In February, he invited 10 teachers and parents to the White House, but less than one-third were involved in traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of America’s children.
In March, he made his first trip as president to a school — a Catholic elementary school in Florida, a visit in which he promoted alternatives to public education.
In April, he welcomed the Teachers of the Year to the White House but didn’t, as past U.S. presidents have done, give time for the National Teacher of the Year to make a speech.
In May, he released his first budget, which slashed Education Department funding and promoted school choice. Both Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos are big supporters of charter schools, publicly funded but privately operated, sometimes by for-profit companies, and of voucher/voucher-like programs, which use public funds for tuition and educational expenses at private and religious schools.
Let’s jump to this month, where on Tuesday, in Phoenix, he did it again. During a diatribe against the media, he said:
Not only does the media give a platform to hate groups, but the media turns a blind eye to the gang violence on our streets, the failures of our public schools, the destruction of our wealth at the hands of the terrible, terrible trade deals made by politicians that should’ve never been allowed to be politicians.
In fact, the U.S. media often reports on problems with the public education system, with regular news stories, investigations and analyses. But the larger effect of Trump’s remark is not that it is wrong but rather that it is part of a pattern of his — and of DeVos’s — to disparage public education as they promote programs that take resources away from public school systems.
DeVos called public education a “dead end” before becoming education secretary and has continued to talk about it in less-than-flattering terms, refusing to acknowledge the value of what has been America’s most important civic institution.
Such sentiments by Trump and DeVos, consistently expressed publicly, reinforce the myth that traditional public education is broadly failing students and that the answer is using public money for privately run and/or owned schools.
There is, of course, no question that there are public schools that are failing children, but there are those that do miraculous work with the neediest children, and the reasons for failure are often complicated. Painting the entire public education system with such a broad brush doesn’t address the diversity of institutions within the system, and does a disservice to the children who attend them and the educators and administrators who work there.
And Trump’s and DeVos’s consistent cheering for charter schools and voucher/voucher-like programs suggests that these programs have done a better job educating students than traditional schools, but the record doesn’t support that notion.
Some charter schools get better graduation rates and test score results than traditional schools, but others don’t, and the charter sectors in some states are ridden with scandal. Studies on vouchers show that many voucher students perform worse than traditional public school students. Meanwhile, some traditional districts are losing millions of dollars to charter schools and voucher/voucher-like programs, forcing them to cut back on resources for students, many of them the neediest in the country.
A new Gallup poll shows that American adults — with and without children — believe that out of five categories of K-12 schools, traditional public schools do the worst job. Private schools got a 71 percent excellent/good rating; “public schools” got a 44 percent excellent/good rating. (See chart below.)
An interesting note on the poll: Charter schools are publicly funded, and, therefore, supporters say they are public. Critics say they operate like private schools and, therefore, aren’t public. In this poll, charters were a separate category from “public schools.”