So it happened. Yesterday, Donald J Trump became the 45th President of the United States. I have made my fair share of predictions on this blog, but Donald Trump becoming President of the United States was never one of them. Today it’s January 21, 2017 and the leader of our nation is a real estate reality TV show mogul with zero governing experience and a bad spray tan. We currently have an insomniac twitter addict who can’t control his hands (whether it be ridiculous gestures during his speeches or unrestrained grabbing of female genitalia) in the White House (sans supermodel immigrant wife) but relax people, we will survive. As far as I can tell the world has not ended and no one, despite their many Facebook proclamations, has moved to Canada.
Speaking of Facebook, last week my Facebook stream was filled with hilarious memes about future Secretary of Education DeVos and grizzly bears, video clips of DeVos being grilled by Senators which showed her complete ignorance of public education policy, and petitions labeling DeVos as the most unqualified Secretary of Education ever. She probably is the most unqualified Secretary of Education ever but when you consider her true job may be to diminish, or even dismantle, the Federal Department of Education, she may actually be qualified. While the outrage of the appointment of DeVos is merited, I wonder where the Facebook teacher outrage was over the past eight years while Obama and Duncan dismantled the teaching profession, turned our schools into year round testing factories, and siphoned off public school funds to corporations and charter schools? While it was nice to see UTD actually staging a protest against Devos last Thursday (even if only 100 teachers showed up), this is the same teachers’ union that smilingly signed on to Obama’s Race to the Top grant which ended tenure, gave us VAM, merit pay and ultimately stole your steps. Obama basically handed the teachers’ union a platter of stinking excrement and they treated it like it was a pot of gold just because it was coming from Obama.
Yesterday’s inaugural address led to more teacher outrage when Trump declared that our public school system is awash in funds but our students are deprived of resources. I actually liked that part of his speech. Our public school system is awash in funds, the problem is most of those funds don’t end up in the classroom. Every day there is a letter or a blog or a Facebook post by a teacher decrying the lack of copy paper, toner, textbooks, and overcrowded classrooms. As teachers, I think we can all agree that our students are indeed deprived of resources. But the truth is that public education budgets are enormous but the funding rarely ends up in the classroom where it is most likely to benefit the students.
Let’s use President Obama’s and Secretary Duncan’s signature education policy, Race to the Top, as just one example of a public education system that was awash in funds but did absolutely nothing to benefit students. According to Wikipedia:
RTTT was $4.35 billion United States Department of Education competitive grant created to spur and reward innovation and reforms in state and local district K-12 education. It was announced by President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on July 25, 2009. States were awarded points for satisfying certain educational policies, such as performance-based evaluations for teachers and principals based on standardized test scores, adopting common standards, adoption of policies that do not prohibit the expansion of high-quality charter schools, turning around the lowest-performing schools, and building and using data systems.
$4.35 billion federal tax payer dollars earmarked for education wasted on expensive teacher evaluation systems that have for the most part already been abandoned, an expensive computer based testing system that has for the most part been abandoned, the expansion of charter schools many of which have been abandoned, and expensive data systems which have also been abandoned (think Thinkgate). One of the stated purposes of the grant was to attract the best and brightest to the teaching profession, but the opposite has occurred instead. Many of the best and brightest teachers have abandoned teaching in public school systems with VAM based evaluations and no prospects of future pay increases or job security. We are now facing a national teacher shortage thanks in large part to Obama and Duncan’s education policies. Of the $4.3 billion dollars spent by the Department of Education, not one penny benefitted an actual student. Meanwhile, Washington based “nonprofits” like AIR (the company which created the value added models adopted by many states), testing companies like Pearson and technology companies like Microsoft made a killing at the expense of tax payers and public school teachers and students. This is exactly what Trump was talking about in his speech when he referenced Washington benefiting while the country suffered, “For too long, a small group in our nation’s capitol has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost. Washington flourished, but the people did not share in its wealth.”
That’s about all of the Trump speech I have the stomach to publish, but I want to point out to all the teary-eyed teachers on Facebook, Obama was not your friend and Duncan was not particularly qualified to be Secretary of Education either. He had a terrible track record as Superintendent of Chicago public schools and his legacy as Secretary of Education is just as bad.
So how will Trump’s record on public education compare to Obama’s? It’s a little too early to tell but I think we can expect less federal funding and less of the federal regulations and paperwork that accompany that funding. We can definitely expect to see an expansion of vouchers and charter schools, but charters expanded further under the Obama administration than any other president. Vouchers are concerning but maybe a little competition is a good thing.
Consider last week when superintendents in Florida testified in Tallahassee that there was too much testing, requested that we return to paper and pencil tests, and even suggested the law tying teacher evaluations to test scores be repealed. Even more shocking, state representatives actually agreed with them! Why all of a sudden has the voice of reason been raised in the Florida legislature? Because lawmakers and superintendents know the federal gravy train of public education dollars is over and vouchers are heading our way under the public school hating trinity of Trump, Devos, and Rick Scott. Superintendents of public school districts know they won’t be able to compete with private school vouchers if their schools essentially remain shut down for testing from March until June when parents can easily “opt out” of standardized testing by sending their children to accountability free private schools instead. As a parent, if I have a choice between sending my child to a public school with 40 kids in the room and I know there are constant disruptions to their education for months on end due to testing, that private school voucher is going to look pretty good. Additionally, as a teacher, working at private school with zero testing, no absurd VAM based annual evaluation, small class sizes, a free catered lunch complete with a salad bar and rotisserie meats, and a starting salary over $50,000 is going to be very tempting. Maybe the public school districts will have to compete for teachers by bringing back tenure, higher salaries than private schools, and reasonable student loads and class sizes? Or maybe I’m just a dreamer who is going to be out of job after two years of Trump as President.
Only time will tell, but in the meantime, educators of America don’t despair. It may be painful to look at an orange President with crazy hair and hard to listen to speeches based on instinct, action and three word sentences. But it wasn’t all good under President Obama either. I will not miss teacher blaming, test obsessed education policies like Race to the Top or the fact that Bill Gates served as the de facto education czar for eight years. I will not miss Obama’s education policies at all. I will miss Obama’s eloquence and grace as well as his intellect and reflection. The best thing about the Obama presidency was what he represented. The swirly international mix of America and the possibility of humans from all origins rising to the country’s highest office through hard work, intelligence and ambition. The same cannot be said for Mr. Trump who represents privilege, isolation, and ignorance. But maybe an artificially sun-kissed boogey man in chief will be just what teachers, parents, unions, superintendents, and lawmakers need to finally rally together on behalf of our public schools. After all, politics does make for strange bed fellows.