Trump’s Education Reform Hurts Marginalized Students

Almost a year has passed since Donald J. Trump won the presidential election of 2016, promising to make the country great again. With a list of initiatives related to immigration, healthcare, and tax reforms, he began turning around stones former president, Barack Obama established. For over a year now, promises to uproot the Affordable Care Act (ACA), build a wall to restrict/limit illegal immigration, and reform taxes have been regurgitated from various media outlets, official documents, and the president himself. While massive changes are being made to healthcare, taxes, and immigration, other changes are projected to be seen in the education sector as well. 

With as many as 275 bills introduced since January of this year, senators are pushing for education reform from all sides. Despite a few hundred pieces of legislation being introduced, President Trump has enacted three bills regarding changes to the American education system; of the three bills, two of the bills may serve as an impetus, widening issues for many students. With an easy Google Search, I found an article outlining what bills President Donald Trump has signed thus far. At first glance, the bills President Trump has signed appear to loosen up regulations to make room for school autonomy; but when taking a deeper look into what exactly the bills are saying, the purpose of the bills are quite alarming. From the looks of it, President Trump may have aimed to funnel money and attention away from the federal budget to make room for more important things – charter/private schools.

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Since the trailblazing Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Board of Education, much of education reform focused on developing and upholding the civil rights, liberties, and protections of marginalized students. Since the mid-1950s aims of reforming education to mirror a more equitable and equal system for underrepresented, marginalized, or impoverished. In 1965, former President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), ramping up the federal government’s investment in educating the country’s impoverished populations. ESEA was implemented with the idea that states/districts would use federal money to help communities with the highest concentration of poverty. Arguably, the majority of these struggling communities in need of assistance in the 1960s were black. Due to the lack of adequate resources, segregation, and vile hatred displayed during this tumultuous time, Johnson saw it fit to make some drastic changes to the status quo. Over sixty years later, troubleshooting education for marginalized students remains a shifty goal. Now, with the two primary bills enacted by the president, that goal is becoming far more elusive.

President Trump Signs Two Public Orders on Education Reform

  1. Nullification of ESEA

His first (of the education) bills, H.J. Res. 57-115, nullifies the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) implemented by former President Lyndon B. Johnson as a civil rights law to aid lower-income students. The act offered to fund for special education centers, education agencies/programs used in communities, grants, and scholarships for lower-income students. In 2015, Obama renewed LBJ’S law as Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The value established on equality and opportunity for lower-income students was kept within Obama’s bill. He aimed for ESSA to reflect further into a variety of different components: student progress, success, and quality.

Again, President Trump and others of the Republican party believed that it should be left to the State to choose whether they extend certain programs, grants, scholarships, etc. to in need of assistance. He advocates for charter and voucher schools in comparison to public schools. Proponents for ESSA and other Democrats believe(d) that nullification of the ESEA/ESSA will lead to devastating consequences for lower-income students.

  1. Nullification of the Teacher Preparation Program Accountability System

His other bill, H.J. Res 58-115, ‘disapproves’ (or rescinds) the Teacher Preparation Program Accountability System, (H.J. Reg. 75494). The system instilled by former President Obama with aims to increase accountability for educators was annulled.

According to Obama’s bill, new requirements would be implemented to improve the quality of federal teacher preparation programs accountability systems under the Higher Education Act of 1965. These new requirements ask and assist schools to collect more in-depth and resourceful information on the quality of teacher programs. It discusses amending the TEACH Grant Program to keep their regulations clear, current, and up-to-date. Obama’s signed the bill with hopes that this would help align TEACH Grant Program regulations with the title II reporting system data found within the Higher Education Act. In essence, Obama’s executive order aimed at improving the ways in which they collect data on the teacher’s performance.

