The politically motivated scramble of liberal “gotcha” journalists to accuse Donald Trump Jr. of cribbing verbiage in his convention speech, which subsequently exploded in their collective faces, unfortunately obscured Mr. Trump’s incisive points on the deplorable state of government-run education and the need to empower parents.
In his speech, Mr. Trump said, “Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class; now they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers, for the teachers and the administrators and not the students.”
The liberals at the Daily Show and their like-thinking media brethren tried to create a scandal saying this language was similar to an article in the American Conservative.
However, when it turned out that the article’s writer was also the speechwriter for Mr. Trump, even The Washington Post had to admit, reluctantly, “Scandal sidestepped.”
While a liberal-created faux scandal was avoided, Mr. Trump’s point cannot be ignored. America’s government-run school systems are failing to provide a quality education for too many of this nation’s children.
On the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress, often referred to as the “Nation’s Report Card,” only a third of all U.S. eighth graders taking the test scored at the proficient level in math and reading. And it’s not just low-income students who did poorly.
In Ohio, where the Republican National Convention is being held, more than half of non-low-income eighth graders failed to score at the proficient level on the NAEP math exam. In Colorado, nearly half of non-low-income eighth graders failed to achieve proficiency in math and reading. Even in New Jersey, which ranks very high in per-pupil government education spending, half of non-low income eighth graders failed to score at the proficient level in math.
Further, just as his father points out that political and economic systems in America are rigged to favor elites, Donald Trump Jr. is right that government-run education systems are rigged to benefit adults within those systems rather than children.
As the testimony of students in the landmark Vergara lawsuit in California has demonstrated, state laws that give ineffective teachers tenure after only a short probationary period, prevent incompetent teachers from being dismissed, and promote blind seniority over effectiveness in the classroom, serve only to protect poor-performing and poor-behaving adults in the system, not the children.
Students in the Vergara lawsuit testified that teachers covered only small portions of required curriculum and displayed abusive and sometimes violent behavior toward students. In addition, they said that younger, effective teachers were laid off while older, ineffective teachers were kept on the payroll.
One student plaintiff in the case summed it up, saying, “We deserve better, all of us, in every school, in every grade, in every zip code.” In his speech, Donald Trump Jr. had a solution for this student and every student and parent in America: Empower consumers to choose.
Mr. Trump rhetorically asked why other countries do better in education, and he answered this question by saying, “They let parents choose where to send their own children to school. It’s called the free market.” The research evidence supports Mr. Trump’s call to action.
Most gold-standard empirical research, according to Dr. Greg Forster of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, shows that school-choice programs, such as vouchers, improve the academic outcomes of students participating in the programs. Also, most empirical studies find that the competitive effect of school choice programs causes student outcomes at public schools to improve. And, as the research further indicates, these benefits occur with a cost savings to taxpayers.
Donald Trump Jr.’s speech indicates that a future Trump administration will not only recognize the real problem facing American education, it will also focus on providing solutions for ordinary parents and their children, rather than on paying off powerful government education bureaucracies and special interests. No wonder Mr. Trump received the loudest applause for the education portion of his well-delivered address.
Lance Izumi is Koret senior fellow and senior director of education studies at the Pacific Research Institute.