The Lynch School of Education hosted a town hall to discuss education policy under the Trump administration on Tuesday night.
The event was organized by secondary education and English major Sarah Bradley, LSOE ‘17, who wanted to understand how the 2016 election would impact her future as an educator as well as the lives of her future students.
The town hall, which was attended by students, professors, and at least one Boston Public School teacher, gave students the opportunity to learn about the perspectives of four LSOE professors.
Dr. Anderson Franklin, professor and Honorable David S. Nelson Professional Chair of the Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology Department, began the discussion by talking about the importance of after-school programs.
“After-school programs and out of school activities truly serve as a supplement for the achievement of children in a variety of different ways,” said Franklin.
However, many low income families lack the time or resources to provide these enriching activities.
“21st Century Community Learning Centers have supported states in their efforts to provide enrichment, academic supplemental support, cultural exposure, and a variety of related programs,” Franklin said, “that contribute to the growth, enrichment, and development of children in less privileged areas.”
He also commented that there is no evidence to support the Trump administration’s claim that 21st Century Community Learning Centers have not been successful. According to Franklin, states will make the final decisions about educational policies and it is important to pay attention to the education budget at the state and district level.
“The process is more about what Congress does with that budget, in terms of authorizing and the amount of money they give states,” said Franklin.
The professor expressed concern that certain states will choose to provide less money, even if they do not eliminate funding, to 21st Century Learning Centers and Obama-era programs such as Promise Neighborhoods that help families in low income communities.
Next up to speak was Professor Maria Brisk, who specializes in bilingual education and began by discussing the impact of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ESSA, which replaces No Child Left Behind, established federal regulations that are beneficial to bilingual students.
However, Brisk expressed frustration that bilingualism is not a skill that has been encouraged by the government, even though the ability to communicate in foreign languages is valuable in business and politics.
Brisk also drew attention to how students are being affected by the current political climate. According to Brisk, there are about 18 million bilingual students in the United States, including almost five million English language learners (ELL) and over two million undocumented children.
“There are over four million U.S. citizen children who have an undocumented parent,” said Brisk. “They are really suffering a lot because they don’t know if, when they come back home from school, they are going to find their parents home.”
She described an incident in Boston last week, in which two children came home from school to find that their parents had been taken, and the neighbors were scared to go to the house and take care of the kids out of fear they would be deported as well.
“They are creating unbelievable living environments for these kids,” said Brisk. “The only place the kids are safe is at school, because schools cannot be raided and teachers do not have to give information about students.”
Professor Dennis Shirley, whose expertise is in international education practices and teaching philosophies, echoed Franklin’s comments that control of educational policies such as curriculum frameworks, assessments, and instruction methods will remain with the states and local districts.
However, he acknowledged that American schools “are losing a bit of cohesion.”
Research on international education practices suggests that countries with the highest academic achievement and equity also have a strong, centralized educational system. The United States Constitution, however, establishes a more local approach to decision-making regarding education.
Shirley explained that the market-based models for education favored by the Trump administration, such as charter schools and for-profit universities, developed along with ideas about testing and accountability during the Reagan administration.
Despite the uncertainty about the future of education and inequities teachers witness everyday, Shirley urged them to remain optimistic, focus on their students, be creative, and “teach like your hair’s on fire.”
“We want to set for ourselves what they call in the business literature B.H.A.D. goals—big, hairy, audacious goals,” said Shirley continued. “Martin Luther King didn’t say he had a blueprint; he didn’t say he had a five point plan. He said he had a dream. What are your dreams as you go into education? How do you let your students know you have dreams?”
Associate Professor of Teacher Education Patrick McQuillan highlighted the successes of early childhood education, after-school programs, LSOE’s City Connects program, and methods of teaching both ELL and English-speaking students.
He also urged teachers to collaborate on lesson plans and address issues that affect their students.
“In the Lynch Leadership Academy, one of the things that we found was that when people were given opportunities to assume more power and responsibility, they took it up in a really positive way and it had a major impact on what happened in their schools,” said McQuillan.
After each speaker, the audience had an opportunity to ask questions, which led to deeper conversations about how educational policies are made, strategies to address controversial issues in the classroom, and the importance of building communities to prevent isolation of groups and individuals.
Although many concerns were brought up about education and American society, Franklin offered a final perspective that was both hopeful and a call to action.
“This is nothing new, in terms of respect for science and thinking about equity issues. The cycles in American history have shifted between progressive and conservative periods,” said Franklin. “What has allowed us to endure those cycles is continued dialogue with necessary affinity groups, learning not to be afraid to share the experiences that are very relevant, and organizing. We have to continue talking to find that consensus about what we feel is right, and then each of us goes around and finds somebody else.”