Comparing the Presidential Candidates on Public Education, Part 1: Differences Include the Level of Detail in their Promises

It’s after Labor Day, nine weeks to Election Day, time to pay attention to the Presidential candidates’ positions on public education.

While many people have already been following the races, the next two months are when the rest of likely voters decide to tune in. One good way to find out about candidates’ priorities is by visiting their Web sites.

By reviewing their Web sites only, I compared Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton, Republican candidate Donald Trump, Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party Candidate Jill Stein.

While there isn’t enough information to compare apples to apples, there is one overall difference: the Republican and Libertarian candidates tout less federal involvement in education, and the Democratic and Green Party candidates’ positions assume a major federal role in addressing educational challenges.

Here are my summaries.

Donald J. Trump – Republican Party

When you click on “issues” on Mr. Trump’s home page, you are taken to a display of video clips on various topics. Each clip shows the candidate making a statement on that issue. One is titled “Education,” and has as its tag line, “I will end common core. It’s a disaster.” The video is 51 seconds long, including music intro and close. The candidate says, “I am a tremendous believer in education.” He says it has to be left at the local level, and repeats the tag line about the Common Core State Standards. He claims the U.S. education system is the 28th in the world while spending more than better performing countries. He concludes his statement by saying, “we are going to end common core…and have education an absolute priority.”

That’s the entirety of the Republican candidate’s stated position on public education on his official Web site.

Hillary Clinton – Democratic Party

Clicking on the “issues” tab takes you to a level where you can choose “education,” which takes you to another level where you can choose from these topics:

  • An economy that works for everyone
  • Campus sexual assault
  • Early childhood education
  • K-12 education
  • Making college debt-free and taking on student debt
  • Technology and innovation
  • Workforce skills and job training

I chose to look at the two basic areas of K-12 and Early Childhood.

Under K-12 education, the candidate’s tag line is: “Strong public education is the key to preparing our children for the future.” There is a short video with a personal story about her education, highlighting a teacher who encouraged her.

The first stated priority is launching a national campaign to modernize and elevate the profession of teaching, “by preparing supporting, and paying every child’s teacher as if the future of our country is in their hands – because it is.” The others include providing every student access to computer science education, offering a bonding program to assist districts with improving facilities (energy efficiency, technology, science labs etc.), and addressing the “school-to-prison pipeline” by ending “overly harsh” discipline policies, and assisting with intervention programs.

This area of the Web site also includes a list of accomplishments over the years by the candidate, and a fact sheet that goes into more detail on her plan to end the school-to-prison pipeline by transforming discipline in schools. It is part of her “Breaking Every Barrier Agenda.”

Further, there are nine charts offered to demonstrate “how our educational system is leaving the most vulnerable children behind.”   The charts refer to growing school segregation, achievement gaps, school related arrests, comparison of school test scores by income level, comparison of private sector salaries with public school teachers, percentage of drop outs, racial differences in college completion rates, college grad rates compared with other countries, and a chart showing how the economy would grow by closing the achievement gap.

Under Early Childhood, the candidate’s tag line is: “Every child deserves the chance to live up to his or her God-given potential.” There is another video that describes her experience as First Lady in Arkansas where she introduced a preschool program called, “Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters.”

Her first early childhood goal is to “make preschool universal for every 4-year-old in America.” The next goals on the list include increasing assistance so that no one has to pay more than 10 percent of their income for child care, improving the quality of child care and pay for child care workers, doubling the investment in early head start and head start, offering scholarships to assist student parents to pay for childcare, and increasing access to child care on campuses.

An in-depth fact sheet is available that provides more information on the candidate’s call for universal preschool, and a fact sheet on how and why she proposes assisting student parents. She refers to the fact that more than one-fourth of college students are also parents.

There is access to some of the candidate’s speeches on education.

Gary Johnson – Libertarian Party

You can access the “issues” link on the home page, and then choose “education” from several topics. The statement at the top of the education section is: “Governors Gary Johnson and Bill Weld believe nothing is more important to our future as a country than educating our next generations.” Mr. Weld is the candidate’s running mate.

There is a short video that includes Mr. Johnson’s call to eliminate the Department of Education. He says, “We used to have the brightest kids in the world and we can again…the Department of Education stands in the way.” He calls for smaller government.

His statement accompanying the video says the candidate has, “Worked tirelessly….to have a more substantive discussion about the best way to provide a good education for our children.” His priority is to adopt school choice. “Competition,” he believes, “will make our public and private educational institutions better.”

The statement concludes saying he and Mr. Weld “believe that the key to restoring education excellence lies in innovation, freedom and flexibility that Washington D.C. cannot provide.”

Jill Stein – Green Party

Clicking on “issues” on Ms. Stein’s Web site takes you to her “Power to the People Plan,” which lists basic goals under key topics. Under “Education as a Right,” the candidate states her key goal to: “Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude. Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university. End high stakes testing and public school privatization.”

Going to the “platform” section offers more detail under this topic. The listed goals in addition to the guarantee of free public education P-16, include opposing privatization of public schools, promoting the use of restorative justice practices, ensuring a fair teacher evaluation system led by peers, replacing Common Core State Standards by listening to teachers and parents, de-emphasizing high stakes testing, opposing merit pay, emphasizing arts and recreation, ensuring racially inclusive curricula, promoting school desegregation, making sure children and families have what they need so they can learn, and increasing federal funding to help eliminate inequities.

The candidates have talked about education during the campaign. For example, Mr. Trump brought up childcare in his convention acceptance speech. However, the point of this blog post is to compare information provided on an easily accessible place – Web sites.

In my next post, I’ll do a little more research myself and provide my opinion on some of the positions on public education that the candidates have taken.

About Debbie Wesslund

I served on the Jefferson County Board of Education, Louisville, KY, from 2007-2014 and continue to be an advocate for public schools. There’s a high-level dialogue about public education that swings from positive to negative, with many who seek the spotlight voicing an inaccurate picture of our public schools. Words matter. They get lodged in our public perceptions, creating a narrative that doesn’t reflect the real story. There’s so much more to public education, and much worth applauding in Kentucky and across the country. The stakes are high: public education is the most serious public business we are about as a community, a state and a nation. We must continually renew our resolve to support public education. There’s always more promise in building something up, than in tearing it down.
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