How Trump Can Get Serious on Education

Mar 20, 2016 by

He wants Americans to be more competitive internationally. Here’s how to do it.

By Nina Rees –

Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric is heavily focused on improving America’s ability to compete. He promises a better deal for American workers in trade agreements, and a more restrictive border policy in part to prevent competition from immigrants for low-wage jobs. These positions are well-known, but another area of interest for Trump also plays into concerns about competition: education.

While much of the GOP education discussion dwells on eliminating Common Core (even though there’s not much Washington can do to eliminate these state-based standards), Trump has also talked about improving the results of U.S. students on international tests – making our students more competitive with students from around the world. He’s produced a short video on the topic, and he regularly mentions it in his primary-night stem-winders.

The main theme: expressing dismay at America’s poor standing on international tests despite spending more than other countries. His solution: sending power and control back to school districts.

Typically, it’s only policy wonks (including me) who relish discussing America’s standing on international tests like the Program for International Student Assessment. U.S. students finished middle-of-the-pack or worse in the most recent tests, below not only major economic competitors such as China, Japan and Germany, but also below countries such as Latvia and Poland.

My concerns over America’s educational competitiveness were further validated on a trip to Singapore in 2011. I saw how much more Singaporean students learned in school, starting at the tender age of 3. By the time they reach kindergarten, students in Singapore have mastered how to read and do math at levels equivalent to what we expect of our third-graders. They also speak a second language.

I have long thought that raising awareness about our poor standing on international tests would prompt parents to demand more of their schools, partly out of pride, but also because the students who are acing these tests are the same students who will compete for jobs with our students in the future. But the competition from abroad hasn’t fazed the average American family.

We know from a 2015 internal research study that voters and parents see little value in standardized testing compared to tests that measure real world skills or are used as diagnostic tools. We also know from a public 2014 PDK/Gallup poll that a supermajority of parents don’t remember hearing or seeing much on PISA test scores, that they consistently believe U.S. students underperform, and that they have doubts about those test scores’ ability to improve U.S. schools or accurately measure student achievement across nations.

If he is serious about improving our standing, there are a few steps Trump could take in office to promote a more competitive result for U.S. students:

1. Encourage more schools to administer the PISA test. Many schools have already opted to take PISA, and non-profits like the Kern Foundation are actively encouraging schools to take part in the tests. But interest remains limited. A Trump administration could offer greater incentives for schools to take the test to see how their students perform. With results of their own schools in hand, parents and local officials might be more inclined to make changes to their curriculum to ensure that their students improve their performance in the future. Charter schools such as NYOS in Austin, Texas have already taken this challenge and demonstrated that their students are competitive on the test.

2. Encourage greater international dialogue through student exchange programs. As Amanda Ripley’s excellent book, “The Smartest Kids in the World,” shows, Americans tend to take for granted that our way of educating students is the best or only way to do it. Ramping up federal investments to send students abroad (or bring foreign students to the U.S.) could do more to encourage our students to take their education seriously than any number of direct programs or speeches.

3) Foster greater information and transparency around where we spend our money. More local control is fine, but the next president could encourage greater reporting and transparency around how federal funds are being spent at the local level. Expecting wise stewardship of taxpayer dollars is perfectly consistent with conservative principles. Greater clarity about how money is spent could lead someone like Trump to alter his views on education when he discovers that the vast majority of funding and red tape are already generated at the local level.

Whatever other lessons we may draw from Donald Trump’s candidacy, his desire to improve U.S. competitiveness on education is important for our students’ future. Helping students rise to the challenge of international competition should be a top priority for whichever candidate takes the White House this fall.

Source: How Trump Can Get Serious on Education – US News

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