Scientific American isn’t a magazine that makes you immediately think of the subject of education policy, but the magazine has published in its August edition a piece criticizing the Trump administration for ignoring evidence in its push for school vouchers.
The article’s title says it all: “Trump Administration Advances School Vouchers Despite Scant Evidence.” It talks about the push by President Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to persuade Congress to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to establish a federally funded national voucher program, which would spend public money for private and religious school tuition. There is only one such program, in Washington, a city that Congress has used over the years as the subject of its educational experiments.
The article doesn’t note, however, that the way graduation rates are calculated leaves it unclear whether that last sentence is entirely accurate.
The findings are not news to public education advocates who have been fighting the privatization of public education for years. Education policymakers have been ignoring solid research on what helps kids learn and what doesn’t for years, under both Democratic and Republican administrations. President George W. Bush ushered in the era of high-stakes standardized testing with his No Child Left Behind law, despite warnings from assessment experts that test scores are a poor indicator of academic achievement. President Barack Obama doubled down on high-stakes tests, urging states to use them to evaluate teachers, again despite warnings from assessment experts that high-stakes tests were not a fair or reliable way to tell how well teachers performed their jobs. The research, such as it is, on charter schools has been mixed, but the Obama and Trump administrations have pushed their spread as if they were the greatest thing since sliced bread.
Despite all this, Trump and DeVos are raising the don’t-listen-to-research bar to a new level. Both have bashed traditional public schools, calling them failures that perpetuate the “status quo,” and continue to promote alternatives that have no substantial research base to prove their effectiveness.
To that end, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued a report whose title, again, says it all: “Sidelining Science Since Day One: How the Trump Administration Has Harmed Public Health and Safety in Its First Six Months.” It discusses a number of ways that the refusal of the Trump administration to accept expert advice harms kids, including a decision by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt not to ban chlorpyrifos,
“despite years of scientific study and deliberation indicating that the pesticide poses a clear risk to children, farmworkers, and users of rural drinking water. In doing so, the administration made a 180-degree turn from the EPA Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention’s scientific conclusion that chlorpyrifos has harmful effects on children’s brain development (Stillerman 2017; EPA 2016a). In fact, EPA banned the use of chlorpyrifos indoors in 2000, citing concerns for the health of children.
It also says that Trump has yet to nominate a science adviser and has left other science-related positions open.
And as of June 6, 2017, President Trump had announced nominees for only seven of 46 top science-related positions in the federal government requiring confirmation from the Senate (Mooney 2017). In the final weeks of June, the White House OSTP [Office of Science and Technology Policy] science division was left vacant as the three remaining employees, holdovers of the Obama Administration, departed. As one of four subdivisions of the OSTP, the science division provides critical guidance on policy issues such as STEM education, biotechnology, and crisis response (Alemany 2017).