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What happened? And what’s the future of global education?

22 November 2016

Last week was International Education Week, an initiative to promote global awareness and exchanges in U. S. schools, jointly sponsored by the Department of State and the Department of Education. Will President Trump, who campaigned on an “America First” foreign policy his critics labeled isolationist and a promise to eliminate or drastically scale back the DOE, continue this program?

What Will Trump Do is the United States’ favorite parlor game at the moment, both inside and outside the Washington, D.C., area, and I certainly don’t have any more expertise on the question than anybody else who can do a Google search. So rather than post one more half-baked analysis on the internet, I strove to curate the most useful information I can find to explain the president-elect’s and his supporters positions on the twin behemoths of globalism and education.

Such curation is neither easy nor free of criticism. The annoyingly long campaign ripped a divided nation even further apart along the lines of race, gender, class, region, religion—and those are just the first five fault lines that come to mind. With all these divisions comes an increased skepticism toward the media on and from all sides of the ideological spectrum. I would love to be providing links to sites that both Republicans and Democrats respect for fairness, objectivity and authority, but I’m not sure there is one. The Wall Street Journal? Yahoo! News??

I’m going to my best, but to understand Trump and his supporters I am going to include sources like Breitbart, which is viewed on the left as sensationalist at best and fascist at worst. But to balance out the presentation (or to unite both sides of the political spectrum against this blog), I will also be citing media accused of liberal bias like The New Yorker and England’s The Guardian.

So, topic one: Globalism. Trump’s against it. (Well, as much as someone who owns properties in Turkey, South Korea, Brazil, etc., and who has met with his Indian business partners while plotting the transition to the Trump administration) His campaign consistently fell back to guaranteed applause lines against immigration and free trade. Conservative media personality Ann Coulter even suggested (perhaps tongue in cheek) that she would be okay with Donald Trump performing abortions himself in the White House if he implemented his plan on immigration.

And he’s not the only anti-globalist in the world today: look at Brexit, anti-immigration movements in France and Germany, Hungary’s prime minister. The rise of the anti-globalization movement has been discussed by, among many others, the former governor of the Reserve Bank of India and two previous Prime Ministers of Great Britain. In both of these articles, the participants point to the global financial crisis of the late 2000s and early 2010s as a prime cause in the doubt in the benefits of globalization and in the opposing belief that globalization makes it easier for all of us to go down together.

Even President Obama admits the globalization in practice has played a role in pushing us farther apart rather than closer together: “What I do concern myself with, and the Democratic Party is going to have to concern itself with, is the fact that the confluence of globalization and technology is making the gap between rich and poor, the mismatch in power between capital and labor, greater all the time. And that’s true globally.” This quote is in an interesting article in the New Yorker following President Obama around in the days immediately before, during, and after the election: Obama Reckons with a Trump Presidency.

Amazingly, some of the things discussed as the underbelly of globalization were already present in U.S. society more than 20 years ago when Robert Frank and Philip Cook wrote The Winner-Take-All Society, criticized by John Kenneth Galbraith in the Harvard Business Review here. Frank and Cook argue that the trend of more wealth going to fewer people leads to economic inefficiencies that serve to perpetuate the gaps between the rich and the working class.

But I digress: the issue of a winner-take-all society was never explicitly brought up during the campaign. Google “winner take all” with any of the players in the campaign and you’ll find references to the Electoral College and each party’s system for apportioning delegates at their nominating conventions, but nothing directly related to Frank and Cook’s book.

We’d be remiss in ending this discussion of Trump and anti-globalization without providing information about the “alternative right” or “alt-right” movement. Among the most polarizing aspects of the campaign was this nebulous group’s rising presence on the national political scene. Its critics, and there are many (see here, here, here and here), connect the “alt-right” to neo-Naziism and white supremacy.

(Defining the alt-right objectively is nearly impossible. The task reminds me a bit of being in graduate school in the late 1980s and trying to define deconstruction, more of a method to tear down the assumptions and conventions it opposed rather than a monolithic philosophy on which a utopia may be founded. And thanks to Paul de Man, it’s hard to think of deconstruction without association with the extreme right wing.)

One of the hallmarks of the alt-right is its insatiable appetite for politically incorrect memes, spread through underground websites and social media. The closest thing to an alt-right manifesto comes from an article published on Breitbart by two men who claim not to be neither full-fledged members nor even demographically acceptable (describing themselves as “a degenerate homosexual and an ethnic mongrel”). According to Bokhari and Yiannopoulos, the alt-right is mobilizing humans’ natural instinct for homogeneity and hierarchy.

