Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again Hardcover Donald Trump (2016)
EDUCATION: A FAILING GRADE
MY FATHER DID NOT graduate from college. He was too busy working and building his business, but he understood and appreciated the value of an education. He had great respect for people with college degrees, even though he had built a large real estate business and earned many times more than most of them. With my father’s financial assistance, his younger brother, John, earned his master’s degree in physics from Columbia and his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the most prestigious universities in America. John became a noted professor at MIT and invented one of the first million-volt X-ray generators that was used to save the lives of cancer patients. During World War II, he played an important role in the development of radar. President Truman awarded him the President’s Certificate of Merit, and he was a recipient of the National Medal of Science.
From my father and my uncle I learned the value of work and the value of a good education. From my own experience I learned what happens when you put them together. I went to the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, which is, in my opinion, the best business school in America—and arguably the hardest there is to get into.
There is one thing I know that even the professional politicians will support—education is good. It’s the easiest statement for a politician to support. But the question is, how do we make sure the best education possible is available for the most American kids?
Because right now that is not the situation.
Like so many other areas that our so-called leaders have wreaked their havoc upon, the American educational system is failing. We’re 26th in the world—26th! That’s an embarrassment. We spend more money on education, per capita, than any other nation—but 25 countries in the developed world provide a better education for their kids than we do for ours. This is simply unacceptable.
Part of the problem is the politicians! They are unable to run a national education system with a top-down, one-size-fits-all approach. Our states and local districts are doing just fine making their own decisions on how best to educate our children. Now the federal Department of Education has been dictating educational policy for too long, and that needs to stop. Common Core doesn’t work.
A lot of people believe the Department of Education should just be eliminated. Get rid of it. If we don’t eliminate it completely, we certainly need to cut its power and reach. Education has to be run locally. Common Core, No Child Left Behind, and Race to the Top are all programs that take decisions away from parents and local school boards. These programs allow the progressives in the Department of Education to indoctrinate, not educate, our kids. What they are doing does not fit the American model of governance.
I am totally against these programs and the Department of Education. It’s a disaster. We cannot continue to fail our children—the very future of this nation.
I went to a military school, New York Military Academy. It was a tough, tough place. There were ex-drill sergeants all over the place. and these people liked to scream and, above all, they liked to fight! Our instructors were demanding about everything from academics to personal hygiene. I learned American history and I learned how to neatly fold my clothing so it could be stacked. That might not be a skill that has had much application in my life, but it was part of teaching my fellow cadets and me discipline, focus, and self-reliance.
The main rule was pretty simple: Do it right or do it again. One of my roommates from school told a reporter recently, “The school taught you how to be a leader. It taught you, ‘show me a sore loser, and I’ll show you a loser.’ … Honesty and straightforwardness were the rule of law. It got ingrained in us that you don’t lie, cheat, or steal, or tolerate those who do.”
This may be why I never became a politician (until now)!
Our national educational system was never intended to be limited to the three R’s, history, and science. It was designed to produce well-rounded young people capable of prospering in the world. In addition to an education, kids were supposed to graduate with some basic values, self-discipline, and life skills. A little common sense wouldn’t hurt either. Our schools don’t teach that anymore. Instead we’re more concerned about kids having self-esteem and feeling good about themselves than we are about preparing them for real life. The politically correct crowd has taken over our schools, and as a result we are failing our children. And our children will fail America if we don’t do something about it. Educators are worried that kids will feel bad if they flunk a test. You know what makes a kid feel good?
We’ve dumbed down the curriculum to the lowest common denominator; in many schools, we’ve eliminated grading entirely and diplomas have been practically devalued into certificates of attendance.
Our schools, our teachers, and our kids are capable of more. A lot more.
The problem is we’re taking the easy way out. Instead of creating high standards and demanding more, we’re expecting less. We have to get tougher. Forget that self-esteem stuff; we need to start challenging kids. We need to allow them to fail when they don’t work hard.
