Trump’s only clear mention of the subject was a brief comment about vocational education: “Let us open great vocational schools so our future workers can learn a craft and realize their full potential.” As my colleague Alia Wong reported last night, this call for more vocational schools isn’t entirely consistent with his requested cuts to career and technical education in the 2018 budget.
Representative Joe Kennedy’s Democratic response to the address didn’t touch all that much on education, either, although it offered more than Trump’s address did. Kennedy spoke from Diman Regional Technical School, a vocational school in Fall River, Massachusetts, and noted that Democrats choose “good education [Americans] can afford.”
Going back a bit further, Clinton’s addresses seemed to spend a tad more time on education than Bush’s did, and some of his speeches reached—or even surpassed—Obama’s number of education mentions. Some of Clinton’s remarks might seem dated or irrelevant in today’s context: He said in his 1996 address, for example: “I challenge all our schools to teach character education, to teach good values and good citizenship. And if it means that teenagers will stop killing each other over designer jackets, then our public schools should be able to require their students to wear school uniforms.” Other parts are as relevant as ever: “I challenge every state to give all parents the right to choose which public school their children will attend and to let teachers form new schools with a charter they can keep only if they do a good job,” Clinton said in that same address.
Meira Levinson, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, felt that the lack of mention of education fit into the broader patterns of the address. “He didn’t really talk about social programs to any degree. I don’t feel as if education was given distinctively short shrift,” she said. She added that Trump’s address seemed to focus on the “individuals can handle it” approach when it came to social issues, and she felt that school choice, which the president neglected to reference, could have fit in well with this individualistic approach. While some of Trump’s critics might point to his silence on public education as a sign of his favoring school choice—an effort that education secretary Betsy DeVos openly supports— it’s interesting to note that Trump didn’t speak about privatization or school choice, either.
Martin West, an associate professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, wasn’t surprised by Trump’s failure to bring up education. “[Education] was not a priority for Trump as a candidate, nor has it been a priority for him during his first year in office. His one clear policy commitment in the area—expanding school choice—has proven controversial politically, and is very difficult to accomplish through federal policy,” he said. West also noted that members of Congress haven’t had much “appetite for revisiting the basic questions addressed” by the Every Student Succeeds Act—the federal education law—since it was passed by Congress in 2015; efforts have focused on the smaller-scale questions of implementation.
“In the larger context of U.S. history,” West said, “the prominence of [mentions of] education in recent years is the exception rather than the rule.” In the late 1990s to the early 2000s, more voters began to identify education as a top concern, and Bush responded to this concern, making No Child Left Behind a cornerstone of his domestic policy, said West. Today’s polls, in contrast, don’t show that education issues are of primary importance to Americans. West said that Trump’s mention of vocational education “reflects that the needs of the economy are a top priority for constituents,” adding that he thinks the country is “going to see increased efforts to talk about education in ways that are increasingly tied to the workforce needs of the economy.”
It’s worth noting that some of Obama’s addresses framed education in general as a key step toward economic mobility. “[Americans] agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job,” he said in his 2016 address.
It’s also worth noting that Trump did mention education—and school choice—in his address to Congress last February. “Education is the civil-rights issue of our time,” he said then. “I am calling upon members of both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth, including millions of African American and Latino children. These families should be free to choose the public, private, charter, magnet, religious, or home school that is right for them.”
DeVos, for her part, responded to Trump’s address with a concise statement: “America must do better to prepare our students for success in the 21st century economy. I join the President in calling on Congress to act in the best interest of students and expand access to more education pathways.”
On – 06 Mar, 2018 By Isabel Fattal