Uncertainty in education policy causes concern among some students

Perspectives on the President: Education

Ryan Smith, Managing Editor

This is the first article in a series in which The Freelancer will explore the policies of newly-elected-president Donald Trump and potential impact on La Serna High School culture. It only makes sense to begin with the area of Trump’s policy most conspicuously connected to school life: education.

The Senate is currently voting on Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education. She is an advocate for school choice, which involves using federal tax money to provide for vouchers for private school students. She believes in localizing school control, giving more power to individual states to decide on education policies. She also believes that schools should have guns to protect their students.

DeVos has proven to be one of Trump’s most controversial cabinet picks. To some, she is a bold reformer who will rightfully change the status quo in education and allow disadvantaged students to attend private schools. She has been fighting for school choice since the 1990s, having served as chair of the Alliance for School Choice and the American Federation for Children. To others, she is an ill fit for this position and merely wants to help wealthier students get a leg up in education. Since she is married to multibillionaire Dick DeVos, who has donated substantial amounts of money to Trump, there is concern that she may have special interests. Many have worried about DeVos’ competency after her Senate hearing, in which she did not appear to know the difference between the proficiency and growth theories of education.

DeVos’ primary initiative of school choice could affect La Serna in the sense that it could receive less federal funding. If tax money will be given to charter schools, there will be less money left over for public schools.

La Serna senior Carolina Mata is worried about the effects of less funding. “There are a lot of kids from lower socioeconomic classes that cannot afford a private school or charter school, and their only way to education is a public high school and the support that it provides,” she said.  “Hopefully, education can be maintained for all people equally, across the board. ”

“I do like the fact that [in public schools], everybody is taught the same thing. We’re all getting the same basic education, ” said senior Jonathan Sirordia. “I have friends in charter schools. Charter schools cost money, and most of the time, they’re not given the same opportunities as those in public schools. They’re not around as many individuals or as many minds as those in public schools. Part of life in understanding the world is understanding other people. That’s one thing people need to learn, and public school’s a good way – you learn other opinions and expand your opinions because you are around so many different people.”

“I do think school choice is a good idea,” said Hannah Avalos senior and President of the Political Discussion Club. She sees the value in providing money for students to have more access to education. Yet, she admits that “it’s a slippery slope. Betsy DeVos was a poor choice on Trump’s behalf, and when she was questioned she proved to be an ill fit for the job regarding education. For example, she was asked if guns were to be allowed in school and her reply was yes because of [potential attacks by] bears.”

Senior Markie Wagner said, “Not only does she not have experience in public education in any capacity, either as a teacher or as an administrator, but during her hearing, she was unable to commit to enforcing federal laws concerning the reporting of harassment incidents and the protection of disabled students. Also, she was unable to answer definitively when asked if she believed that all schools receiving government funding should be held equally accountable. These reasons, along with her support of using taxpayer money for religious and for-profit education, are why I do not support her as Secretary of Education.”

Above, Wagner responds to an important facet of Trump’s education policy – local control. What would a locally controlled La Serna High School look like? La Serna wouldn’t be tied to as many rules; it may only be tied to some enforced by the state of California. National school programs may be eliminated.

Junior Nickolas Montoya agrees with the concept of local control to some degree. He says that schools should be more locally organized in order to account for specific school needs, but that there should also be an overarching national standard. “The system could use some adjustment,” he said.

On the other hand, some worry that if schools create their own rules, it can bring about confusion and even evoke moral questions over how life should go on campus. When asked about holding schools to certain standards for special needs students, DeVos has stated that the matter was best left to states. She held a similar belief regarding the monitoring of bullying, although she has said, “I would be happy to review the provision.”

The Trump administration’s next federal target would be Common Core, the critical-thinking-based initiative that has been adopted by forty-two of the fifty United States. According to The New York Times, the initiative generally receives a favorable rating from teachers and educators, and it has brought about improvement in some schools, but there is still some controversy over whether it accomplishes what it is supposed to.

Social Science teacher Ceci Juarez said she likes Common Core because it allows students to pull from their own knowledge instead of referencing obscure and ultimately insignificant pieces of information on tests.

Math teacher Dan Dupont said, “I think Common Core is great in theory, but poorly implemented. We’re always looking for this thing that’s going to help everyone, and everyone’s different, so there’s not one thing that will be the perfect thing for all kids.” He continued, “Different kids have different needs.”

“I think Common Core is amazing if you can get a group of kids just hungry to try and fail and see what they did wrong and keep going on it. It’s successful when there’s trial and error and discovery in learning,” Dupont added.

As Betsy DeVos hopes to become the next U.S. Secretary of Education, and as students consider the varied perspectives on school policy, only one question remains: For La Serna High School, will Trump’s outlook on education make the grade?