Well, you can read their primary text and decide for yourself. Whatever we think, the alt-right is glad about Trump’s victory, Steve Bannon—the executive chairman of Breitbart—will be an important adviser, and globalism may have found its strongest foe in alt-right’s tribalism.

With the battle lines sketched out between globalism and tribalism, let’s switch our attention to education. Another fascinating bit of after-the-fact analysis (perhaps made fascinating because so much of the before-the-fact analysis was wrong), has pointed out the gap education seems to have had in influencing Trump or Clinton voters. College graduates preferred Clinton by 9 percentage points; those without college degrees preferred Trump by 8 points. The gap was even larger among white voters: white college graduates favored Trump by 4 points (compared to the 14-point advantage Republican challenger Mitt Romney had in 2012); whites without college degrees favored Trump by a whopping 39 points (up from 25 in 2012).

Many (see ‘Something will crack’: supposed prophecy of Donald Trump goes viral) are citing Richard Rorty’s Nostradamus moment in a 1998 book “Achieving Our County” when he seems to predict the 2016 election: “All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.”

A better analysis is available in The Guardian’s Chris Arnade’s excellent journalism in which he allows Trump supporters across America’s poor rural areas to voice their thoughts. A powerful analysis: “America has changed fundamentally over the last 35 years, and I saw and heard the impact of those changes. America had finally started upending a longstanding and ugly racial hierarchy, removing legal barriers that had made the playing field anything but level. For this, minorities overwhelmingly supported the new system, despite still suffering economically and socially more than white Americans.

“Yet we replaced that system with one based on schooling, building a playing field that was tilted dramatically towards anyone with the “right” education. The jobs requiring muscle decreased (many going overseas) while the jobs requiring school increased. Compounding the pain from this, we started giving the winners a much larger share of the profits.

“The early Trump voters I met were the losers from these changes. Their once superior status – based only on being white – was being dismantled, while their lack of education was also being punished. They lived in towns and communities devastated by economic upheaval. They were born in them and stayed in them, despite their fall. For many, who had focused on their community over career, it felt like their entire world was collapsing.”

Trump’s stated position on education focuses on increasing school choice as a means of making U.S. students of all stripes more competitive with their counterparts overseas as measured by standardized tests. His statements have also put him in front of the already brewing crowd against Common Core State Standards, standardized testing and federal regulation, favoring more local control.

The challenge is going to be untying the connection between competition and testing.

An oversimplified and Florida-centric history of education reform over the last 20 years: It all started with the election of Jeb Bush as governor in 1998. One of his goals was to apply Milton Friedman economics to education, encouraging privatization as a means of improving public schools, made complacent through (from his perspective) liberal government funding and kowtowing to teacher unions. But competition needs a clear scoresheet.

Enter the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), given to all students from grades 3 to 10 so that their promotion to the next level would be granted—or denied—based on clear data. These data would also indicate which schools and which teachers would be deemed successes or failures, with failing teachers fired and failing schools closed so their students could use private school vouchers or enroll in newly-formed charter schools, many formed by for-profit corporations.

Bush’s ideas were codified as federal policy with the passage of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2001 with bipartisan support in a Republican majority Congress and signed by Jeb Bush’s brother, President George W. Bush, early in his first term.

Jeb Bush completed his second term as governor in early 2007 and set about encouraging the National Governors Association to investigate and adapt a set of national standards that would reduce regional gaps in achievement nationwide. These standards would become the Common Core State Standards, supported by both Republican and Democratic governors.

In 2009, Barack Obama took the oath of office and became president. The country was facing its worst economic downturn since The Great Depression of 1929 and No Child Left Behind was still the law of the land. As part of his federal stimulus, the Obama administration instituted Race To The Top (RTTT), using the testing basis of NCLB as a means to offer much needed federal funding to states and local school boards if they developed a means to implement common national standards. For an informative comparison of NCLB and RTTT, see here.

RTTT became the lightning rod for a new partisan split in education policy. Whether due to a philosophical disagreement with increased federal control or to a desire to help Obama fail in time to lose the 2012 election, conservatives banded against Common Core State Standards.

Well, not all conservatives. Just about all of them except Jeb Bush.

