A Conservative K-12 Agenda: Ideas for the Next President
Neither Clinton nor Trump offer a conservative view of schooling
After 16 years of relentless Bush-Obama education expansionism, Washington sorely needs principled conservative leadership. Unfortunately, no conservative is running this year. Hillary Clinton is promising to bring the Affordable Care Act to higher education and to extend K-12 down to 4-year-olds, while Donald Trump's clown-car campaign careens between bombastic promises and insult theater.
During his big "education week," Trump forgot about education and wound up in Mexico talking immigration. When he has issued proposals, there's little evidence that they're serious or that he's serious about them. Trump promises to "end" the common core, but it's entirely unclear what that even means. He calls for spending $20 billion a year for school choice, but without saying a word about where the money would come from or how the idea would actually work.
—Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images
Trump will occasionally utter conservative-sounding phrases, but he's no conservative—he shows no taste for limited government, no respect for federalism, and no faith in local institutions. For instance, Trump promised earlier this year, "I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, you have to. ... My first day, it gets signed, OK? My first day. There's no more gun-free zones." While conservatives do typically support gun rights, this isn't even remotely a conservative proposal. Actually, it's a lesson in the value of conservative governance.
Given that 4 in 10 Americans think arming teachers would make schools safer, Trump can insist that school safety is too important to leave to the whims of local officials who may put their own interests over what's best for the kids. After all, Trump's stance would be entirely consistent with the Obama administration's "pen and phone" approach to teacher evaluation, Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers, school discipline, campus sexual assault, supplement-not-supplant, and much else. The logic is always: The federal government has a duty to ensure that local officials and educators are doing what's right for kids.
One problem? Reasonable people can disagree about whether a given policy (like arming teachers) is "right for the kids." Even if the policy has merit, good schools are the product of countless daily decisions made and culture shaped by educators. It's hard to create great schools when teachers are paralyzed by policy.
Moreover, this is a big, diverse nation, and it's almost inevitable that the same idea will help in some places and hurt in others. This is why federal mandates are such a flawed tool of school improvement, and why Clinton's laundry list of new pre-K and higher education mandates is so disconcerting.
Policy is a blunt tool. Federal policy can make states and districts do things, but it can't make them do them well. When doing things is enough, like with mailing Social Security checks or setting noise ordinances, policy can work well. But policy is far less effective when it comes to complex endeavors where how things are done matters more than whetherthey're done. And, in education, where human relationships are key, how things are done is usually what matters.
What's worse, federal policy unspools like a game of telephone. In Washington, the U.S. Department of Education issues guidance. When officials in 50 states read that guidance, they won't all understand it the same way. Those officials then explain it to thousands of district coordinators, who provide direction to school leaders and teachers. By that point, there's a lot of confusion, fear, and half-hearted compliance. Now, multiply that a hundredfold for the deluge of directives that rain down. This kind of bureaucratic malaise isn't anyone's recipe for good schools.
Trump or Clinton might not grasp any of this, but 16 years of Bush-Obama education policy have offered Americans an intensive course of study. The Every Student Succeeds A Conservative K-12 Agenda: Ideas for the Next President - Education Week:
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has picked Williamson M. Evers, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to be on his presidential transition team for education, according to multiple sources.
Evers served as an assistant secretary for policy at the U.S. Department of Education from 2007 to 2009, and also was an adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings in 2007 under President George W. Bush. Robinson served as Florida's education commissioner from 2011 to 2012, and has also served as Virginia's education secretary and as the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options.
Neither the Trump transition team nor the Trump campaign responded to requests for comment. Both Evers and Robinson referred questions about their positions to the Trump campaign.
Trump's Growing Interest in Education
The Trump campaign has been creating a decent amount of education-related news recently, after several months in which Trump mostly made only cursory mentions of the topic. On Sept. 8, Trump outlined his plan to create a $20 billion federal school choice program for students in poverty, and also backed merit pay for teachers. And on Sept. 13, he unveiled a suite of child-care policies that include six weeks of paid maternity leave and tax credits for child-care costs, among others.
Last month, he hired Rob Goad to serve as his education adviser—Goad is a staffer for Rep. Luke Messer, R-Ind., and has worked extensively on K-12 choice issues for the Indiana Republican.
Evers has an extensive background in academic standards. He was appointed by two former California governors, Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, to serve on two separate standards commissions. And he's been a big critic of the Common Core State Standards. In a 2015 op-ed for Education Week, for example, Evers said advocates of the common core were subverting a key aspect of the American civic system:
The common core's promoters are endeavoring to suppress competitive federalism. The common core's rules and its curriculum guidance are the governing rules of a cartel. The common core's promoters and their federal facilitators wanted a cartel that would override competitive federalism and shut down the curriculum alternatives that federalism would allow.
He's also written about struggling schools, mathematics, and school funding, among other topics. Evers has served on a county board of education in California, where he's also been on the board of directors for a charter school. Trump has consistently opposed the common core.
Robinson resigned as the Florida chief four years ago after a difficult year in office. He left the job not long after a controversy surrounding a precipitous drop in proficiency rates on the state writing exam—the state board responded by lowering the pass score on the test. Some also criticized the state education department's handling of Florida's A-F accountability system on Robinson's watch, and how he handled English-language learners with respect to A-F school grades.
At AEI, Robinson focuses on school choice, regulatory issues, and the role of for-profit institutions in education, among other topics. In an August op-ed for U.S. News and World Report, Robinson argued for a new set of priorities to drive education, including entrepreneurship:
Entrepreneurship is the antithesis of the bureaucratic model that has been a hallmark of the "one best system" for more than 100 years. The time is ripe for more entrepreneurial ways to deliver teaching and learning in pre-K-20 education. This endeavor, however, requires a herculean shift in values. An entrepreneurial approach sees a problem as an opportunity; a bureaucratic approach sees an opportunity as a problem.
Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, N.H, last June. (AP Photo/Jim Cole) http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2016/09/donald_trump_presidential_transition_team_education.html