Vail Daily column: A look at Clinton’s policies
September 27, 2016
Last week, I detailed and then critiqued Donald Trump's education policy proposals. For this column, I'll do the same for Hillary Clinton's proposals based on an analysis of her website and news coverage of her statements on the issue of education as a candidate.
It really isn't appropriate to stack up Trump and Clinton's education policy positions issue by issue as their fundamental approaches are very different. Instead, I'll focus on what Sen. Clinton says she will do if she is elected president as I did with Mr. Trump. Also, I'll look at Clinton's proposals related to early childhood and K-12 education, leaving the higher education discussion to those with more expertise in that area.
Clinton's proposal starts with a significant focus on early childhood education and a goal of universally available preschool for 4-year-olds. More specifically, Clinton would increase federal subsidies and investment in early childhood so that it is more affordable and of higher quality. This would be accomplished through the expansion of some existing federal programs as well as new programs aimed at raising compensation levels for early childhood workers and expanded home visits.
At the K-12 level, Clinton suggests a national campaign to modernize and elevate the teaching profession. While this proposal is vague on details, it does mention new instructional training, support for teachers working with students from diverse challenges and backgrounds and paying teachers more.
Clinton also proposes presenting every student with the opportunity to learn computer science. She plans to bring about a major change in the availability of computer science courses for students as well as lessons and curricular supports for schools.
As for infrastructure, Clinton outlines a new federal bond program that would provide schools with the capital funds they need to reconstruct or remodel their school facilities. Energy efficiency, asbestos abatement, improved science labs and high-speed Internet access would be targets for these funds.
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Finally, Clinton has a major focus on dismantling what some call the "school-to-prison pipeline," where punitive school discipline policies and a lack of support for student behavior issues leads to increasing punishments and possible involvement with law enforcement. Clinton's proposal includes a $2 billion federal investment to support the revision of school discipline procedures and policies, as well as incentives for states to revise their school discipline laws and improve social and emotional interventions.
Now shifting to a critique of Clinton's policy proposals. In my professional opinion, she is starting to hit some of the right notes — though the details are scant.
The positive impact of quality early childhood education is well established. However, quality early childhood education is an expensive endeavor and it is not clear from Clinton's proposal how this would be funded.
Efforts to "modernize" and "elevate" the teaching profession is also a step in the right direction, but again the details are missing. High performing global education systems are deeply committed to teaching being a revered and true profession. So, while Clinton's tone is right, it's not at all clear how the rhetoric would be translated into real policy.
The focus on computer science for every student also strikes the right chords. We do need to get better in this area as a country, both in terms of a general subject matter competency as well as deep and career-based pathways into the field of computer science. Most jobs today, at least in some way, involve interacting with a computer or technology-driven device. Going forward, the exceptions will become even rarer.
Clinton's focus area of improving educational facilities is necessary and, in some places, very needed. There is a suggestion in her policy proposals of using a federal bond program to raise the funds to accomplish this. I can imagine the federal government offering and guaranteeing very low interest bonds that communities could access, gain the cash they need to improve facilities, and then repay over a period of years. If this is indeed the approach, then it might save communities some cash in terms of debt service — which is a good thing. However, that's just my speculation, while the details remain unclear.
The one area where Clinton provides the most detail is in efforts to end the so-called school-to-prison pipeline. The Clinton proposal would provide $2 billion (a significant sum) for the purpose of assisting schools with redesigning discipline procedures with the goal of reducing in-school arrests and adding behavior staff and supports for students. This is indeed a significant issue for schools across the country — however I wonder about the proposed funding level for this. $2 billion would be a massive investment for an effort with this limited scope. No doubt it would make a difference, but we must weigh the opportunity costs involved with such expenditures. More directly, what would we be giving up in order to spend $2 billion on this issue?
I grade Clinton's policies above Trump's based on their empirical track record of success, which is especially true of the early childhood provisions. However, this should not be construed to say Clinton earns a glowing endorsement — far from it. Like Trump, Clinton's policies are full of election-year obscurities and (in some cases) direct pandering to interest groups such as the national teachers' associations. Both plans are weak in how proposed changes would actually be enacted.
As a deeper critique of both candidates' proposals, I'm not confident either will bring the kind of transformative change our nation's schools really need. I'm talking about the kind that deeply and genuinely impacts the learning experience of students, to make them irresistibly engaging and better aligned to the skills students will need in the future. While Clinton's approach is less likely to do irreparable harm, it lacks perspective on the student experience — which, after all, is the main point of the entire endeavor.
Jason E. Glass is the superintendent of Eagle County Schools. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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