Education and the First Presidential Debate

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Marc Nozell
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore/Marc Nozell

So who said what on education on Monday evening during the first presidential debate?

Crickets…. It is amazing that the topic never came up at all even in an answer for an unrelated question.

Frederick Hess had this to say at Education Next:

Outside of a five-word Clinton throwaway mention of debt-free college, education didn’t make even a token appearance in the 45 minutes the candidates spent talking about “prosperity”. Amidst heated talk about foreign trade, taxes on “the rich,” Trump’s tax returns, birther-ism, Clinton’s emails, and more, neither bothered to raise K-12, higher education, or college costs. As marginal as education has been in 2016, I was still surprised that neither chose to go there. It’s a chance to play positive and send a signal about inclusive growth.

Education was almost equally absent when moderator Lester Holt turned to racial tension, civil unrest, incarceration, and policing. Clinton’s initial response mentioned schooling, but the candidates never returned to the role of education. In purely practical terms, that struck me as peculiar on a bunch of levels. Education is a way to talk about how to reduce tensions and offer more promising avenues. It’s a chance to talk of opportunity and responsibility. It’s a way to talk about promoting civic virtues and mutual understanding. And I was surprised that, in talking about the problems related to incarceration and urban violence, neither candidate cited the importance of prison education or prisoner reentry.

He makes some predictions on what they might do… well sort of.

I know reporters are working hard to parse what a Trump or Clinton win really means for education. But I’ll tell you what I keep telling education writers—it’s damn hard to know. For Trump, as best I can tell, policy is performance art. There’s no reason to believe he means what he says. So, when he tosses out the notion of $20 billion for school choice, I don’t think it’s more than a short-lived symbolic gesture. Meanwhile, Clinton has made rafts of promises regarding new regulations, programs, and spending, and it’s hard to know which of it she’s serious about.

The safest bet is that, especially post-ESSA, she’d back-burner K-12 to focus on new spending and regulations for pre-K and higher education, which has the added benefit of uniting Democrats. The thing, of course, is that her proposals would create fierce new partisan divides on those issues, and have trouble moving through what’s likely to be a Republican House. Would’ve been nice if either of them had seen fit to offer any more clarity on any of this in the debate, but so it goes.

Trump has talked tough on Common Core, but it remains to be seen what his actual plans are beyond throwing money at school choice. At best with Clinton we can hope for is status quo with K-12 which isn’t good. At worst we’ll see her double down on Marc Tucker’s suggestions. She has laid out her platform, but we also have her record to go on as well, and it is dismal. Her plans for pre-K are frightening.

One thought on “Education and the First Presidential Debate

  1. The DNC emails leaked by wikileaks calls Common Core the “third rail” for HIllary. She will do all she can to keep from talking about it. Trump would be wise to force her into that corner. But to do so, he has to become more knowledgeable about Common Core himself. Glad he opposes it, but he needs to understand it better to be able to use it against her effectively.

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