An Anti-Trump Agenda For American Education

It is not enough to be a critic. If educators, parents, and students, and progressive citizens are going to transform public education in the United States we have to develop an Anti-Trump Agenda and build an Anti-Trump social movement.
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It is not enough to be a critic. If educators, parents, and students, and progressive citizens are going to transform public education in the United States we have to develop an Anti-Trump Agenda and build an Anti-Trump social movement.

Periodically I am asked, somewhat suspiciously, "What would you do if educational decisions were up to you?" In the Wizard of Oz, the Cowardly Lion sings about all the great things he would do "If I were King of the Forest." I am even less likely to be in a position to reshape education in the United States any time soon than let's say Donald Trump was going to be elected President or the Cubs to win the World Series, but these things happen, so let me lay out what I see as a starting point for an anti-Trump education agenda.

These are twelve broad ideas to transform education in the United States as part of a broader movement for progressive social change. To borrow from Bernie Sanders, these changes would be "huge" and they will probably require a political revolution.

1. The United States needs a national educational system. Nations with the most successful schools, South Korea, Japan, Finland, all have national systems. A national system makes it harder to ignore the education of students from racial and ethnic minority groups, inner-city youth, and underserved geographic regions. This does not mean all local curriculum and teaching variation will be discarded. It does mean that states and localities that want to go a different path will have to justify decisions.

2. The United States needs a national dialogue about the purpose of education. The American people have had bad experiences with Common Core and high-stakes testing because they were imposed from above by politicians aligned with publishers, testing companies, wealthy corporate "reformers," and hedge fund managers looking to make a buck off of kids and the schools. Democratic Party support for Common Core and high-stakes testing was one of the factors feeding into pro-Trump anti-federal hysteria.

Before we have another wave of "reforms," bottom-up ground level education assemblies across the country must discuss what school should look like for our children. We should examine things like: "How do children learn to read?" "What does 'college and career ready' mean?" "What is important to know and why?" "What makes a good citizen?" "What are the 21st century jobs students are preparing for?"

Education assemblies can become models for all sorts of community-based decision-making. I would invite educators and require politicians to participate in the assemblies, but bar anyone on a corporate or foundation payroll who was not a local resident. I am not a big technology fan, but we could probably include live streaming and interactive programs.

3. The United States needs a universal school funding system. Right now in richer school districts more money is spent per student than in poorer school districts so kids who already have more family benefits get even more from society. Of course, if we want educational equity, the reverse would be true. Kids and schools that need more would get more. Again, local variation would be permitted because the cost of living varies from state to state and within a state, but cost should not determine the quality of a child's education.

4. The United States needs full-service schools. When children are hungry and sick they do not learn. If children are going hungry, schools should serve food. When children lack health care, open clinics in the schools. If parents need help, offer job training and placement and have social workers visit homes to provide support. School based parent-teacher councils should meet on a regular basis to address school and community issues as they come up.

5. The United States must reverse the trend toward increasingly segregated schools. Education for democracy means learning to live with and respect diversity, which becomes harder to do when people live in racially segregated communities and children attend increasingly segregated schools. According to research by the UCLA Project on Civil Rights, public schools in the United States are more racially segregated today than they were in 1968. Desegregating schools and creating interracial, multiethnic experiences for young people, will not be easy given current community patterns, but it needs to be a major educational priority.

6. The United States must recognize that education is both a social good and a human right.
The United Nations calls education a "fundamental human right" that is "essential for the exercise of all other human rights." Too often in the United States citizens vote as taxpayers not to fund the education of "other people's children." If education is a public good that benefits us all, local funding that burdens communities and turns citizens into taxpayers must be replaced by state and federal funding for education. Public education should provide all the programs and services the children of America's wealthy and influential receive at elite private schools.

7. The United States must keep public education public. Hedge fund supported charter networks and for-profit charter schools that feed off of public revenue have been draining public schools of dollars and higher performing students without any documented evidence that they do a better job. Get business profiteers and hedge fund vultures out of the schools. We should also consider ending direct and indirect subsidies to private and religious schools. They promote racial, ethnic, class, and religious segregation and divide the population when interaction and dialogue are essential for a healthy democracy.

8. The United States must start education early. New York City has had tremendous success with its universal pre-k for four-year-olds. But why start at four? Learning starts at birth and so should education. Universal day care and pre-school will not only benefit children, but will free up more women to go to school and enter the work force and will be a boost in campaigns to end poverty in the United States.

9. The United States must provide free public higher education.
If education is really about preparing students for college and careers, to benefit students but also the country, the United States must provide free higher education. In addition to free tuition, Denmark actually provides college students with a monthly stipend. Student debt is crippling an entire generation and is a financial crisis brewing. The best solution, probably the only solution, is free tuition. When I was in college in the 1960s, the City University of New York was free. This shift might hurt private liberal arts colleges that play a vital role in higher education in this country. I propose inviting them to join a new federal college system.

10. The United States must stop demonizing teachers. Let teachers unionize so they can more effectively organize to deliver and improve education. Satisfied teachers are on the side of kids and a creative force for improving education. Unions can represent teachers on job related issues and on policy questions in the national democratic dialogue on education.

11. The United States must encourage students to stay in school.
Make schools, especially high schools, more user-friendly and less like prisons. Stop the school-to-prison pipeline and get rid of metal detectors and armed security guards. Hire additional teachers to work with special needs students. Treat students like they are our children. Offer paid job experience for high school students modeled on the New Deal 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps tied to regular school attendance and school performance. Invest in extra-curricular activities. If we want to reduce teen pregnancy, we need to provide sex education and full birth control services; it works in other countries.

12. The United States must reverse growing economic inequality. It is a convenient and dangerous myth that schools by themselves can restore opportunity, increase social mobility, and end economic inequality. This myth justifies blaming schools and teachers for poor student performance and justifies government policies that sort people out and blames them for their individual "failure." A major problem facing inner-city minority schools is that they are told, with barely any resources, to somehow overcome problems created by neglect, dislocation, poverty, joblessness, inadequate health care and housing, and community and family deterioration. Fixing education by itself is not going to end social inequality in the United States and cannot be done independent of a broader social movement to transform the country. But addressing education must be an essential part of any progressive movement for social change.

The Network for Public Education has an online letter writing campaign pressuring United States Senators to block Betsy DeVos' appointment as Secretary of Education. Click here to sign. I will be joining the January 21, 2017 Women's March on Washington. My poster will read "Defend Public Education - Stop Trump and DeVos." I hope to see everybody there. And no, I do not want to be Secretary of Education in a Trump Administration. Any educator with integrity would refuse the job. That may be why he went with DeVos.

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