Anyone who has succeeded in business has survived a lot of failure—but they were tough enough to get back up and try again and again. Kids need to learn that success requires persistence. Self-esteem should come from overcoming challenges and surviving the hard knocks of trying to be better.
Yet today, some teachers and school administrators are more concerned about hurting their students’ feelings or about hearing complaints from parents that they’re being too tough. Instead of becoming more competitive, we’re actually eliminating competition. That’s incredible—and wrong.
Competition makes you stronger, it forces you to work harder, to do more. Corporations that can’t compete with other companies go out of business, no matter how nice they are or how good they feel about themselves. Small businesses have the same challenge. The owners have to work hard and compete for their survival or they won’t make it.
Competition is why I’m very much in favor of school choice. Let schools compete for kids. I guarantee that if you forced schools to get better or close because parents didn’t want to enroll their kids there, they would get better. Those schools that weren’t good enough to attract students would close, and that’s a good thing.
For two decades I’ve been urging politicians to open the schoolhouse doors and let parents decide which schools are best for their children. Professional educators look to options such as school choice, charter schools, voucher programs, magnet schools, and opportunity scholarships.
Call them what you want—they all come down to the same thing: fostering competition.
Those people who are against offering parents choices claim that doing so would be the end of good public schools. Better charter or magnet schools would drain the top kids out of that system, or hurt the morale of those left behind.
Suddenly, the excellence that comes from competition is being criticized.
Let’s look at the facts. While the number of charter schools has grown substantially, they are still a small percentage of our public schools. But it looks like they are making a difference, especially in urban areas. Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes looked at the impact charter schools have made in 41 urban areas. They report that charter school students, compared to students in public schools, learn 40 days more advanced in math, and 28 more days in reading. That is significant, no matter how you look at it.
Look, I know that people both for and against school choice can roll out endless arguments and statistics showing charter schools are either very successful or make no difference at all. This is a legitimate debate. But anyone except a politician running for office and looking for support from the teacher unions has to realize that smaller class sizes, more individualized instruction, and stricter discipline all make a huge positive difference. Making teachers accountable is important, but we should stop measuring their performance with mindless standardized tests. We should be embracing the success stories and using them as a model for improving the others.
I’m not as concerned about the kids growing up in wealthy communities, where high property taxes have allowed them to build great schools, hire the best teachers, and provide all the supplies they need. Those schools are doing fine.
In many urban areas, however, schools must fight for every tax dollar and are forced to have teachers and students bring in their own basic supplies such as pencils and paper. That’s a national tragedy.
The problem with public schools is that in many places there is no way to take an honest measurement of how they’re doing. If a charter school isn’t doing the job, it closes. That’s the type of accountability we need throughout our educational system.
One huge obstacle is the strength of the teacher unions. Teacher unions don’t want school choice because it means a potential reduction in union-protected jobs. In New York, for example, the unions have been so powerful for so long that, more than four decades ago, Woody Allen had a scene in his movie Sleeper in which a man wakes up in the future and is told that the world he’d known had been destroyed when the president of the powerful teachers union “got hold of a nuclear warhead.” Thanks to strong contracts negotiated by the New York City teacher union, it’s become almost impossible to discipline a teacher, much less actually fire one.
When there is a legitimate complaint against a teacher in the New York system, rather than having a quick hearing to determine the validity of the complaint, teachers are assigned to an area known as “the rubber room” while they wait for their hearing.
And they wait. They sit in empty classrooms or converted closets and do nothing—but they still get paid their whole salary. Some teachers spend several years waiting. No wonder they call it the rubber room—the whole concept is insane. But it’s the result of the contracts that strong unions have forced on New York and other cities. When teacher unions fight against school choice the unions are saying that their product isn’t good enough to compete in a free marketplace. Maybe they are right. And what about the good teachers? They can get stuck too and are at the mercy of the union.
