literature, however, it is possible to discern at least three goals that will likely drive the agenda.

  1. Downsizing, if not eliminating, the U.S. Department of Education
  2. Promoting school choice and charter schools
  3. Reducing the federal role in all areas, particularly in relation to promoting education equity

Let’s take each one in order. The U.S. Department of Education has been the subject of constant right-wing vitriol since President Jimmy Carter created it in 1979. Reagan vowed to abolish it and was prevented by an education secretary who was curiously interested in keeping his job. He commissioned a panel to write A Nation At Risk that linked our educational performance to the economy and defense in ways that resonated in the halls of Congress and most critically the business community. The report’s unexpectedly warm reception squashed all talk of dismantling the department vital to monitoring progress toward widely agreed-upon goals and objectives. Lightning may well not strike twice, but we should remember that Senator Lamar Alexander is chair of the Senate Health Education and Labor Committee (HELP) and, as a former Secretary of Education, has shown no indication that he wants to reduce his committee’s jurisdiction over the newly minted ESSA, which he did more than most to help craft. There is no large part of the Trump coalition howling for the relatively small bureaucracy to be dismantled and plenty in the business community who would sooner have the fight be about abolishing the hated EPA. Moreover, if Trump does move to abolish the department, he would be wasting a lot of his limited political capital on confronting not just the teacher unions (a core part of the Democratic coalition), but a good segment of state and local government that relies on federal grants and expertise at a time when education budgets have been shrinking. What is more likely to happen is that the department’s budget for staff and for what might be considered non-core programs, such as after-school, adult education and special education, will be cut to pay for the new school-choice and charter schools initiatives that will signal that Trump has brought change to Washington.

Trump’s major agenda is his stated intention that he wants to add an additional federal investment of $20 billion toward school choice. That is a large sum and, since it is a concrete figure, you can probably place more trust that he will in fact deliver. Since the charter school movement emerged some 25 years ago, there has been a strong steady increase in the numbers of charters in the United States, and they now educate 6 percent of the students in this country. But the dramatic growth of publically funded charters, in particular, has not come without controversy as teacher unions and a variety of education groups complain about reverse segregation and lower standards. The ballot referendum to expand the number of charter schools in Massachusetts was defeated. Trump promises to boost charter schools goes along with his belief that both parties have been far too accepting of the status quo in the American big cities. The new billions will be reprioritizing existing federal dollars, which as mentioned above is likely to come out of the hide of the budget for the historically forgotten groups that attracted the federal interest in the first place. Politically this will be a much harder fight to overcome—first, because Democrats remain split on the issue as to whether charter schools may well be the tonic needed to shake up hundreds, if not thousands, of underperforming schools whose monopolies continue to go unchallenged and, second, because there may well be no need for new legislation. There are plenty of authorities in current legislation that would allow the reprogramming of these funds for charter schools, but there is every reason to believe that they would be able to pass even broader legislation in the first 100 days that would link this program to a broader anti-poverty initiative that would (as the campaign literature sets out) invite each state to “contribute another $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice, on top of the $20 billion in federal dollars” that someone in the Trump backroom works out to be “$12,000 in school-choice funds to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty.” No one at this point, though, can really say for sure how this initiative will end up looking once the various lobbying communities on both sides of the issue have had their say and then the bills get digested and eventually spat out by the relevant congressional committees.

Finally, as mentioned, we are likely to see a new Trump Administration oversee a massive rollback on the federal role when it comes to preserving educational equity for all kinds of populations, not least African American, Hispanic and special-needs students. Currently there is a fight between the Obama Administration and Republican lawmakers over the intent of the ESSA language related to the need for Title One to supplement, not supplant, state dollars for special populations. The GOP wants to insist that states and locals can use their federal dollars however they want and so, if they decide they do not want to spend the funds they were allocating to poor schools, they no longer have to because the federal dollars can make up the difference. Today it is much clearer that poor schools under a Trump Administration will stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in potential funding.

