Vail Daily column: Vague education policies
July 5, 2016
As we close in on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump being the presumptive nominees for their respective parties, some education policy wonks — of which I include myself — and journalists have noted the absence of much discussion around where education fits into Clinton and Trump's policy agendas.
The answer is difficult to define, as neither Clinton nor Trump has given us a lot to work with. Clinton quickly aligned herself with the National Education Association, the country's largest teacher's union, and earned its endorsement fairly early in the primary contest.
However, rather than really adopting the policy positions of the National Education Association, some wonder if this move was a political preemptive strike in an effort to take some steam out of the Bernie Sanders campaign. President Obama's education policies were deeply rooted in school choice — especially the expansion of charter schools), testing, and accountability efforts — things the National Education Association generally opposes.
If Clinton ultimately wins the presidency, then her selection of the next secretary of education will be closely watched to see if she really intends to change the policy direction of her predecessor.
For Trump, we really have very little to go on in terms of what his education policies might be. Trump has called the Common Core (a set of math and English language arts standards developed by the National Governor's Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which most states have adopted) a "disaster" that needs to be replaced. Based on the information available from Trump's campaign, it is not clear what we would be exchanging the Common Core for.
Trump has also expressed support for charter schools, which is a policy position close to that of the Obama administration, which he has criticized frequently in other areas. Yet again, it is not clear what this expressed support for charter schools would mean in terms of federal education policy or future budget choices.
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Perhaps the lack of either candidate making education a major policy area stems from the recent large-scale re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a sweeping law governing much of the federal government's involvement in education.
Originally passed in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's "War on Poverty," the law took on a different meaning under the George W. Bush administration and became the much maligned No Child Left Behind Act, adding in a number of testing and accountability requirements.
No Child Left Behind was criticized for overly expanding the role of the federal government in education, which has traditionally reserved much of the decision making to the state and local levels. Late last year, Congress and President Obama agreed to revise the federal law, creating the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was intended to roll back federal involvement.
The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act represents a sort of truce in decades-long education policy wars that pitted the ideas of school choice, testing and accountability on one side against strong support for community schools, teachers and efforts to confront student poverty on the other.
If we believe there is an intentional strategy at play in how either candidate is approaching education, which is a dubious assumption, then it is possible that neither presidential candidate wishes to re-ignite this conflict and they are content to let the newly revised federal law play out.
In my professional opinion, the continued disengagement of both presidential candidates from federal education policy is just fine.
Speaking on behalf of our local schools, while the additional federal dollars aimed at services for our most at-risk students are welcome, the disconnected — and in some cases harmful— numb-skull directives, red-tape and burdensome mandates are things we can do without.
Our ongoing efforts to build exceptional schools for Eagle County are based on scientific evidence and lessons from the best performing education systems on earth. Oftentimes, this internationally benchmarked direction is at odds with the politically-motivated policies foisted on us from Washington and our own state capitol.
Indeed, some bemoan that education is not taking a more central role in the presidential campaigns or future policy discussions. President Ronald Reagan famously quipped, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'"
Thinking about what's best for our community schools, I'm just fine with either Clinton or Trump finding some other policy area in which to "help."
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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