Photo credit: US Department of Education via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Trump Budget Would Defund Two Failed Progressive School Experiments


Education reformists are, once again, wailing and gnashing teeth as the Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2018 eliminates a number of programs funded through the Department of Education. Two of the programs were pet projects of the former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and, aside from serving no meaningful purpose, raised the ire of conservative grassroots education activists as simply furthering the nanny state agenda.

The proposed budget would eliminate funding for 21st Century Learning Centers to the tune of $1.16 billion. The Trump Administration explained the proposed budget cut as follows:

This program makes formula grants to States, which award local sub-grants to support before, after, and summer school programs that provide safe spaces and opportunities for academic enrichment for nearly 2 million students at roughly 11,500 centers. This program lacks strong evidence of meeting its objectives, such as improving student achievement.

The budget would also eliminate Full Service Community Schools, a $10 million program that would make schools the center of academic, social, and health needs of students, their parents, and other community members. Proposing the cut, the Trump Administration explained:

The program has limited impact and largely duplicates activities that are more appropriately supported through other Federal, State, local, and private funds.

During former Secretary Duncan’s tenure, he regularly spoke about the concept of Community Schools. Duncan was quoted more than once about his vision in which schools should be community centers. He said, “Schools need to be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day six, seven days a week, 12 months out of the year, with a whole host of activities.”

As if keeping a school open (at taxpayer expense) for 14 hours a day, seven days a week isn’t enough, Secretary Duncan raised the ante. In a speech given at the National Summit of Youth Violence Prevention, on May 15, 2015, Duncan stated:

One idea that I threw out … is the idea of public boarding schools. That’s a little bit of a different idea–a controversial idea — but the question is do we have some children where there’s not a mom, there’s not a dad, there’s not a grandma, there’s just nobody at home?

Duncan added:

There’s (sic) just certain kids we should have 24/7 to really create a safe environment and give them a chance to be successful.

It would be presumptuous to suggest we already have public boarding schools — we call them prisons — but that certainly wasn’t Mr. Duncan’s suggestion. Rather, his reformist jargon hearkened back to 1996 and Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village, in which Mrs. Clinton espoused her belief that schools, the government, and even the business community have some part to play in the care and keeping of every child. Or, worse, as Melissa Harris Perry stated in a PSA for the largely forgotten “Lean Forward” movement, “We haven’t had a very collective notion of these are our children. We need to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents, and kids belong to their families, and recognize that kids belong to whole communities.”

What constitutes a Community School model?

A community school is both a place and a set of partnerships between the school and other community resources. Its integrated focus on academics, health and social services, youth and community development and community engagement leads to improved student learning, stronger families and healthier communities.

The Community School model isn’t new. From the early 20th Century, progressive education reformers have been massaging the idea of collectivism; the subjugation of the individual to the group. Hence, your children are our children.

John Dewey and Jane Addams, both renowned progressivists, were early architects of schools as the center of community social life and agents of neighborhood social services. In the 1930s, Charles Mott (Mott Foundation) developed programs in vacant school buildings which championed “lifelong learning” and “collaboration.” Through the 1960s and ’70s, advocates of the Great Society believed Community Schools would solve social issues, improve literacy rates, and increase academic performance.

Although there are Community School programs currently in existence throughout the country, there is no objective research showing the efforts have been remotely successful in closing the pervasive achievement gap, increasing graduation rates, decreasing teen pregnancy rates, increasing job opportunities, or curing any number of other ills plaguing predominantly low-income and minority communities.

In Arne Duncan’s hometown of Chicago, he sowed the seeds of the collective education mindset while serving as CEO of Chicago Public Schools from 2001 to 2008. However, these seeds were sown on rocky soil. Few, if any, of the schools are producing the desired results according to the State of Illinois Report Card.

A sampling of participating schools illustrated the program’s failure. The percentage of students at the selected 21st Century Learning Centers that failed to meet state benchmarks is abysmal: Ashburn Elementary, 84 percent; Hampton Elementary, 82 percent; Claremont Academy, 91 percent; Durkin Park Elementary, 66 percent; Dawes Elementary, 72 percent; McKay Elementary School, 85 percent; Libby Elementary School, 85 percent; and Pasteur Elementary, 75 percent.

Five Chicago high schools were randomly sampled. The percentage shown represents the percentage of students who failed to meet state benchmarks: Tilden Career Community Academy High School, 100 percent; Hubbard High School, 84 percent; Fenger High School, 94 percent; Morgan Park High School, 84 percent; and Hirsch Metropolitan High School, 90 percent.

Cincinnati Public Schools, despite numerous media articles lauding their Community Learning Centers program as a resounding success and a model for other states, are faring no better. The State of Ohio reports the following grades for school achievement: Sayler Park Elementary School, D; Roberts Paideia, F; Oyler Elementary School, F; Mt. Washington School, D; Mt. Airy School, F; and Academy of World Languages, F. Grades for progress, gap closing, and K-3 literacy were similarly dismal.

Despite what reformists want the public to believe, these schools are not successes. The 21st Century Learning Center and Full Service Learning Center model is not a success. It has been tried and tried again for a century, and it remains an abject failure — and an expensive failure, at that. The time has come to lay it to rest.

Photo credit: US Department of Education via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Lisa Hudson

Lisa Hudson is a founding member of Arizonans Against Common Core and an advocate of classical Christian education and the protection of student privacy. She graduated from Michigan State University School of Law in 1996 and is an active member of the State Bar of Michigan.

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