Dean Robert Pianta: Why Trump’s Policies Are a Threat to Role of Public Education in America
Public education in the United States serves a dual purpose: it acts as a safety net for students and also strives to ensure equal opportunities for all. Our education system was created with the intention of being accessible to every child, with the aim of equipping them with the skills needed to succeed in various aspects of life.
Moreover, our education system is designed to protect the rights of all students and prevent the most disadvantaged and vulnerable individuals from being left behind. It seeks to create a level playing field for all, regardless of their socioeconomic status.
However, within the first 100 days of the Trump administration, there has been a radical proposal to overhaul the education system. The new administration seems determined to dismantle public education in America. According to their perspective, education is a private matter and it is not the collective responsibility of the nation or individuals to provide education for children. Their plan, which places excessive emphasis on vouchers and disregards basic accountability measures, cannot be categorized as a mere attempt at reform. It signifies a departure from our country’s longstanding commitment to education as a public good. If implemented, it would leave each child to navigate their own education journey without support.
This viewpoint is fundamentally at odds with the concept of true public education, which, despite its imperfections, has been instrumental in making America a great nation. It has fostered inclusivity, lifted millions out of poverty, and contributed to the development of the world’s largest economy.
To be clear, public education does have its shortcomings and requires substantial improvements. It is essential to challenge orthodox views and revamp the education system. Charter schools, parental empowerment, and school choice can indeed be effective tools for achieving this goal. However, these reform methods must be incorporated within public systems that are accountable to the public, available to all students in all states, and subject to oversight.
Over the past two decades, there has been bipartisan consensus on the key elements required to enhance our education system: rigorous academic standards, a focus on closing achievement gaps, active community participation and governance, and transparent accountability to ensure equal opportunities and improved student outcomes. When these conditions are met, investments in early childhood education contribute significantly to a child’s future success, and effective K-12 models deliver positive results.
It is possible to design public systems that offer full choice, individualized instruction, and healthy competition among schools to achieve this vision. It demands considerable effort, but it does not necessitate dismantling the public education system or redirecting public funds to unaccountable private schools. Instead, we should build upon the progress made in the past decade and adopt evidence-based approaches to improving student outcomes. If certain charter school models have achieved remarkable success, and personalized learning through technology has the potential to transform classrooms, then these innovations should be expanded to benefit more students. If high-quality early childhood education can positively impact a child’s development, then the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services should collaborate with states to offer full-day pre-K programs for 3- and 4-year-olds, along with comprehensive support services that facilitate educational progress.
President Trump and Secretary DeVos have displayed little interest in pursuing educational reform. They have shown no inclination towards promoting public school choice, accountability, standards, workforce preparation, or opportunities that benefit all students. It remains uncertain whether their ultimate goal is to dismantle public education or if they are simply unaware of the potential policy reforms and innovative solutions available. Regardless, they have not demonstrated a desire to learn or explore alternative perspectives.
If we are not cautious, the policies of this administration could lead to the erosion of a century-long commitment to the fundamental role of public education in our society. Do we still believe in the necessity of a strong, innovative, and universally accessible public education system? Are we still collectively responsible for striving towards educational equity, protecting the vulnerable, and ensuring a quality education for all?
As we have witnessed with this administration, our progress is not guaranteed. It is a conscious choice that our nation must make. It is the responsibility of our leaders to put in the necessary effort to ensure effective public education for our children. Abandoning them to navigate their educational journeys alone is not an acceptable solution.
Robert Pianta is the Dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia. He also serves as the Novartis US Foundation Professor of Education and a Professor of Psychology at the University. Additionally, he is the Founding Director of the Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning. Pianta’s research and policy interests primarily revolve around measuring and promoting effective teaching practices in classrooms, spanning from preschool to high school.
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