The Trump administration has decided that its priorities are not so much education policy as a war on public education.
On Thursday, the administration sent a letter to state and local school leaders, asking them to make the case that public schools are “not a school system” and that the Trump administration will not tolerate “unsafe or ineffective” practices.
In the letter, the Education Department urged states to adopt policies “to improve students’ learning environments, curricula, and other critical elements of academic performance.”
The letter says that the “primary responsibility” of public school teachers is “to serve the children of the United States, and to be vigilant about ensuring that the children and teachers of our schools are provided with the knowledge, skills, and experiences that will prepare them to serve our Nation.”
The department said that “no individual, organization, or institution” can claim the right to “deny, limit, or eliminate” the teaching of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
The letter also urges states to “promote student-centered, culturally inclusive learning.”
In the memo, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote that the Education Act is not meant to “protect schools from the actions of one school district or school district board or to limit their capacity to perform their important responsibilities.”
“Instead, the act creates an environment where schools have the freedom to engage in critical learning to ensure that all students, regardless of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, national origin, disability, or other protected status, are adequately prepared to succeed in a competitive workforce and to develop the skills and competencies that will enable them to achieve their full potential,” DeVos wrote.
The Trump-era Education Department has taken a tough stance on public schools.
In a memo to educators on Wednesday, Education Department deputy assistant secretary for civil rights Bethany Cooper said that the department “strongly opposes” the idea that the Obama administration’s school accountability and accountability measures have failed to prevent “the systemic discrimination, bullying, and mistreatment of students and teachers” and said the Education Assistance Act of 2015 and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act “provide the framework for ensuring equal access to and opportunity for all students.”
Cooper said in the memo that “a number of states have been able to enact meaningful accountability measures,” but that “the Department of Education continues to be troubled by a lack of federal protections for students and their teachers.”
“While the federal government continues to have a role in ensuring that states and localities are accountable for ensuring equitable outcomes in education, the Department of Justice has jurisdiction over the implementation of the Individuals With Disabilities Educational Act and the Enforcement Guidance for Schools, and that jurisdiction is now broadened to include other federal programs,” Cooper wrote.
On Wednesday, Trump signed the Education Accountability and Accountability Enhancement Act, which would give the Education and Justice Departments authority to sue states and school districts for failing to comply with the Education Amendments of 2015, a landmark law that required states to make significant changes to how they teach students to be able to pass a test and receive a diploma.
The bill would also make it harder for states to implement the federal standards that were developed under the Individuals for Excellent Schools Act of 2011.
Education Secretary DeVos and Education Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Bethany Cooper said that a federal lawsuit is necessary because the administration “does not have the authority to impose sanctions against a school district.”
The Education Department said that it will “review” the bill in “clarification” if and when it receives a response.