On January 19th, the National School Boards Association and the National School Boards Action Center hosted the Public Education Agenda for America’s Success forum. Representatives from both conservative and liberal policy and research institutes came together in Washington, DC to discuss what to expect under a new administration and Congress.
The 2016 presidential campaign did not focus much on education issues, aside from a few conversations around child care and school choice. However, Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) mentioned that while education has not been a direct focus of President Trump’s attention, many of his priority issues—including safety, the economy and the military—are, in truth, education issues.
Based on what we know so far about the Trump Administration’s education agenda and how it relates to out-of-school time, a couple of key themes emerged.
Federal government expected to pass the baton to the states
Many on the panel assumed the Trump Administration will look to return as much decision-making on data, performance, and implementation as possible to states, which resonates with the theme of the Every Student Succeeds Act passed by Congress and signed by President Obama in 2015.
All panelists expected a return to local control—but as AEI’s Andy Smarick hypothesized, the very concept of local control may be changing. In the past, local control meant the ultimate decision makers on education issues should be local school boards and districts rather than the state or federal government, but Smarick now believes local control is reaching down to the level of the parent and family.
However, other panelists pointed out that with federal and state money flowing to districts and students, accountability in education will always have to be twofold: at the school and parent level with regard to student achievement, but also at the federal, state, and local level when considering how public tax dollars are being spent in the public interest.
A few panelists expressed concerns that for many state agencies, the devolution of power from the federal government with accompanying needs for data and accountability at the state level would be challenging, especially in the face of declining state education expenditures in many places.
In accordance with the trend toward a reduced federal role overall, the panel considered whether the federal Office for Civil Rights would take a less proactive role than in years past and instead aim to respond only where and when people bring complaints, rather than issuing proactive regulations.
When brainstorming student supports, afterschool is a research-based piece of the puzzle
In the face of so much uncertainty, the last few minutes of the panel centered around what school boards could do to improve student achievement. Panelists discussed community efforts, use of evidence based practices, and studies of high performing low-income schools as methods.
Robinson, of AEI, said there will be a role for the U.S. Department of Education with regard to out-of-school circumstances, such as the hunger or poverty or environments that surround students in their lives outside the school day.
Robinson cited research on the time when crime spikes for youth—namely, the hours right after the school day ends—and mentioned the federal effort in funding out-of-school time/afterschool programs as a research-based example of getting students engaged in productive activities during these times. He also noted that these programs are often a collaborative result of school boards, mayors, businesses and foundations working together to provide opportunities for youth.
Michael Hansen of the Brookings Institution also pointed out that locally-oriented wraparound services have the potential to be better tapped moving forward.
Afterschool at the table
Many afterschool providers and partners are already working closely with their local school boards and superintendents. The Every Student Succeeds Act provides additional motivation to work with local level education advocates to help them plan for student achievement at partners. Those afterschool programs looking to engage in the ESSA conversation may find the Afterschool Alliance ESSA Playbook to be a useful tool in the effort.
Remember to stay visible and keep telling your (and your students’) story. We may not have the tea leaves to see the future, but we can be sure people will continue to look for community solutions in the education space, and afterschool and summer programs can be expected to play an essential role in local decision-making and student support.