While he denounces that he made the decision in order to remove “an additional layer of bureaucracy to encourage freedom in our schools,” he does not do any elaboration of how the order Obama was putting in place was truly detrimental. President Trump expresses his content while signing the bill by expressing,” I will keep working with Congress, with every agency, and most importantly, the American people until we eliminate every unnecessary, harmful and job-killing regulation that we can find,” Trump said at a White House signing ceremony. Trump carries on with (a warning of), “we have a lot more coming.” In fact, he did not even go as far to evaluate the conduciveness of Obama’s executive order. The Republican party shared President Trump’s idea by stating it was a presidential overreach on Obama’s part. Some teacher’s unions had issues with Obama’s order also, arguing that the scores from teacher preparation ratings were based on student’s assessment and believed it was flawed greatly in that way.

What does this mean for underprivileged and/or minority students?

On the other hand, many believe uplifting Obama’s order will create a downward spiral for outcomes for marginalized groups. An issue with retaining qualified teachers in schools where students are more like to live in poverty begins to shed light on how removing teacher accountability could negatively affect students. Students who directly experience cultural and socioeconomic inequities tend to have educators in classrooms who have grown overwhelmed, stressed, and/or insensitive over the current dilemma. Schools already have the ‘first out policy’, requiring that the newest teachers be laid off the initially, protecting those who have established seniority and rank. The last teachers to be hired are first to be fired, which means that senior educators tend to stay in more affluent schools. If the teachers with the most experience are at the affluent schools, what is left for students in poor schools? 

With existing socioeconomic inequity and lack of dedicated teachers in poor schools,  Trump’s reforms are highly alarming. Civil rights groups, such as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, see this directly affecting students of lower socioeconomic status, minority students, members of the LGBTQ communities, students who do not speak fluent English, and students with disabilities. Many teachers working in lower performing schools located in lower socioeconomic areas may not give their students the preparation needed to be successful upon their high school graduation dates. Students who are underperforming in some of the country’s most impoverished areas are the ones who will take the biggest hit; teachers who are working in these areas are less likely to base their student’s progress of of their own performance. Critics of Trump’s decision to rescind the accountability program view the move as a direct threat to civil rights. Despite the numerous letters asking for the removal of Trump’s new rule on the basis of student civil rights, the bill was signed into place and fails to empathize with the needs of most students (since most students attend public schools).

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President Trump’s Budget Cuts to Federal Spending on Public Education

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence teamed up with Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education,  to devise a plan to funnel more money and resources into voucher schools instead of investing more in public education. DeVos, a proponent of school choice and deregulation of schools, encouraged the nullification of both bills passed by President Trump this year. With spending for federal education being cut by 11 million dollars, it seems Trump’s policy on education stresses autonomy of state policymakers and middle to upper-class families.

Programs focused on teacher training, after-school programs (for mostly impoverish students) and arts education are being cut in addition to the removal or grants. The Trump/DeVos budget takes more than $1 billion and aims them towards developing new voucher strategies and charter schools. While this may allow limited families to choose the best schools, it also allows more chances for a large space in the achievement gap; however, DeVos plan for achieving “better results” did not work out. When taking a look at D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, the only federally financed voucher program in place, students who attended private schools in the D.C. area performed worse than those in lower-performing public schools. The scores of students who attended lower-performing public schools did not show improvement nor did they show regression. What does all of this information tell us? I am not sure and it is not clear – it is obvious that reforms on education are here and they are coming in rapidly (just as projected). In fact, civil rights groups such as The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights called out DeVos ability to be a positive leader in education for black and poor students in a passionate letter.

Keeping to Date with Reform

The rise of budgets cuts and President Trump’s policy for school choice are beginning to show effect. Public schools are already losing money. The new budget cuts are recent and we have yet to see the positive and/or negative consequences of the reforms in full effect, but it is something to keep an eye out for.The ramifications the nullification of bills Reg. 57-115 and 58-115 may bring further destruction to marginalized communities across the nation. The question asked here is, why rescind an executive order urging schools to improvement for the majority of American students? The question does not revolve around the conversation of minority students, but that does nothing to diminish the largely negative impacts these minority students will face. If anything, the new reforms will further divide achievements into categories of students: those with money to pay for adequate education, and those who do not.

It is important to remain vigilant of what changes are being made to these bills because it can affect our future. After all, children are the future, and education is key.