So we end up with a rather dismal picture for the federal role in education as we have known it. It looks now like the recent battles in Congress that led to the long-awaited passage of the landmark Elementary and Secondary School Act, now renamed the Every Child Succeed Act, was a herald for a large retreat from the former federal role as the funds were virtually block-granted to the states with limited amounts of controls and oversight. Gary Orfield, the noted civil rights historian, claimed the new law stripped the federal funding of its “leverage for any national purpose.” Under a new Trump Administration, we can expect more of the same. But as one wise saw said who helped me survive the Reagan administration as a House Democratic staffer on the brunt end of his similar “drain-the-swamp” anti-Washington rhetoric, “there are no permanent defeats or permanent victories.” What we have in this country is a democracy still expressed in the three branches of government, as well as a free press and an active advocacy community.

But to make it all work and to achieve any kind of progress we have to participate. We have to learn from the past and make the best arguments we can based on values and reason, as well as reliable data and research-based evidence. We also need to listen to our opponents and be prepared to engage them in good faith to seek common ground.  That is what “no permanent victories and defeats” is all about. We are all part of the same learning community on the same journey to strive to create a more perfect union.


Maryland Legislature Ends Session with Flurry of Activity

One of the highlights of the recently completed legislative session was the agreement by the governor and General Assembly on an aid package of several-hundred-million dollars to Baltimore City in response to last spring’s unrest. The state funds, designated to shore up some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods, will be used to expand after-school programs, keep libraries open, fix up community parks and demolish vacant houses.

The Maryland legislature also approved new initiatives either as budget items or as legislation to enhance K-12 education. These include scholarships for low-income students, a grant program for summer learning, funding for private school scholarships, and setting up a commission to make recommendations on the adequacy of public school funding.

Governor’s budget:

The governor put $5 million in his budget to offer scholarships for low-income students to attend nonpublic schools under the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today (BOOST) program. The Maryland Department of Education will administer the program and be responsible for establishing procedures for the application and awarding of scholarships. The program is funded on a year-to-year basis. Maryland will be the 24th state in the nation to allow private-school tuition assistance.

Education legislation:

To see the complete review of the legislative season and to check on each bill’s status, visit

  • Pathways in Technology Early College (P-TECH) High Schools—SB (Senate bill) 376 provides funding to establish planning grants for six P-Tech schools. Two of the school will be in Baltimore City. P-Tech schools prepare students for 21st-century jobs through a collaborative partnership between high schools, community colleges and industry. Students graduate with a high school diploma and an associate’s degree from a community college.
  • Baltimore City School Board—City legislators passed a controversial measure HB (House bill) 558 on the last day of the session to create a partially elected school board. Two new members to be elected by city voters in 2020 will be added to the nine-member board. Delegate Cheryl Glenn told the Baltimore Sun said, “We will finally have people on the school board who will be accountable to the citizens of the city.”

As the session was nearing a close, a last-minute amendment was offered to HB 858 that would require a member of the House of Delegates and Senate be involved in any decision to select a new CEO for Baltimore I city schools. While their participation would be advisory, the action was seen as expressing dissatisfaction with school board’s hiring of the current CEO.

  • Next-Generation Scholars Grant—HB 1403 provides college scholarships to low-income students who meet rigorous academic and social criteria during middle school and high school. Middle-school students are eligible to apply and must maintain a 2.5 GPA through high school and be open to summer work or internship opportunities.
  • Public School Opportunities Act—HB 1402 addresses the problem of learning loss that occurs in the summer months when students fall behind due to a lack of educational opportunities. The loss is most frequent among low-income children. The law establishes a grant program for extended day or summer enhancement programs administered by the Maryland State Department of Education. A local school system, community school or nonprofit is eligible to apply.
  • Information on Mandated Assessments—HB 412 requires boards of education to provide information on each local, state or federally mandated assessment in that county that measures a student’s academic success. By October 15 of each year, this information must be updated, posted on the local board’s website and included in the board’s master plan.
  • Pre-kindergarten and Kindergarten Assessments—SB 794 scales back kindergarten assessments in the state. The current system of statewide assessments of all four-year-olds is to be limited to a random sample, as determined by MSDE, of kindergarten students in each jurisdiction.
  • Habitual Truancy—HB 429 establishes the Task Force to Combat Habitual Student Truancy. Task force responsibilities include identifying best practices to determine how records are collected and maintained, and the best time to notify pupil personnel workers of a student’s chronic absenteeism. The task force will be staffed by Morgan State University.
  • Teacher Induction, Retention and Advancement—SB 429 established a pilot program for first-year teachers. The program offers mentorship, peer observation and professional development for first-year teachers who are selected to participate in the program. The state pays 80 percent of the costs and the school district the remaining 20 percent. Counties are not required to participate.
  • Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education—SB 905 established a commission to review findings of a consultant’s study on the adequacy of public school funding in Maryland that was completed in December. The commission is tasked with translating the work done by the consultant into legislative proposals on changes to the state’s school-funding formula to be presented to the General Assembly. A preliminary report is due December 31.

