4 Education Predictions for 2017

With President Donald Trump now in office and the confirmation of education nominee Betsy DeVos hanging in the balance, we asked Chandra Orrill, chair and associate professor of STEM Education and Teacher Development at UMass Dartmouth, what the future holds for the nation’s schools under the new administration. Here’s what she had to say:

1. Say goodbye to public education as we know it. And, possibly, the Department of Education.

Empty classroom(Victor Bjorkund photo via Flickr.com)

Trump’s election is an alarming development for public education, particularly because of his nomination of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. This nomination speaks loudly in terms of signaling this administration’s commitment to undermining the traditional public school system of the United States. Both Trump and DeVos are very clear supporters of vouchers, which are a means of taking public tax dollars and applying them to private schools. This raises a wide spectrum of questions about equity and accessibility of high quality education for all children, as it will ultimately lead to many children being stuck in schools that are underfunded and underperforming.

There is also a threat to the very existence of the Department of Education under President Trump based on comments made during his campaigning. While I suspect it will not happen in 2017, the Department of Education may be significantly shrunk or eliminated entirely under the new administration. This has considerable practical impact in that the Department of Education houses and coordinates a wide variety of programs that impact students. For example, they administer programs for free and reduced lunch, special education programs and funding for a wide variety of activities important to schooling in the U.S. ranging from teacher professional development to assessment to funding for preschool. Redesigning or eliminating the Department of Education would leave huge questions about how such programs would continue.

2. Despite a contentious hearing, Betsy DeVos will be confirmed as secretary of education.


It looks very unlikely that DeVos would be rejected by Congress. Right now, the Republicans in Congress seem eager to support their new leader, and allowing Trump to develop his team is one supportive step they can take. It also seems unlikely that DeVos would step down. While those of us in education see how limited her understanding of education is, she clearly feels competent to take on this position. If she was not confident in her own ability, it’s unlikely that she would have accepted the nomination and put herself through public scrutiny.

Her appearance in the confirmation hearings, however, was very disconcerting for many people in education. It is clear that Ms. DeVos does not understand fundamental aspects of the education landscape for which she would become responsible, with the most glaring example being her inability to differentiate between “proficiency” and “growth.” 

3. Federal funding for STEM research will likely be slashed.

A chemist works in a laboratoryA chemist works in a U.S. Army research laboratory. (U.S. Army RDECOM photo via Flickr.com)

Trump’s nominee for budget director, Mike Mulvaney, and others in Trump’s inner circle have suggested that there may not be a need for government-supported STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math) research. If this position were to move into action, it could mean dramatic cuts to the very agencies that fund such research. And, slashing the funding will, necessarily, lead to the loss of myriad research-based jobs in STEM. From my own perspective as an educator and educational researcher, I worry that funding from agencies like the National Science Foundation will be cut, which would lead to much less research being done on teaching and learning, as well as fewer materials being developed to support teaching and learning in STEM.

It is unlikely that the White House will be promoting STEM, which means a lowered emphasis on STEM Education. However, many government agencies have a very strong interest in STEM and STEM education. So, it will be an interesting time to watch how the balance of power will emerge as the new administration takes over.

4. The commitment to STEM education in Massachusetts will remain strong.

Mass. Governor's STEM advisory council members meetThe Mass. Governor's STEM Advisory Council. (masshighered photo via Flickr.com)

Massachusetts has a deep commitment to STEM education and STEM industries. STEM is an engine of the Massachusetts economy. In addition to state-level initiatives, Massachusetts is also rich with STEM-related opportunities. These range from non-profits like Science from Scientists — which provides instruction in science for elementary students — to grant-funded initiatives such as those out of Boston College, where Professor Michael Barnett is engaging urban youth in hydroponics as a way of teaching them not just science, but also nutrition, business and cooperative skills. Our own Kaput Center for Research and Innovation in STEM Education hosts a number of projects that are simultaneously supporting STEM learning in our region and providing findings and tools that can help other educators in other regions create their own initiatives. While there is much work to be done to bring STEM education to all of the students in Massachusetts, there is also a serious commitment to such work across the Commonwealth.

Read more UMass expert predictions.