Education Policy Ideas for President Trump

In the wake of the 2016 election, Education Week Commentary asked five education policy experts their thoughts on the following question: What should be the K-12 policy priority for the Trump administration? And what levers would need to be pulled to make that a reality? The responses, which come from across the policy spectrum, highlight a range of ideas.

If this presidential election revealed one thing, it’s that many Americans don’t feel secure about their economic future. That should place education at the top of the agenda in states and communities, because it is America’s economic engine.

President-elect Donald Trump and his administration should forge a stronger bond between education and the economy by supporting existing strategies in high-performing states and encouraging tighter connections between the K-12 sector, higher education, and the workforce. Here are six recommendations to help accomplish those tasks:

Maintain a steady focus on postsecondary preparation and success for all. Nearly all the jobs created after the Great Recession required postsecondary education or training. Those who don’t earn a meaningful credential after high school—a two- or four-year college degree or certificate with demonstrated employer value—will struggle in the United States. Education policy at the federal, state, and local levels should be driven by clear goals for increasing credential attainment, and all educators should feel mutually responsible for achieving these goals.

Make career preparation a high priority. An increasing number of states are focused on improving the quality of career education, providing all students access to pathways that combine rigorous academics with work-based learning opportunities. This work holds great potential to provide young people—in both rural and urban areas—with a meaningful path to the workforce. Reauthorization of the Perkins Act provides an opportunity for the new administration to lead by emphasizing high-quality pathways that lead to credentials of value.

Don’t undermine states’ efforts to establish high standards. Although standards have become politicized, the intent in most states has been right: to raise expectations for students so that they are well prepared at the end of high school for the demands of college and careers. The Every Student Succeeds Act rightly reiterates that standards are the province of states, not the federal government. The administration should resist any temptation to get involved with standards.

Support strong accountability systems. The administration should expect that states continue to assess and publicly report school performance, creating greater transparency around results. It should support states’ efforts to implement quality assessments, emphasizing college- and career-ready measures that open doors to students’ futures. And it should encourage strong data systems that safeguard student privacy while disaggregating information on student subgroups and forging connections across K-12, higher education, and the workforce. All publicly funded schools—traditional and charter alike—should be subject to the same rigorous performance expectations, with a deep focus on closing gaps.

Use the limited federal role to push for K-12, higher education, and workforce alignment. Ownership for student success must be shared across systems. This means establishing common priorities, removing red tape that hinders cross-sector partnerships, and creating coherence across federal legislation, including ESSA, the Perkins Act, the Higher Education Act, and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. When the business, higher education, and K-12 sectors align efforts, it drives greater educational and economic opportunity for all youths. This work must be incentivized or the sectors will remain siloed.

Honor diversity. Diversity—of background and opinion—is what makes America great. In classrooms, just as in business, young people encounter individuals from all walks of life. It is in these interactions that students develop the communication, collaboration, and joint problem-solving skills that are fundamental for student success. Our public schools are a reflection of our great democracy and should be a safe space for children of all races and backgrounds to learn and thrive together. Our policies and use of the bully pulpit should honor this great tradition.

Leading states and systems are raising expectations, setting ambitious credential-attainment goals, and expanding opportunities in their quest to get more students ready for success in the economy. This work should be acknowledged, scaled, and accelerated so that youths in all communities can attain the promise of a prosperous future.

Matt Gandal
President, Education Strategy Group

Note: This piece was originally published in Education Week.