Trump is scrapping Obama ed groundwork one policy at a time — and there's likely more to come
The current administration hasn't hesitated to eliminate some of its predecessor's cornerstone education policies. Which have been cut, and which could be next?
In October 2015, then-presidential candidate Donald Trump said if he was elected president, he would consider eliminating the U.S. Department of Education. While that hasn’t happened since he took office in January 2017, his administration has gutted or changed much of the Obama-era policies and guidelines that previously defined the K-12 sphere, and more changes seem to be on the way.
Here's a running list of pieces of Obama-era K-12 education policy dismantled under Trump, along with those at risk of being severed next.
What Trump has thrown out
Trump: As part of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinding the 2011 “Dear Colleague” letter — which outlined federally funded schools’ responsibility in handling K-12 and college campus sexual assault — Trump’s administration issued interim guidance in September 2017 that said colleges could raise the standard of proof in determining whether a sexual misconduct incident took place.
About a year later, DeVos was reportedly preparing new campus sexual misconduct policies that included giving accusers more power, narrowing the definition of sexual harassment, and only holding schools accountable for properly filed formal complaints, The New York Times reported. The Wall Street Journal has since reported that these rules, rather than giving accusers more power, would require schools to allow the accused to cross-examine their accusers.
Obama: The Obama administration prepared the “Dear Colleague” letter, issued by the Office for Civil Rights, reminding schools that received federal funding of their responsibility to prevent sexual violence and address allegations as they arise. The letter included guidance on how schools should investigate and adjudicate sexual violence complaints immediately and effectively, and under this guidance, schools were told to use the standard of “preponderance of evidence,” or “more likely than not.”
Trump: In late October, it was announced that the Trump administration was seeking to redefine gender and remove Title IX protections for transgender students. Under this new definition, gender would be a biological factor solely determined by genitalia at birth, effectively defining “transgender” out of existence and removing recognition of the many students who identify this way. And in February 2017, Trump scrapped Obama-era guidance on bathrooms for transgender students.
Obama: The Obama administration’s 2016 guidance moved to protect and recognize transgender students, allowing students to use the bathroom that corresponded to their gender identity rather than their biological sex. Under this guidance, which was issued to public school districts across the country, Title IX policy — which bans sex discrimination — also protected students who identified as transgender, demonstrating recognition of this group.
Trump: In July, the Trump administration announced it was withdrawing several Obama-era guidance documents designed to help schools take race into account to make their campuses more diverse.
Obama: Between 2011 and 2016, the Obama administration issued seven documents that, for example, stated schools could consider race during the admissions process in trying to achieve diversity. It also included guidelines on how schools should handle complaints about admissions policies and decisions.
Trump: Trump administration officials encouraged GOP lawmakers in Congress to repeal regulations in March 2017 associated with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), on the grounds that they were overreaching the law's original intent in instructing states how schools would be held accountable for student performance. Days later, DeVos issued a new application for states to use in developing their own ESSA plans, but it was shorter and had fewer requirements than the application released by the Obama administration.
Obama: In 2015, Obama signed the bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act into law, replacing the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act and leaving states with more power in deciding the curriculum, instruction and assessments students get. In explaining to states how this new law should be implemented, it encouraged them to weigh student achievement measures more heavily than other factors, and it said schools had to create a public annual report card with schoolwide student achievement data and other school success indicators.
Trump: On March 29, 2017, the Education Department decided to scrap a grant program from the Obama administration geared toward helping districts create more socioeconomically diverse schools. DeVos said in remarks that the program was cut because it wasn't delivering results, and because the money was used for planning instead of implementation and was a waste of tax dollars, The Washington Post reported.
Obama: The $12 million "Opening Doors, Expanding Opportunities" grant program, established in the Obama administration's final days, was intended to demonstrate the president's commitment to bolstering integrated schools. Its goal, the Federal Register wrote, was to assist local officials in devising strategies to increase socioeconomic diversity in classrooms and, by extension, up student achievement levels.
What could be next
Trump: After a gunman opened fire and killed 17 people at a Florida high school in February, Trump announced the formation of a federal school safety commission headed by DeVos that would focus on tackling areas including the repeal of the Obama administration’s “Rethink School Discipline” policies. The commission, which met multiple times and held its final listening session in August, is expected to release a list of recommendations by the end of the year, and DeVos could choose to rescind this guidance.
Obama: The Obama administration first issued in 2014 its "Rethink Discipline" guidelines, which detail legal boundaries on restraint and seclusion in schools, ways to address behavioral needs of students with disabilities, resources to create a positive school culture, and a letter calling for the end of corporal punishment. The guidance also said districts that followed discriminatory policies or had disproportionately high discipline rates for a particular racial group could face consequences for violating civil rights laws.
"Rethink Discipline" was launched along with the "My Brother's Keeper" initiative, which aimed to expand opportunities for boys and men of color through areas including mentoring programs.
Trump: The Education Department said this year that it would place a two-year delay on a 2016 policy enacted under Obama that focused on students with disabilities. The rule was initially set to go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.
Obama: The rule, issued in the last months of Obama's tenure, was intended to help schools and districts recognize and prevent racial or ethnic discrimination in identifying students who need special education services.