Saturday, 5 November 2016

Education and the US election

From the Education Writers Association

Education is a perennial issue in political campaigns, and the 2016 election cycle is proving no exception. In the crowded field of White House candidates, education may not be the dominant issue, but it’s gained a solid foothold. And it’s sure to be a significant factor in other 2016 contests, including those for governor, with a dozen seats up for grabs.

In the presidential primary campaign, popular issues for Republicans include sharp criticism of the Common Core and teachers’ unions, expanding school choice, and rolling back the federal role in education. Also, efforts to make higher education more accessible and affordable are beginning to gain some attention from GOP candidates, including Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who has signaled that he will introduce a sweeping college affordability plan this fall. The most detailed plan so far has come from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. He has introduced a variety of legislation on higher education, and in a major campaign speech this summer vowed to break up the “cartel” of higher education institutions by creating an alternative accreditation pathway for “low-cost, innovative competitors.”

The leading candidates for the Democratic nomination are especially focused on expanding access to early childhood and higher education. Both former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (a political Independent and self-described democratic socialist) have rolled out ambitious and expensive plans for higher education. In fact, Sanders proposes to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. Clinton stops short of that with her College Compact, a wide-ranging, $350 billion plan over 10 years to make college more affordable. Among other things, it’s designed to help students graduate from public colleges and universities debt free, lower interest rates on college loans, and create pressure for states to adequately support higher education. Meanwhile, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley has outlined a plan to make college “debt free.”

The top-tier Democratic contenders have been relatively quiet about K-12 issues. Some analysts have suggested that reticence springs from a desire to avoid the splintering politics on education “reform” between teachers’ unions and their allies, on one hand, and groups such as Democrats for Education Reform and some civil rights advocates on the other.

Education is especially fertile terrain in a White House contest that features so many current and former governors, given the critical role state policymakers play in funding and setting policy for education. Those candidates have deep records on the issue for reporters to mine and examine.

Although education has received very limited attention in the GOP presidential debates (virtually none in the September event), it got extensive treatment at an August forum co-hosted by the American Federation for Children and The Seventy Four, an online education news site. Six candidates participated, including Bush, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Kasich, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has since dropped out of the race. (Here’s coverage of the event by Education Week and The New York Times.) As Education Week noted, the candidates discussed “the Common Core State Standards, teachers’ unions, the role of the federal government, the pending Elementary and Secondary Education Act reauthorization, charter schools and more.” A companion event for Democratic candidates is scheduled for October.

The campaign cycle comes as Congress is closer than it’s been in years to revamping the main federal law for K-12 education, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (a.k.a. No Child Left Behind). Both the Republican-led House and Senate have approved versions of the legislation this year. Quite a few presidential contenders cast votes on the bipartisan Senate bill this summer, approved 81 to 17. Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, and Marco Rubio of Florida voted “no.” Sen. Sanders of Vermont voted “aye.” Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina did not vote. Some of these senators did sponsor individual amendments that reveal more about their priorities. The Senate legislation curtails the federal role in education somewhat, including by loosening federal requirements for school accountability. However, it retains a federal mandate for testing all students every year in grades 3-8 and once in high school.

Meanwhile, a dozen gubernatorial seats are in play in 2016, including Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, and a special election in Washington State. In November 2015, voters will select new governors for Kentucky, Mississippi, and Louisiana; Jindal, a White House hopeful, is not seeking re-election. Other elections to watch include those for state and federal legislators, mayors, as well as elected state education chiefs and board members. In 2016, six states will hold elections for state education chiefs, including Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Washington State. Thousands of seats on local school boards will also be in play.

Furthermore, voters in at least some states likely will be asked to decide education questions for themselves through ballot measures. In prior years, education funding, expanding access to charter schools, and even teacher quality measures have been the topic of ballot questions.

This was written during the primaries.I couldn't find very much more recent than that! Which is a bit of a worry!

Trump has a dodgy record of running a university but the rest of his 'policy' for education is little better:

                                    "I'm a tremendous believer in education."

So begins a campaign ad for Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump.

But what does that mean?

What does Trump believe about how we should fund and fix our schools, train and pay our teachers, and, most importantly, educate every child whether they're rich or poor, fluent in English or anything but, learning disabled or two grades ahead?

To these questions the candidate has offered few clear answers.

"Donald Trump's policy positions are performance art." That criticism comes not from the left but from Rick Hess, who studies education policy at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute. And, Hess says, "it is an immense mistake to take any of it all that seriously."

Hoping to flesh out Trump's education ideas ahead of tomorrow's big presidential debate, we asked his campaign for help. They never got back to us.

We also reached out to the two men who, as reported by Education Week, have been named to the candidate's presidential transition team for education. Both said they could not talk without permission from the Trump campaign, permission that was not granted.

And so, in trying to get a picture of his education platform, we're left mostly with the candidate's own words.

Let's start with the rest of that campaign ad:

Local Control 

"I'm a tremendous believer in education. But education has to be at a local level," Trump says from his leather office chair, looking directly into the camera. "We cannot have the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child's education."

This is a common theme for Trump: Washington needs to butt out of our schools.

"There's no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly," he said earlier this month at a campaign stop in Cleveland.

In this story line, schools are the business of the local community — of the district — and the U.S. Department of Education is Public Enemy No. 1, pushing down onerous rules that make life harder for educators, students and parents.

While this may sound more like a feeling than a policy position, stay tuned:

On Oct. 18, 2015, Trump told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace that, if elected President, he would consider cutting the Education Department entirely.

That would be a profound policy shift from past presidents and one worth reckoning with briefly here.

It's not clear if Trump, in cutting the Department, would also cut the services that it provides, but, since his conversation with Wallace was in the context of broader spending cuts it's reasonable to assume he would.

Those services include providing roughly $15 billion in Title I funds to help schools that educate at-risk students, more than $12 billion for students with special needs, and some $29 billion in Pell Grants to help low-income students pay for college (all according to 2016 Congressional appropriations).

Common Core

On February 10, 2016, Trump tweeted: "I have been consistent in my opposition to Common Core. Get rid of Common Core — keep education local!"

In that campaign ad on his website, Trump is even more colorful: "Common Core is a total disaster. We can't let it continue."

The Common Core are learning standards in math and English language arts that were developed through a collaboration between the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. According to the Core's website, they're being used in 42 states and the District of Columbia.

Trump's loathing for the Core needs unpacking — because you have to understand how the standards were created to understand how schools can be "rid of" them.

The Core were adopted by states at the state level. There was no top-down vote from Congress, no presidential signature. Yes, President Obama and his Education Department dangled money in front of states who agreed to do many things, including adopt rigorous new standards. But Washington could not, and did not, force the Core on states. As such, if states want to repeal the standards, they can and have. But a President Trump ... couldn't.

Besides, if he tried, it might feel an awful lot like "the bureaucrats in Washington telling you how to manage your child's education."

School Choice

Earlier this month, in Cleveland, Trump unveiled perhaps the most specific education proposal of his campaign.

"As president, I will establish the national goal of providing school choice to every American child living in poverty," Trump said. "If we can put a man on the moon, dig out the Panama Canal and win two world wars, then I have no doubt that we as a nation can provide school choice to every disadvantaged child in America."

The plan would involve a $20 billion government investment, "reprioritizing existing federal dollars." The money would go to states as block grants and follow disadvantaged students wherever they go: to a traditional public school in their neighborhood or elsewhere, a charter school or even a private school.

While Trump made clear the $20 billion would not be new money, he did not say where he would find that much old money to reprioritize.

This idea, known as portability, is popular in conservative circles because, it is assumed, the competition that comes with choice would force struggling public schools to improve or close. But it worries many student advocates because, they say, it would also drain money from the schools that need it most and send taxpayer dollars to well-resourced private schools.

Higher Education

As with K-12, Trump has said little in detail about planned policies for higher education.

In May, a senior Trump policy advisor, Sam Clovis, did tell Inside Higher Ed that a Trump administration would work to get the government out of the student loan business and restore lending to private banks. The debt issue has gotten a fair amount of attention, as we've covered herehere and here, among other stories.

"We think it (student loans) should be marketplace and market driven," Clovis told Inside Higher Ed. He also said Trump rejects President Obama's proposals to make community college free for new high school graduates.

Would a push to privatize student lending work?

"I just don't think that's realistic," says Eric Hanushek, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a conservative-leaning think tank at Stanford University. The government has historically played a key lending role and is likely to continue, Hanushek says. "Private lenders are not about to enter into that market sufficiently to make loans to all students. It would be wise not to get the government out of student loans altogether."

The basic mechanics of implementing that kind of public-to-private switch, says Deborah Seymour with the American Council on Education, "would require such a complicated plan that making that happen might take longer than he's probably currently projecting."

Hanushek adds that many of Trump's statements on education and other topics "are vague, and you could interpret them in many ways."

Child Care

Finally, Trump's take on childcare. The pitch, on his website, tells us what most parents know all-too-well: "Raising a child is now the single greatest expense for most American families — even exceeding the cost of housing in much of the country."

What would President Trump do about that?

He's proposed making all childcare costs tax-deductible for kids up to 13 years old — and for up to four children per household. Deductions would be limited to a state's average childcare cost and to families earning less than $500,000 a year.

Returning to a common theme for Trump — choice — the proposal would cover "a variety of different kinds of childcare—institutional, private, nursery school, afterschool care, and enrichment activities."

Trump's proposal, which he unveiled earlier this month, would also provide six weeks of unemployment benefits to all new mothers. While states cap those benefits, the proposal would be an improvement for many new moms and a big change from current federal policy (which pays them nothing). That said, the plan did raise eyebrows for one word conspicuously missing: Dads.

A lot to digest — but still surprisingly few classroom specifics.

Both candidates, Eric Hanushek says, have largely side-stepped specifics about K-12 education. Clinton talks about universal pre-K and Trump a little about student loans, he says, "but there's this gaping hole in the middle called K-12 education." It's troubling, Hanushek says, as education is "second only to national security" in national importance.


NOTE: My Australian readers should take note of these 'policies' because they are what the far-right of the Liberal Party and the IPA ( a far right Ayn Rand loving nursery ground for right wing nut jobs for the LNP ain the Senate) would like to see for our education system. Read it and take note. This would make them unelectable but they would get in in by stealth one nasty 'reform' at a time.

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