About Tracie Happel

Ms. Happel has been teaching for 25 years, specializing in special education/deaf and hard of hearing students and students with specific learning disabilities. She has also worked with regular education students at the elementary level. Ms. Happel worked for three years as a governor-appointed education commissioner, bringing the most pressing and recent research in national education to state stakeholders. When not working hard to inspire and educate her students, or collaborate closely with colleagues, Ms. Happel trains for and races in Ironman triathlons. She has two beautiful children who are beginning their lives as young adults in college, and in mission work. Ms. Happel is available for consultation services and presentations on a variety of educational topics. She can be contacted at traciehappel@gmail.com.

This past Tuesday, America elected a new President to provide leadership, guidance, and safety for our great country. On January 20, President Obama will spend his last day in the White House, and President-Elect Trump will take over as Commander in Chief for the United States. This is big stuff, considering the difficult election Americans faced this last cycle. Tensions ran high and concerns were real. But it doesn’t end on January 20. Everything does not become all sunshine and roses when a new President takes office. There are still some very real concerns, and one of them is education.

Education seemed to be discussed more in this election than any previous election. With a lot of grass-roots organizations, and the teachers’ union working hard to make sure the public knew as much as possible about the reauthorization of NCLB, Common Core, the role of the federal government in education, states’ rights in education, standardized testing, and data collection concerns, the new President-Elect faces an interesting road in quelling the concerns of states, districts, teachers, students, parents, reformers, and educational leaders. Will Trump be good for education? That remains to be seen, but let’s take a look at what he plans to do with our world-class education system.

One of Trump’s platforms was to reduce or completely disband the federal Department of Education (US DOE). On his website, www.greatagain.gov, he states he hopes to provide “relief from U.S. Department of Education regulations that inhibit innovation.” On his campaign website, www.donaldjtrump.com, he states he hopes to “…reprioritize existing federal dollars” into other options such as school choice. Currently, our government spends over $12,000 per student. Many of these dollars have not proven to provide success for our students as we still lag behind in math and reading (National Center for Education Statistics, 2015) as compared to many of our international friends. Will Trump rewrite some of the legislation Obama wrote in an effort to send education dollars back to the states instead of funneling them through the federal government? Will he get rid of illegally written student privacy laws, the one-size-fits-all federal mandates for two sexes in school facilities, and the financial regulations schools are forced to tolerate? We will soon see, but if those do happen, states will be able to decide what to do with their monies. They can decide what to do with collecting data on students. The state can decide how to handle students who identify as a different gender. And the state can decide how and where to spend their money. The states will have to answer to local taxpayers, rather than a large government entity. But how is that good for education? It might be good for taxpayers, but what about the students? It will benefit them indirectly. The funds gained by keeping taxes local can be funneled back into the school districts they were collected from. In the end, schools and teachers have funds to use as they see fit. Or as the community sees fit.

But what about directly affecting students? Can Trump be good for impacting students directly? Trump has repeatedly said he wants to get rid of Common Core. Common Core is a set of math and literacy standards that were implemented to ensure a student gets the same education in one state and grade as they would if they moved across the country. If a student left one classroom on Tuesday, Common Core would allow them to pick up their education on the other side of the country the next day. President-Elect Trump’s website explains it like this:

We will accomplish this goal through high-quality early childhood, magnet, STEAM or theme-based programs; expansion of choice through charters, vouchers, and teacher-driven learning models; and relief from U.S. Department of Education regulations that inhibit innovation.

With teacher-driven learning models and relief from US DOE regulations, districts, schools, and teachers will be able to use approaches and strategies that work for their student population. Education professionals know each student is different, which makes each classroom different. There is no standard in education. The standard Common Core tried to achieve was the standard expectation that each child would go to college after a full K-12 education. Common Core was built backwards, from workplace to kindergarten (Kiesecker, 2016). The truth is, not all students want, or are able, to attend college. However, with Trump’s focus on workforce readiness, and the Standards having been rebranded as “College and Career Ready, Competency-Based, Personalized Workforce Training Development,” the concern is he does not understand how these standards are detrimental for most students. President-Elect Trump’s words allude to change at the federal level and providing more financial support to revert education back to local control through school choice, teacher-driven learning models, and lessening the federal regulations that inhibit educational innovation. All of these will benefit students: no more “cradle-to-grave” sophisticated data collection systems built over the last few decades (Talmage, 2016), more teachers being able to teach to student ability and need, and more local decision-making instead of having to follow federal rules, regulations, and mandates in order to receive more money to cover the costs of having to follow them (Happel, 2016). But only if he completely reverts education to the states, as it was originally set up. It’s a big hill to climb considering states have been slowly turning over their educational rights to big government for a long, long time.

Many educational professionals and leaders often lament they see a lack of educational leaders in big government. Many say new legislation, rules, and regulations are set by people who have never been in a classroom past their own education. The current chairman of the President’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is Lamar Alexander. While Mr. Alexander heads the committee that immediately and directly impacts public education, he has no experience in education past his own education and having parents who were educators. He helped reauthorize NCLB and deregulated the Higher Education Act. His focus is on energy, water, and highways. While those are important, so are the billions of students in our country.

John King is the current Secretary of Education, which means is he head of the US DOE. His education experience includes overseeing the education of 3.1 million students, grades kindergarten through post-secondary as commissioner of education in New York City. He focused on high quality early learning opportunities, all the way up through post-secondary education. Like many around him, Mr. King is focused on “cradle to grave” learning and data collection. His goal, according to the official government staff website bio page, is to direct all students into a college path. While noble of Mr. King, and his team, this is not realistic nor desirable for all students.

President-Elect Trump has decided to take on the task of fixing our education system. The ball is completely in his court and there are a lot of people in our country, all with exemplary experience and leadership in education, he could choose to lead our schools in the direction he is hoping for. As of this writing, rumor has it he is considering Dr. Ben Carson for Secretary of Education. There is a lot of chatter in the education reform world hoping Mr. Trump rethinks that decision and, instead, reaches out to the people who have been in the classroom, at the helm of school districts, and who have first-hand knowledge of what our schools need. He has a great opportunity and many hope he uses it wisely.

Is Trump going to be good for education? Maybe. There is a lot of promise in his plan, based on what his websites lay out. He will most likely not be perfect, no one is, but many are hoping his ideas, models, and teams fare much better for districts, teachers, and students, than the last few presidents. While the federalization of education is exceptionally complicated and has been built over decades of well-meaning but misinformed leaders, there is hope President-Elect Trump can use his tenacity and the “get it done” attitude he uses in business to make some serious and necessary changes in public education. He has four years. We shall see what he does.

Sources:

http://www2.ed.gov/news/staff/bios/duncan.html
https://www.donaldjtrump.com/policies/education/
https://www.greatagain.gov/policy/education.html
https://emilytalmage.com/2016/11/11/trump-won-now-what/
http://missourieducationwatchdog.com/reviewing-achieve-inc-s-national-common-core-standards/

Personal communication with various education reformers

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