Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Would a President Trump Mean for Education?

By Rick Hess — February 29, 2016 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Over the past couple weeks, I’ve been asked with increasing frequency what it would mean for education if Donald Trump actually won the presidency. (The question is usually asked with equal parts foreboding and disbelief.) I’ll swallow my nausea and just try to offer a few thoughts. First, does Trump have a serious chance of winning the election? At the moment, while anything could still happen, he’s the favorite to win the Republican nomination. If Trump does claim the nomination, the RealClearPolitics average has him currently trailing Clinton by less than three points. That means, however disconcerting it may be, that there’s a real chance that Donald Trump could be the next president.

If Trump were to win, what might it mean for education? Here are five thoughts.

Personalities will matter more than policy. Trump gives no indication he’s thought deeply about policy or has any especially strong convictions. As former president Jimmy Carter told Britain’s House of Lords, “Trump has proven already that he’s completely malleable. I don’t think he has any fixed opinions that he would really go to the White House and fight for.” Trump appears far more intrigued by personalities than by policy proposals, suggesting that his education agenda would be largely a product of which education persona happened to catch his fancy. Given that Trump seems to favor big, public personalities or individuals he’s met through his commercial activities, I tend to think he’d wind up latching onto a colorful character he encountered in New York circles, was turned onto by friend, or spotted on CNN. Who that might turn out to be is anybody’s guess.

Probably not a conservative agenda. In addition to lacking any obvious ideological guiderails, Trump is at daggers drawn with prominent conservative thinkers and think tanks. Contrary to the notion I’ve heard from some educators that Trump is a frighteningly ardent conservative, the truth is that he has mocked conservative thinking on 9/11, entitlements, Planned Parenthood, and much more. There’s no reason to expect he’d suddenly be interested in hearing what scholars or policy wonks at traditional conservative outfits would have to say. Who he might listen to, which policies he might embrace, and how seriously he might embrace them is truly anyone’s guess.

Don’t take his pronouncements at face value. There’s no reason to believe that Trump necessarily means what he’s said on any issue. In truth, he seems to regard policy declarations as performance art. He’s said that he would “outlaw” the Common Core, but it’s not at all clear he knows what the Common Core is or how he’d try to do that. He’s said that he would slash the U.S. Department of Education, but he’s also the only Republican to reject overhauling Social Security or Medicare—and it’s hard to see how someone who refused to touch entitlements would be eager to slash funds for low-income student, children with special needs, or Pell Grants (which together comprise most of the Department of Education’s budget). As the Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza put it the other day, Trump is noteworthy for his “remarkable unpredictability and seeming willingness to say things for the sake of shock value.”

Today’s view may not be tomorrow’s. Even if Trump suggests that he really means something, much of what he says is broad, contradictory, or comes with an expiration date. Remember, after the 2012 election (in which he backed Mitt Romney), he attacked Romney for being too harsh on illegal immigration. Trump has been all over the place on abortion, health care reform, and taxes, and there’s no particular reason to think that his recent proclamations are sincere or heartfelt. Whatever he said yesterday may very well change before the election, or before he took office. If Trump is the nominee, he could be a very different candidate in the general election than he’s been in the primary. As Trump told Brett Baier, “I will be changing very rapidly. I’m capable of changing to anything I want to change to.” Hell, he could wind up running to Clinton’s left on some issues—anything is possible.

The “experts” are just making stuff up. You will see and hear people claim they know what Trump is going to do. After all, that’s how people get their op-eds published, keep their pundit gigs, and stay relevant. But these are the same people who insisted for eight months that Trump was a joke. None of them can offer real insight into Trump’s policy agenda, mostly because Trump doesn’t really have a policy agenda. Nobody knows which Trump might show up for the general election or what a President Trump might attempt. Equally important, we don’t know what the next Congress would look like, how Republicans would view a President Trump, how he’d seek to work with the House and Senate, or how any of this would shake out. In any event, it seems unlikely that education would garner much attention under a President Trump—but even that is just a blind guess.

One reason that Trump makes political veterans observers so nervous is that he could very well be elected President of the United States, and yet no one has any idea of what he’d attempt to do in office. So, what would a President Trump mean for education? I have no idea. And neither does anyone else.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Evaluating Equity to Drive District-Wide Action this School Year
Educational leaders are charged with ensuring all students receive equitable access to a high-quality education. Yet equity is more than an action. It is a lens through which we continuously review instructional practices and student
Content provided by BetterLesson

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP