Where Does Your Presidential Candidate Stand On Education?

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The primaries are now behind us, and the big showdown is only a few months away. By now, we know where our candidates stand on all matters of importance…don't we?

Well, sure we've heard a ton about immigration, foreign trade policy, gun control, and the war against ISIS. And to be certain, each of these is a critical issue that will be profoundly impacted by the decision we make as a nation in November.

But the loud and impassioned disagreement that surrounds each of these issues has drowned out at any meaningful discussion on education policy. We admit, education doesn't have the same cable news sex appeal as email server scandals and headline grabbing racial insensitivity. But to underestimate its importance in the present election would be a grave oversight.

From President G.W. Bush's No Child Left Behind to President Obama's Common Core, we've seen the impact, for better or worse, that a sitting president can have on our education. Indeed, students, teachers and parents can feel the repercussions of these policy initiatives every single day.

It should concern you, therefore, that as we choose our next chief executive, education has merited so little discussion. Where will the 45th President of the United States stand on pressing issues like student loan debt, college tuition, charter schools and high-stakes testing? Will the next president dismantle, extend, or simply maintain the policies currently in place? Can we anticipate another set of sweeping reforms with a naively optimistic name or merely a rollback of the present regime?

Here, we do our best to answer these questions as they relate to the presumptive nominee for each of four major parties. As with our primary season review, we'll do our best to avoid bias in the general election by drawing our findings exclusively from the campaign website maintained by each candidate. We feel it appropriate to let Donald Trump (R), Gary Johnson (L), Hillary Clinton (D), and Jill Stein (G) speak for themselves.

Any variations in the detail and length of our discussion are a consequence of the variations in the detail and length of discussion each candidate has devoted to the subject matter. Take it as you will.

Donald Trump (Republican)—Real Estate Mogul, Reality Television Star
Presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump does not mention education among his key positions, which include “Pay For the Wall,” “U.S.-China Trade Reform,” and “Second Amendment Rights.”

On a page labeled “Issues,” Trump explains most of his policy positions through brief, off-the-cuff YouTube videos. The following remarks are drawn from four such videos.

Common Core
Here's what Donald Trump said about education during the primaries:

“Without education you cannot have the American Dream. Some people say the American Dream is dead. I don't disagree with them. The American Dream is dead. But we're gonna make it bigger and better and stronger than ever before. But again, without education, you can't do that. so we're getting rid of Common Core. We're taking Common Core, it's gonna be gone. There won't be education from Washington D.C. There'll be education locally, the love of parents, the love of these people that love their children, and they're in the area. That's what we're gonna do. We'll have school boards, and we'll have local. We're not going to have it through Washington, so Common Core is dead, and we're gonna take education and we're gonna make it local. We'll save money. Our education will be much better. Do you know in the world today, we're ranked #30? So we're at the bottom of the list, yet per pupil we pay the most. You look at other countries, Denmark, Sweden, China, Norway. These are countries that are right at the top and they spend much less money than us. So we're going local. It's going to be great. And we're going to spend less money. And we're going to move up that list very, very rapidly.”

It appears as though this video has since been removed from Trump's campaign website and replaced with a 52 second clip in which the business mogul says “I'm a tremendous believer in education. But education has to be at a local level. We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child's education. So Common Core is a total disaster. We can't let it continue. We are rated 28 in the world, the United States. Think of it, 28 in the world. And, frankly, we spend far more per pupil than any other country in the world. By far. It's not even a close second. So here we are, we spend more money, and we're rated 28. Third world countries are ahead of us. We're gonna end Common Core. We're gonna have education, an absolute priority.”

Dismantling Common Core is the primary theme of Trump's prospective educational policy. This priority is also the only detail of Trump's educational platform that the candidate has revealed to the public.

Higher Education
At the time of writing, Donald Trump's “Issues” page is bookended by videos that sharply target critics of Trump University, a failed for-profit educational business venture that is currently under federal investigation for fraud. The very first video that greets visitors upon their arrival at Trump's “Issues” page is a defense of Trump University as offered by several satisfied alumni.

Feel free to watch the video at your discretion, in which three former students speak highly of their real estate courses and suggest that those who were dissatisfied perhaps didn't apply themselves as well as they should have. The video includes a caption which explains that “The recent press attacks upon Trump University have not been an accurate representation of the professionally run school that provided a quality real estate education. While the press has taken selected portions of documents and testimony and spun them in order to further their agenda of attacking Mr. Trump's business record, the true story is best told by the students who attended Trump University and used the information they learned to become successful real estate investors and entrepreneurs. The students on this video are representative of the many students who were overwhelmingly satisfied with Trump University. Rather than listen to the media spin, listen to the hard-working students who can attest first-hand to the truth about Trump University.”

At the bottom of his “Issues” page, Trump also includes a three-minute video in which he personally refutes the claims of fraud levied against his university, observing that “there's been so much talk by dishonest people about Trump University or Trump Entrepreneur Initiative and I thought I should set the record straight. Number one, it's something I could have settled numerous times. I just don't believe in settling, especially when you're right.”

Trump subsequently alleges that Fox News and Senator Marco Rubio have conspired to smear his reputation. He then presents a series of student report cards as evidence of his school's excellence, and reassures his supporters that he will vanquish his enemies in court.

As Donald Trump lists no additional policy views or platform priorities relating to higher education, we can presume that his positions on Trump University apply more largely to his views on American higher education.

Gary Johnson (Libertarian)—Republican Governor of New Mexico (1995-2003)
As the libertarian candidate for president, Gary Johnson represents the party that traditionally leans to the right of the G.O.P. Both its philosophical emphasis on strict free market capitalism and its rejection of government intrusion on personal rights and privacies are reflected in the former New Mexico Governor's philosophy on education. In the true spirit of limited government, Johnson offers a mere 173 words on education (and at least six of those are “Governor,” “Gary,” or “Johnson”).

Common Core
Though Johnson has been critical of both Republican and Democratic ideologies, his view on education aligns more closely with that of leading Republicans, including Mr. Trump. According to his website, “Gov. Johnson believes there is no role for the Federal Government in education. He would eliminate the federal Department of Education, and return control to the state and local levels. He opposes Common Core and any other attempts to impose national standards and requirements on local schools, believing the key to restoring education excellence in the U.S. lies in the innovation, freedom and flexibility that federal interference inherently discourages.”

As president, Johnson would largely undo the policies of both Presidents Bush and Obama, instead empowering states and localities to determine their own fate. This policy orientation largely frees him from the responsibility of suggesting any specific national reforms in the place of Common Core.

School Choice
Johnson is also a vocal advocate of “school choice,” a policy which he attempted in vain to implement as governor or New Mexico. According to his website, Johnson recognized that his policy would face overwhelming resistance from a powerful teachers' union and a Democratic legislature but he considered it important to challenge the status quo.

Though his campaign site offers limited insight into the policies that would be enacted in a Johnson presidency, his views on school choice hint at strong support for private, charter, and home schooling opportunities.

Jill Stein (Green Party)—Physician, activist, folk-singer
Jill Stein is the Green Party's presumptive nominee for president, a role which she also held in the 2012 election. Standing to the left of the Democratic Party, the Green Party runs on a progressive platform focused on issues such as renewable energy, a living wage, and a single-payer public health insurance program.

On the subject of education, Stein is short on words but generous in specifics. Under the subheading “Education as a Right,” Stein outlines her key educational priorities.

Higher Education
As president, Stein would “Abolish student debt to free a generation of Americans from debt servitude.” She would also “Guarantee tuition-free, world-class public education from pre-school through university.”

Standardized Testing
Stein says that she would “End high stakes testing,” a position which suggests that she would pursue a thorough overhaul of today's test-dependent system of accountability.

School Choice
Stein also says that she would end “public school privatization,” a position which differentiates her from all three of her opponents, who have voiced varying degrees of support for charter and private schooling.

Other Issues
Again, though Stein's remarks are terse, she does offer a fairly explicit set of positions and policy approaches as part of her platform. Among them, Stein says that as president, she would:

Perhaps more than any other candidate, Stein's platform shows a clear recognition of the wide cultural and institutional challenges to equality that are ingrained in our educational system.

Hillary Clinton—Former Secretary of State
Democratic presumptive nominee and Former Secretary of State under President Obama, Hillary Clinton's interest in education seems more detailed and far-reaching than that of her opponents. Moreover, by sheer volume, her website dedicates more print space to the issue than that of any other candidate in the race.

The list of Issues prioritized by the Clinton campaign includes four distinct policy initiatives related to education.

K-12 Education
On K-12, Clinton says that every child in America has the right to a high-quality education. She supports a balance between testing standards and flexibility at the state and local levels. Clinton also references the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act.

Though the bill is imperfect in her estimation, she says that it will help struggling schools take independent action to improve their situation and that it will expand resources for teacher development, help to universalize early childhood education, and heighten quality control for public charter schools. Clinton would consider it her responsibility as President to ensure that this Bill is implemented properly.

In a separate section dedicated to the subject of Autism, Clinton also said that as president she “will enact the Keeping All Students Safe Act and other reforms to protect children with autism from abuse in their schools. She will also toughen the U.S. Department of Education guidance on bullying to protect children with autism from harassment.”

Early Childhood Education
Clinton also dedicates a separate page to the issue of early childhood education, pledging that as president, she would double “our investment in Early Head Start and Early Head Start–Child Care programs, which bring evidence-based curriculum into the child care setting to provide comprehensive, full-day, high-quality services to low-income families.”

Clinton said that within 10 years, every 4-year-old in America would have access to a high-quality preschool.

Higher Education
Clinton says that as president, she would ensure no student has to borrow money to pay for tuition, books, or fees to attend a four-year public school. She also says that she would create a pathway for Americans to refinance existing student loan debt at better interest rates. She would also hold colleges and universities accountable for keeping tuition costs down.

Clinton also pledges her support to historically black colleges and universities. Her support would come in the form of a $25 billion fund.

She also also speaks of the critical role played by education in achieving Racial Justice.

Campus Sexual Assault
Of particular note, especially in light of the recent high-profile Stanford Rape Case, Clinton is the only major presidential candidate to make mention of campus sexual assault. Clinton's campaign site notes that “An estimated one in five women report being sexually assaulted while in college. Hillary will fight to bring an end to sexual assault on America's campuses—because every student deserves a safe environment where they can learn and thrive, not live in fear.”

Clinton said she would improve support to survivors, ensure fairness in campus disciplinary hearings and criminal investigations, and would proliferate educational programs on sexual violence prevention both on campus and in secondary schools.

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