To be honest, if you had asked me 12 months ago, I would have predicted Jeb Bush would have been the Republican nominee, and he would have faced the same questions about Common Core that Mitt Romney faced about Obamacare. But conservative repulsion for Common Core connected easily to repulsion for Jeb Bush. And if Barack Obama could have run for a third term, I reckon his support of Common Core would have been duly treated like Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Goldman Sachs—both attempts by Democrats to reach out to the other side of the political spectrum and stake out a moderate position, only to have the attempt connected with an elitist attempt to restrict the will of the masses. But I digress.

Ken McIntyre of The Daily Signal claims Bush’s ideas were mainly positive in Florida, particularly in raising the achievement of blacks and Hispanics, reducing their gaps with whites. Bush’s framework, although FCAT has been replaced with the Florida Standards Assessment, is still very much in place, perhaps even more so as teachers hired since 2011 are supposed to earn raises (or not earn them) based in large part on their students’ test results. Critics point out that perceived gains in the FCAT came from resetting the bar for political reasons and that the touted charter schools overall performed worse than the public schools they competed against.

Which brings us back to Trump. His favor of charter schools and increased competition with less federal intrusion seems to lead us to the status quo ante Obama. In other words, the conditions that led to the creation and establishment of Common Core. But, as Jeb Bush perceptively pointed out, Common Core as a brand is now “poisonous.”

That doesn’t mean the idea of having all students take a test to compare how they’re doing compared to kids across the country and the world is dead. In Florida, there is significant push to replace FSA (the RTTT- and therefore Common-Core-based replacement of FCAT) with either the SAT or the ACT. And the College Board is pleased to develop new products, such as the PSAT 8/9, to fit the need.

Under conservative principles, it’s not likely for such a shift to get federal funding. So the problem becomes how to (or perhaps whether to) narrow the gap between states. Looking at the most recent SAT scores reinforces how the education gap correlates to political division.

The top six states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Illinois and New Hampshire) are all “blue” states; that is, supported Hillary Clinton, the Democratic Party candidate in the recent election. As has been stated before in this blog, if Massachusetts were its own country, its PISA math results would be ninth in world, tied with Japan. Vermont would be fifth in reading, tied with Singapore. And check out this infographic, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce: of its listed top 10 states in academic performance, nine voted for Clinton (surprise swing state Pennsylvania was the exception); the bottom 10 were more closely split, six for Trump (Oklahoma, West Virginia, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana) four for Clinton (Hawaii, Nevada, New Mexico, and D.C.).

Local control with less federal intrusion keeps education policy conservative in the red states and liberal in the blue states.  Assuming Trump cedes more education control to the states, Laura McKenna points out in  What the Republican Triumph in State Legislatures Means for America’s Schools that it’s a great opportunity for the Republican Party, which holds more governors and state legislatures than ever before. Certainly a boon for charter school companies and private schools, especially not the elite and selective ones but the smaller, cheaper private schools where a voucher can make a real dent in the tuition for poor families. As John Boehner, Republican ex-speaker of the House of Representatives, told the Global Financial Leadership Conference in southwest Florida, “I would describe it as the Trump party. Trump’s not really a Republican, he’s not really a Democrat. He’s what he has to be on a given day… It’s Trump’s to shape in the immediate future.” The details of that future though are hard to predict: Each state has its own dynamic and its own issues.

Curriculum could indeed be vastly different, This report (Is Evolution Arkansas’s Hidden Curriculum? | NCSE) claims that evolution was generally not brought up in many science classes at Arkansas schools.  The Dallas News (Texas State Board of Education approves new curriculum standards | Education | Dallas News) describes the state legislature’s argument in 2010 about its history and social studies curriculum, which was revised to encourage students to question the separation of church and state, see the positive side of Joseph McCarthy, and learn about conservatives groups of the ’80s and ’90s rather than liberal groups.  In Oklahoma, a bill was proposed, then withdrawn, recommending defunding of the Advanced Placement U. S. History program because the revised curriculum, according to the bill’s sponsor, presented “America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters.” (see History class becomes a debate on America).

This is not to say that only the conservative spin curriculum toward their ends. In San Francisco, a teachers union circulated a lesson plan that has students discuss Donald Trump through the frame of racism and sexism.

