Trump Can Structurally Transform Education in America

Newly elected President Trump has an opportunity to structurally transform education in America. For the past sixteen years, high stakes testing has not worked to improve education. Bush tried it and Obama continued it to no avail. Federal compensatory education funding has been around for over fifty years and we have learned a great deal from those failed efforts. We now know more money does not structurally alter poverty children’s achievement. The people supporting federal assistance to poverty children have meant well, but really didn’t know what they were doing. The point is that providing more funding to do the same thing doesn’t change anything. The role of the federal government in education should be to cause structural change in public education in order to improve poverty children’s lives.

Seeking an educational solution to poverty, politicians have just continued to bang away using pretty much the same criteria to attempt to evaluate what they accomplished for their money. They look exclusively at test scores. And some have blamed teachers and want to use test scores in teacher evaluations. We all want to help poor children and do not see any other way to make progress except through education. Many Black and Hispanic kids are poor and do not have access to quality preschool. Poor kids who do not have years of quality preschool start kindergarten years behind. And they never catch up. And test scores really tell us very little. By definition, half the kids are below average in intelligence. Anyone who has had a basic statistics course could have told you that. The research on preschool for poverty children demonstrates large-scale structural change. The poor kids with preschool achieve at higher levels, have fewer social problems in school, and have a much higher high school graduation rate. There are almost no educational research studies that have been replicated that show this kind of change in educational outcomes—period. One of the criticisms of compensatory education is that it fundamentally doesn’t work. Well, preschool for poverty level children does work. A related piece of this reform would be to create education standards for preschool to ensure that it is more than just day care.

The second educational reform that can create long-term structural change in America is a massive expansion of career academies. Seventy percent of American high school students do not graduate from college. These young people need significant occupational education to give them high-level skills for employment. They also need what are termed soft employment skills to maintain employment including a strong work ethic. The career academy educational reform is desperately needed to supply jobs being vacated by baby boomers and the jobs Trump has promised to create. It won’t help to bring jobs back from overseas, if we don’t have trained people to fill the jobs. Career academies have proven research on quality, increased graduation rates, and provision of job skills. Career academies can provide high tech skills as well as needed police training. A typical career academy provides nine hundred hours of career technical education. They provide an appropriate occupational education for almost all non-college occupations. Evaluation criteria of career academies can be high graduation rates and employment rates as well as reduced crime rates and incarceration rates.

Some school districts have mistakenly required all students to take a college prep curriculum in order to avoid tracking. This well-meaning concept actually harms the very population that it was intended to help. It is a disaster. It has pushed kids out of high school onto the streets. Some schools have created alternative programs in malls and with online courses that are not anyone’s idea of a high school education. Supporting the AVID Program can bring about a third structural change to America’s educational system. The AVID Program identifies high achieving students from under participating populations in college and assists them in preparing for college. The AVID Program is a form of reverse tracking. This program targets high achieving kids, makes sense, and doesn’t abuse the general student population. High schools must stop requiring algebra, geometry, biology and chemistry for all students. These are college prep courses only appropriate for the top third of the student population.

The fourth structural educational reform is upgrading the quality of training and evaluation of educational administrators. Presently, aspiring administrators tend to go to the lowest quality of graduate school for their training. The training needs to be upgraded to a Master’s Degree in Education Administration with tough new standards. Then, graduates must be placed into a two-year internship as a Vice Principal. Some people can pass the academic program, but are not capable of evaluating teachers and working with parents. This additional level of preparation will structurally increase the quality of education.

Continuing to do the same things will not structurally change education in America. Vouchers and charter schools have been evaluated and they do nothing. They offer no magic curriculum or new teaching technique. The successful charter schools are just a matter of parental self-selection. I urge Trump to make big structural changes in education. It is an opportunity of a lifetime. We don’t want to look back in a few years and say nothing has changed.

James C. Wilson, Ed.D.

Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Education or Incarceration? available on

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Dr. Wilson is the author of Disposable Youth: Eucation or Incarceration? on
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