These unions have a nice monopoly going, so why wouldn’t they want to protect their turf? By the way, the teachers are not the only ones with troublesome unions. In New York City, the janitors don’t arrive in the morning until exactly the same time as the students. That means the boiler might not be fired up yet, or doors might not be unlocked, so students have to wait outside.
To be upfront, I’m not a fan of the teacher unions, but I have great admiration and respect for teachers. Most of us can name a teacher or two who had a profound influence on our lives. But we’ve made teaching a tough profession. Good teachers love to teach. They respect and honor their profession. In too many classrooms, though, we’ve taken away their right to discipline disruptive kids, turning the teachers into babysitters as much as educators.
And a lot of good teachers aren’t paid enough. It’s an interesting choice we’ve made as a society. We entrust our kids to teachers for most of the daytime, where they’ll have a really big impact on how their students will grow up. But we don’t pay enough to attract the best people to the profession.
Unfortunately, teachers are not paid on merit. The standard for advancement is mostly the number of years of service—seniority. The really good and inspirational teachers burn out under the painful conditions found in too many schools. The bad teachers tend to hang around since they have nowhere else to go. Thus, the paychecks tend to be bigger for the less capable.
That’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.
One way of making the profession more attractive is to put some discipline back in the school. A lot of our schools aren’t safe. Putting metal detectors at the door may prevent kids from bringing in weapons, but it still doesn’t prevent them from causing problems. We need to get a lot tougher on troublemakers. We need to stop feeling sorry for them. They are robbing other kids of time to learn.
I’m not saying we should go back to the days when teachers would get physical with students, but we need to restore rules about behavior in the classroom and hire trained security officers who can help enforce those rules. The parents or guardians must be brought into the process as well.
Most disciplinary problems among students begin in the home. All parents should ask themselves: What kind of example am I setting?
At the same time, there is nothing more important to the future of this country than our colleges and universities. We have the best higher-education system in the world. There is a reason that young people from all over the world come here to study at our schools.
The problem is that the cost of higher education is skyrocketing, making it so far out of reach that many potential students either can’t afford it or have to take out huge loans to pay the tuition. Instead of making it easier for more of our young people to get the education they need, we’re making it harder to access, and thus available to only the wealthier families.
My father succeeded without a college degree, but that would be much harder to do today. According to the Census Bureau, people with a bachelor’s degree earn an average of $51,000 a year. That’s $23,000 more a year than people with just high school diplomas and almost three times as much as high school dropouts.
When I speak at a college, the students surround me and ask me two questions: First, can I give or get them a job? And second, what can we do about their loans? They haven’t even graduated from school, they haven’t yet started working, and already they’ve mortgaged their future.
A four-year degree today can be expensive enough to create six-figure debt.
Getting an advanced degree or a medical education can put a young professional well over $100,000 to $200,000 in debt.
If the students can’t get enough scholarships or loan support, the parents have to step in, despite the risks to their own retirement funds. They may have to borrow the money, often by taking out a second mortgage if they have sufficient value in their home.
We can’t forgive these loans, but we should take steps to help them.
The big problem is the federal government. There is no reason the federal government should profit from student loans. This only makes an already difficult problem worse. The Federal Student Loan Program turned a $41.3 billion profit in 2013.
These student loans are probably one of the only things that the government shouldn’t make money from and yet it does.
And do you think this has anything to do with why schools continue to raise their tuition every year? Those loans should be viewed as an investment in America’s future.
In the end, we have no choice. We have to change the way we educate our children. We should return the basic control and responsibility for our schools to the states and local communities. They need to set standards for their teachers and students that reward competitive quality and excellence. Our communities have to make education a priority, with flexibility in the property taxes and other funding involved. And most important, the parents have to instill a spirit of discipline, focus, and passion for learning in their children because the schools can’t do it alone.
We are living in a very competitive world. If we study how the Asian countries have taken over in so many of the technology-based industries, the handwriting is on the wall.
The future of our country is studying in our classrooms right now.
Making our education system work is an important step toward making America great again.