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How public education might change under President Trump

Jan 20, 2017

Today is Inauguration Day and President Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States.

As Barack Obama leaves office, we're taking a look back at the changes to public education in the U.S. during his tenure and looking ahead to what the future of education might look like under the new administration. Here's what we've been reading. 

1. Obama's impact on America's schools

From common core to the school-to-prison pipeline, NPR's Claudio Sanchez and Cory Turner examine President Obama's education legacy.

Obama drew national attention to the issue of "zero tolerance" discipline and argued that such policies disproportionately target black and Latino students for minor infractions like truancy, dress code violations and profanity. He vowed to have his administration — the Education and Justice departments — crack down on states and districts that had gone too far. It's unclear how much of an impact this had on school disciplinary policies across the country, but some advocates who've spent years calling for an overhaul of these policies at the state level credit the Obama administration for bringing lots of attention to the issue.

2. 'Schools can save lives': An exit interview with the U.S. education secretary

Education Secretary John B. King Jr. was confirmed by the Senate in March 2016 after President Obama's long-serving secretary, Arne Duncan, stepped down at the end of 2015. Read an exit interview with the former teacher, principal and deputy secretary.

I'm optimistic that, as a country, there is a realization that the success of our public education system is so central to our long-term future that we cannot afford to slide backwards. We achieved a high school graduation rate of 83 percent because we've seen significant reductions in the dropout rates for African-American and Latino students. We can't go back from that. And we've got 10 percent of our students around the country who are English language learners. Our success as a country depends on those students having excellent educational opportunities. We can't go backwards on that.

3. A former education secretary's advice for Betsy DeVos

Margaret Spellings ran the Education Department under George W. Bush from 2005 to 2009, and was a leader in the implementation of his signature education achievement, the No Child Left Behind Act. Read her conversation with Claudio Sanchez to get an idea of what’s ahead.

States that have seen good results have invested heavily in early childhood education. So if we're about results, that will continue. If I were to make a wager, I wouldn't bet on a lot of changes for early childhood education programs like Head Start, but predicting Washington behavior is not prudent.

4. Education department facing culture shift under Trump

Changes to federal agencies are to be expected after a presidential transition. But when President-elect Donald Trump's team takes power this month, the transformation of the U.S. Department of Education could be particularly striking, according to Education Week reporter Alyson Klein.

The incoming president and his team have promised to change the culture—or "drain the swamp"—in Washington, with serious implications for the federal bureaucracy. And on the campaign trail, Trump pledged to get rid of the Education Department—or at least cut it "way, way down." That would be a tough political lift, even with Republicans in control of both houses of Congress. But the sentiment has triggered plenty of anxiety about the kind of resources and attention the department can expect from the new administration.

5. 5 education stories to watch in 2017

Listen as Claudio Sanchez offers his predictions for big stories on K-12 and higher education in 2017 and reflects on how he fared with last year's predictions.

Both the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association — the nation's two largest teachers unions — have vowed to oppose much of Trump's education agenda. The biggest fights will unfold in GOP-led states where lawmakers have long argued that unions stand in the way of promising reforms because they're more interested in their dues-paying members than they are in children. These political skirmishes will test the political power of unions like never before. I predict that in 2017 we will see unprecedented legal challenges to collective bargaining rights and the unions' power to collect dues.