Thursday, August 18, 2016

Donald Trump Acts Like the Last 30 years of Ed Reform Never Happened

I've deliberately tried to stay out of the wild and wacky 2016 presidential race here. Primarily because education policy has been largely buried underneath the pile of mess that has become the daily 2016 campaign grind. However, Education Week put out an interesting blow-by-blow of Donald Trump's most recent comments about education. The conclusion?

He's big on school choice.

In fact, he spoke in Milwaukee this week and clamored for more school choice -- in the city where school vouchers began. Milwaukee has had choice for two generations of students. And Trump didn't see any irony when he decried the struggles of Milwaukee's schools, despite two generations of choice.

But what really struck me was when Trump told the Wisconsin audience:

"On education, it is time to have school choice, merit pay for teachers, and to end the tenure policies that hurt good teachers and reward bad teachers. We are going to put students and parents first."
It's time we have school choice?


We have had school choice in America since the late 1980s -- 1968 if you include the magnet school movement. We have a $37 billion charter school industry that makes its money off school choice. Charters are in 43 states and D.C. We even have an entire major urban school district -- New Orleans -- being nothing but a choice/charter district. We've had school choice so long in America that we're able to study the long-term economic impact they have on kids and communities -- which has been primarily a negative one. And the returns on charter school performance are not good, especially in Ohio.

What is Trump talking about?

And merit pay for teachers? We have that in several districts right now. And it's not working out so great, especially when the issue goes to voters. When Ohio Republicans passed Senate Bill 5 in 2011, teacher merit pay was the core of the issue. Ohioans voted against merit pay by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The early returns on merit pay's successful improvement of student outcomes is also not good. And even the free market bastions at the Harvard Business Review say merit pay doesn't work, no matter the system, even in the private sector.

And eliminating teacher tenure? Again, not a new idea. Once again, there's little to no evidence that ending tenure improves student achievement. As the Brookings Institute pointed out in a 2014 study, the years prior to teachers getting tenure (usually 4-5 years depending on the state) tend to weed out the vast majority of struggling teachers. The researchers found that "in the fifth year of their careers, only 27 percent of the bottom quarter of teachers, in terms of their value-added, remained employed at the school where they began" -- the lowest retention rate of any teacher performance tier. We can debate the effectiveness of judging effective teachers by student test scores, but the Brookings study demonstrates what teachers already knew -- really struggling teachers tend to leave before they ever get tenure.

While I'm not shocked that Trump has taken these positions, I am shocked he's speaking like they're new, or we don't have them. He also said in Detroit that Detroit needed school choice. Detroit has abundant school choice. Yet Trump acts like there isn't any?

What's clear to me is that Trump probably doesn't know what he's talking about, but even if he does, the ideas he's articulated for education are nothing new, exciting or especially innovative.