Henry Smith Reviews Government Against Itself: Public Union Power and Its Consequences

Daniel DiSalvo opens his new book with the declaration that he is a third generation
union member. However, the author quickly distances himself from this heritage; he
spends the 229 pages of Government against Itself: Public Union Power and Its
Consequences (2015), arguing that America’s public unions, the strongest unions in
modern America, are destructive of our democratic culture. I am from a union family.
My mother was a teacher and union member in Massachusetts, and I spent three years
working for the AFL-CIO. My disagreement with DiSalvo’s position is, therefore, not
only philosophical but also personal.

The chapter titles betray DiSalvo’s view: Electing your own boss; The Distortion of
Direct Democracy; Shelter from the Storm; and A Day of Reckoning? Inside these
chapters DiSalvo outlines the rise of public sector labor unions, including the fact
that the local, state, and federal governments now owe the public unions $3.2 trillion
in unfunded pension plans. Furthermore, DiSalvo tells the readers that these
unfunded pension plans arise because the three levels of governments must pay
these workers retirement benefits that reach, in some cases, the outrageous sum of
$100,000 per year. In other words, the author attacks one of the few organizations in
this country that has successfully helped workers to receive the retirement comfort for
which we all strive. Continue Reading →


Steiner wants legislators to toughen curriculum

David Steiner, executive director and founder of the Institute for Education Policy at the School of Education, briefed members of the House Ways and Means Committee on the institute’s mission and offered his views on improving K-12 education.

Steiner told the committee that in recent years the goalposts have moved for educators. “Today the emphasis is on preparing students to be college- and career-ready, whereas a decade ago we wanted students to be able to graduate from high school,” he said. “The two are not the same. In New York for example, 75 percent of the students graduate from high school while only half that number are ready for college. Unfortunately, the number of disadvantaged students who are ready for college is even lower.”

His message was clear: If we are to improved educational opportunities for all students, we need to focus more attention on what we teach and how effectively students are learning.

“Today the emphasis is on preparing students to be college- and career-ready, whereas a decade ago we wanted students to be able to graduate from high school.”

According to Steiner, research shows that with the exception of the contrast between a superbly effective and ineffective teacher, no single factor makes more of a difference in student learning than the curriculum. A strong curriculum can accelerate student learning as much as seven months over a weak one. Since there is no national consensus, curriculums now can vary by teachers within a school, among schools and among districts.

He said we “massively” under-educate our children and expect too little of them. “However, when we teach them really interesting and demanding material and challenge them to think about it, they do much better.”

As proof, he cites the example of the International Baccalaureate program, a top-rated curriculum, introduced to Chicago public schools. The program is serving 22,000 regular high school students, 70 percent of whom are minorities. Students completing the program are showing 40 percent greater rates of entry into higher education than their peers.

Steiner said student learning is directly related to the quality of the teaching they receive. He was critical of the lack of accountability of the nation’s 1,200 schools of education. He told the committee we have no idea what kind of training that teacher candidates are getting, nor do we know how effective they are in the classroom. “The problem of teacher quality is as deep a problem as the curricula problem,” he said.

He encouraged the legislative committee to take a leadership role in both areas. “You should know what curriculum is being taught in schools and whether it is research-based,” he told legislators. “You should also know if a school of education is producing effective teachers for the classrooms of Maryland.” The recently enacted Every Student Succeeds Act allows states more flexibility in using federal dollars to address these concerns.

Steiner offered legislators the services of the institute by providing access to an unbiased education research and also to answer questions important to them and their constituents. To see his complete presentation, click here. His presentation starts at 1:05.