School failure is no longer the United States’ most pressing educational problem—mediocrity is. Both Trump and Clinton could do a lot of good by changing the tone of the education reform debate—and backing it up with a few discrete changes in policy. Specifically, they could shift the conversation from “failure” and focus it instead on “excellence.”
This is particularly the case for Trump, who found himself in hot water recently for saying to African Americans, “You live in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed.” Understandably, much of the black community took offense to his inaccurate assertions on poverty and employment. But his claim about schools is problematic too.
For sure, we’re used to hearing that, and some of us are used to saying it. Indeed, many schools serving African Americans (and Latinos and low-income students) haven’t been very good. Some are still failing. But the truth is that they have gotten better over the past two decades—a lot better. The typical African American fourth grader is reading and doing math two grade levels ahead of where the previous generation was back in the 1990s. That’s enormous progress.