US education, already unequal, gets religion

Posted by in Culture

Trump’s final nomination for education secretary is from the extremist, right-wing evangelical community. Meanwhile in the evidence-based world, research makes clear the US rates poorly for equality of educational opportunity in a comparative study with Canada, England and Australia.

Gaps in cognitive development between children from less- versus more-advantaged families are large already at school entry, and they remain large as children move through school. Reviewing educational research, the report recommends addressing related US deficits which contribute to this education gap:

  • Parenting support programs to help address the gap between home resources and skills in high and low socioeconomic status groups;
  • Increasing low rates of preschool enrolment;
  • Reducing income inequality through higher minimum wages and income supports;
  • Reducing locational segregation which flows through into lower educational diversity;
  • Providing more experienced teachers;
  • More external inspections of school standards;
  • More compensatory funding to high needs schools;
  • More peer tutoring.

Source: Too many children left behind: the US achievement gap in comparative perspective, B Bradbury, M Corak, J Waldfogel, E Washbrook, 2015.

Trump takes a different approach

Reporters have pointed to numerous recordings and interviews in which Trump’s nominee for education secretary DeVos and her husband Dick, a billionaire heir to the Amway fortune, promote education policies as avenues to “greater Kingdom gain … lament that public schools have ‘displaced’ the Church as the center of communities,” and refer to their efforts to advance private, religious schools as a “Shephelah,” an area where battles, including between David and Goliath, were fought in the Old Testament.

In the New York Times Katherine Stewart pointed out numerous examples of DeVos-related family foundations that have generously donated to “conservative groups” pushing religious right doctrine including, the Alliance Defending Freedom,” the legal juggernaut of the religious right,” and “Colorado-based Christian ministry Focus on the Family.”

And DeVos was Trump’s second choice for education secretary. His first nomination was Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the nation. Liberty University teaches creationism alongside evolution.

Another candidate Trump also considered for education secretary was Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, a small conservative liberal arts school in Michigan known for declining all federal funds.

Hillsdale College is regarded as “the conservative Harvard,” in some circles, and has been the recipient of generous donations from numerous funders of the rightwing conservative movement including the Koch brothers’ family foundation. Hillsdale has a long-held reputation for discriminating on the basis of gender preference and identity, and news outlets in the LGBT community have reported incidents in which Hillsdale staff and officials openly discriminated against gay students.