The leader President-elect Donald Trump selects to be Education Secretary will reveal a great deal about his administration’s priorities, and potential, to meaningfully influence American public education.
Two candidates, Gerard Robinson and Bob Schaffer, whose names appear on recent versions of the short list being considered for the post, stand out as particularly-impactful potential choices. Either’s selection would represent a strong step toward raising the profile of education within the new administration.
Bob Schaffer, a former Congressman from Colorado, was an education leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, before honoring his own pledge to voters to serve only three terms. During his tenure in Congress, Schaffer earned a reputation as a hardworking advocate for school choice programs on the Education and the Workforce Committee. He was active in deliberations and negotiations over the No Child Left Behind Act, which he ultimately opposed as too bureaucratic and too limiting to educational choice options.
A public school educator who is the son of public school educators, Schaffer is the founder and leader of a public charter school which has repeatedly been rated one of Colorado’s top-performing high schools. Since leaving Congress to return to Colorado, he has served as chairman of the State Board of Education and on the board of the innovative Colorado League of Charter Schools.
Gerard Robinson is the other reported short-list candidate who presents President-elect Trump with a particularly powerful opportunity to make a valuable statement with this pick. A co-chair of Trump’s education transition team, Robinson served as education secretary in Virginia and Florida, and would be the nation’s third African-American Secretary of Education.
Robinson has distinguished himself throughout his career as one of the nation’s most impactful speakers and advocates championing more educational choices, especially for lower- and middle-income black families. His tenure as president of the nonprofit Black Alliance for Educational Options was memorable for his evocative message of school choice within the nation’s civil rights narrative, drawing from his years as a scholar of education and civil rights history.
Education did not play a prominent role in this year’s Presidential campaign on either side. When candidate Trump discussed schools, he generally spoke to his disdain for the Common Core State Standards (although he did not articulate a preferred approach to content standards) or expressed enthusiasm for school choice opportunities.
But on numerous fronts and for many reasons, we are in a particularly important time for American public education:
∙ Implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, the long-awaited successor to the much-maligned No Child Left Behind Act, is entering a crucial phase as states begin to finalize their new plans for accountability and funding.
∙ Schools around the country are making major shifts in their pedagogy, leveraging technology and software in ways that accelerate learning gains by personalizing the school experience – changes that will require updating policies to provide flexibility to move the needle on improving the sector’s overall soft productivity levels; and,
∙ Access to quality school choices for all families – not just those that can afford to choose schools with the homes they buy – is demonstrating unprecedented progress with the success of high-quality charter schools and other school choice vehicles in many states, including Vice President-elect Pence’s Indiana.
Both Gerard Robinson and Bob Schaffer are compelling leaders who make others around them more effective. Selecting either would represent an important commitment to aligning the Education Department with the rapidly-changing education landscape.
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