These examples of local curriculum reform may be extreme (one hopes). But the problem of the status quo ante is how would diverse curricula at the state and local levels reduce the education achievement gap between states. If Massachusetts and Vermont are getting results that compare to the Asian Tigers, students there would seem to be more equipped to continue prospering in whatever economy evolves in a Trump presidency: a global one or a nationalist one. In those states, educators fear a Trump presidency that does NOT live up to its promise of less federal oversight–they want just to be left alone and continue their success.

On the other side of the political-educational gap, if curricula in states like Oklahoma diverge too much from those in Massachusetts, it’s hard to imagine students there being as competitive. And the economic, educational, and cultural chasms revealed in this election will grow.

Perhaps this is why Trump is talking to a relatively diverse group of potential secretaries of education: e.g, Christian university president Jerry Falwell, Jr., Michigan Republican Party chairwoman Betsy DeVos, and registered Democrat but teacher-union enemy Michelle Rhee. (Note to self: Update this post when Trump names someone nobody mentioned. Or just leave it as an interesting historical sidebar.)

Will global education be replaced by tribal indoctrination during the next four years? Hard to say. The signs on globalism and on education lead toward a lot of prior policies and positions being torn down, but the harder task of rebuilding anew—particularly in way that will help the Heartland states and the white working class that pushed Trump to victory—has yet to be addressed.

Global education is going to be a hard sell, not only because of antagonism toward globalism, but also suspicion of education. Joan Williams in the Harvard Business Review notes that the U.S. working class tends to be resentful of professionals (and their education) while admiring the rich (and their pragmatic, competitive success). How then can readers of this blog (assuming you’re more like the educated and credentialed professional and less like the pragmatic, competitive champion of business) bridge the gap? Among other things, Williams recommends an education system closer to the German model, which provides a more vocational focus for the 75 percent or so who will not get a college degree. Read more here: What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class. A recent Washington Post article looks further into the German apprenticeship model.

Other post-election education suggestions include Anthony Carnevale’s call for an emphasis on “middle skills,” not just manufacturing and Working Nation’s list of five aspects of the job market that need to be improved, .

From an economic perspective, building global competence in our students still makes sense. In the short term, adults looking for work will benefit from developing skills in technology, according to the top skills listed by LinkedIn, Time, and Monster. In the long run, the fundamentals of investigating, understanding different perspectives, communicating with others and taking action—all infused with technology—are still necessary to build strong communities and connect them to each other.

Maybe not in the same words, but it seems Ivanka Trump agrees with me.


P.S. (23 November 2016): This just in: Trump has named Betsy DeVos as his choice to run the U.S. Department of Education. She is definitely pro-voucher, so we will probably see federal funding provided to the states for that. She has also pushed in Michigan for less regulation for charter schools, a policy which critics claim keeps charter schools from improving (or even meeting) the results of public schools. She has not spoken out against Common Core State Standards until updating her website today and perhaps has supported them behind the scenes. Republicans’ immediate reaction was therefore somewhat split, with one conservative policy leader calling her “an establishment, pro-Common Core secretary of education, and Jeb Bush calling her “an outstanding pick.”

Occupy Democrats are against the pick, calling her a “billionaire lobbyist,” “a deeply entrenched member of America’s oligarchy,” and declared “American public education is officially under attack.”

P.S. (18 December 2016): Matt Silver performed an analysis and wonders if education level was a bigger predictor of support than income. The numbers look quite convincing: The less formal education one had, the more likely one supported Trump.

Krishna Kumar, an education scholar in India, writes about the potential effect of a Trump administration on U. S. education policy, and worries how this will embolden neo-liberal reforms in India.

P.S. (19 December 2016): From a Wall Street Journal article: Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen weighs in on the connection between globalism and education, saying, “[G]lobalization has reinforced the shift away from lower-skilled jobs that require less education to higher-skilled jobs that require college and advanced degrees. The jobs that globalization creates in the United States, serving a global economy of billions of people, are more likely to be filled by those who, like you, have secured the advantage of higher education.” If what Yellen says is true, can a global outlook survive in a democratic society if significantly less than half the voting population has college degrees? Discuss.

P.P.S. (17 January 2017): Apparently, if the U.S. doesn’t want to lead on globalization, China is willing to fill the gap, according to this Wall Street Journal article on President Xi Jinping’s speech at the World Economic Forum.


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  1. Judy Carruth permalink

    Always enjoy your perspective: thoughtful, pointed, and rational–qualities in short supply today:)

    • Dr. Shipe permalink

      That’s what we’re trying to do here! 🙂

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