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Donald Trump’s Education Plan: Several Experts Fearful, Curious ... and Baffled

By Andrew Ujifusa — March 07, 2016 3 min read
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Donald Trump’s thoughts about education policy are mostly a black box. We know he doesn’t like the Common Core State Standards. And he thinks American students produce lousy test scores. But the real estate developer hasn’t weighed in with a comprehensive plan for public schools, or talked in much detail about education, since becoming a contender for the Republican presidential nomination.

So when education policy mavens and advocates contemplate a Donald Trump administration and its impact on K-12, what do they see? In many cases, they’re confused or uncertain about what a Trump-led U.S. Department of Education would do, or not do, if it even survives. But in some cases they have clear concerns, or other thoughts about how he might significantly alter what’s been happening with federal education policy.

(The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for comment about his education policy platform.)

Below, you can read some of their answers to questions that touch on the federal government’s broader role in public schools.

On Trump’s general outlook on education policy and the U.S. Department of Education:

Chad Aldeman, Bellwether Education Partners: [On Trump’s recent praise of local school boards] “I found that pretty interesting. There aren’t that many national politicians who are going to go on the record praising school boards.”

Carmel Martin, Center for American Progress: “The philosophy that guides Donald Trump is opportunism. That makes him very unpredictable. ... He basically has no plan. He hasn’t really laid out anything of substance in the education space.”

Michael Petrilli, Thomas B. Fordham Institute: “There’s good reason to think that neither he nor any other president would do much on K-12 education, at least in his first term.”

Luis Torres, League of United Latin American Citizens: “He may make it harder for the department to exercise its authority to conduct oversight. So that’s a worry for us.”

On whether Trump would try to follow through on his anti-common-core pledge and introduce a bill in Congress to ban the standards:

Aldeman: “It would be heavily ironic if there were a big federal government push to get rid of common core. .... My hunch is that he would just not advocate for it. He’s obviously on record not supporting it. That might be enough for him to check that box.”

Kim Anderson, National Education Association: “In part, Mr. Trump’s assertion with respect to common core is a little misplaced, because the Common Core State Standards did not originate with the federal government. It reflects a lack of understanding of where those standards came from.”

Rick Hess, American Enterprise Institute: “I’m not sure he knows what the federal role is, or could be. I think a lot of it would end up depending on who he appointed in the administration, and what they were inclined to do. Frankly, at this point there’s not a lot that Washington can do to take on the common core, beyond the bully pulpit, and try to harass the states that are using the common core.” [Hess also writes a blog for]

Andy Smarick, Bellwether: “Is it really his view that the federal government should tell [states] that they shouldn’t use common core? That is a big-government-empowering posture.”

On how a Trump administration would impact the transition to the Every Student Succeeds Act

Janel George, NAACP-Legal Defense Fund: [Speaking generally of the shift to ESSA regardless of who is elected president] “To be honest, when we’re looking at January 2017, we’re looking pretty far down the line. There is so much that will take place to implement the law in the interim, we know that the 2016-17 school year will really be a transition year. ... For effective implementation, there has to be clarity provided to states and districts soon.”

Petrilli: “I think you’re going to see the Obama administration race to get any kind of regulation done that they can, in order to provide clarity.”

Smarick: “I’m pretty confident that he doesn’t know what ESSA is. ... It depends on who he decides to hire in the White House and who his secretary would be. If he decided to pick [former Indiana Gov.] Mitch Daniels or [former Florida Gov.] Jeb Bush as education secretary, that would tell us a lot. If he decided to pick [former Louisiana Gov.] Bobby Jindal as education secretary, that would tell us a lot.”

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