With a new administration in the White House, come new ideas and priorities. What will education and STEM look like under the Trump administration? James Brown, Executive Director the STEM Education Coalition answers our questions in this quick interview.
What direct information do we have about education priorities in a Trump administration?
Education issues were not a main focus in this presidential campaign, but we do have some clues. In many ways, what Trump has said publicly on education is pretty well in alignment with other Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. He has spoken about the need for more local control and less federal involvement, supported expanding school choice and charter schools, he opposes Common Core. He has also spoken about privatizing college loans. There has been a lot of speculative coverage in the education trade press about what a Trump presidency would mean for different aspects of policy, but I don’t think anyone has a firm idea about many of the specifics yet.
At this stage, are published pieces like the party platform good signifiers of the administration’s priorities?
Not necessarily, as education did not get nearly as much attention in the RNC platform as it has at points in the past. By comparison, in 2000 George W. Bush campaigned extensively on a detailed education platform that eventually became the No Child Left Behind law. I think the best sign of a clear direction on policy will be Trump’s appointments for Secretary of Education and who he selects for key positions in the White House. President Obama had a very strong and close relationship with Arne Duncan, his first Education Secretary. We’ll have to wait and see.
One major near-term issue will be implementation of ESSA. What levers would the new administration have to change the direction of the act? Given that the act is already focused on state-based decisions, what might they seek to change?
Over the last year since the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act there has been enormous tension between the Department of Education and Republicans on the Hill about the implementation of the new law and the interpretations of key aspects of the law like the so-called “supplement, not supplant” rule and questions related to accountability rules. There will be a lot of changes on this front and we will get a preview of them during the confirmation process for the new Secretary. ESSA has already shifted a lot of authority to the states on key decisions, but the education department will have enormous influence over funding levels for new ESSA programs and over the details of their implementation. I would imagine that the new administration would roll back some of the recent guidance issued by the Department on topics that have been very unpopular in Republican circles.
How may the change in administration change the conversation about STEM?
Placing a greater priority on STEM education has always had a very bipartisan base of support and we expect that to continue. President Obama used the so-called bully pulpit a great deal to talk about STEM education themes and the need for 21st century skills to compete in a global economy. As a candidate, Trump talked a lot about putting people back to work, especially in manufacturing. You can’t do that without focusing on STEM education themes. I also expect we will see a greater focus on career and technical education and it’s linkages to STEM, which are many.