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Op-Ed: Building the Education Candidate that Never Was

With only one presidential debate left before its time to vote in the 2016 presidential election, it has become clear that education is not a prioritized campaign issue but rather a second thought. 

While Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has made several efforts to address education as she did in a National Educators Association Rally, in her technology and innovation plan and most recently in a Q & A session with The Washington Post, there has been little push-back to get more out of Republican candidate Donald Trump. Trump has been considered an education wild card since the beginning of his campaign and has elaborated very little on his education policy plans besides throwing his support behind school choice.

Considering the stark contrast between how much Clinton has discussed education in comparison to Trump, it might be tempting to deem her as the country's education candidate and champion. Here's why she's not. 

Here’s a list of important players in this year’s presidential race that, together, represent the education candidate that never was. 

Jeb Bush

Many Republican voters are shocked that Jeb Bush, who originally seemed like a shoe-in for the Republican presidential candidate, was usurped by the much more controversial and certainly less traditional Donald Trump.

Long before Donald Trump called school choice the greatest civil rights challenge of our time, Jeb Bush similarly discussed the civil rights challenges posed by a lack of educational opportunities.

Said Bush last January: “I firmly believe that ensuring every individual has access to a quality education is the great civil rights challenge of our time.” 

Unlike Trump, Bush backed up his belief with a 10-page education plan dedicated to highlighting how he would help fix education if elected president with several proposals in-line with his Republican views.

Bush’s plan was praised for being the first out of any candidate to address preschool, K-12, and higher education with specific policy proposals.

His plan signaled promise to advocates, even those not in favor of his proposals, for the opening of new education dialogue in the presidential debate. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen because it was already apparent that Bush’s presidential bid was close to over. “[Bush’s education plan] may all be for naught if his poll numbers don’t start looking better,” said Michael J. Petrilli, president of the right-leaning Fordham Institute told The Washington Post in January.

“Still, the plan is a good marker for any center right Republican.”

William Weld

Year after year, Massachusetts has one of the best school systems in the country. What does that have to do with Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson’s running mate?

He helped it get there.

As former Governor of Massachusetts, William Weld helped turn around what was considered to be a mediocre school system at best and turn it into one of the highest-performing systems in the country.

In 1993, Weld signed the Massachusetts Education Reform Act (MERA), setting into motion the state’s path to greatness.

"A good education in a safe environment is the magic wand that brings opportunity,” said Weld at the time.

"It's up to us to make sure that wand is waved over every cradle.”

Weld’s experience in education and his reputation for supporting one of the most successful education reforms makes him a candidate to be the education candidate, but his place as a running mate on a third-party ticket (Gary Johnson has not even been invited to participate in the presidential debates) has significantly stifled his ability to do so. 

Hillary Clinton

There have been promising moments in Clinton’s presidential run for education advocates as she has on several occasions addressed some of her education intentions.

For instance, she has said she will funnel $2 billion into fixing the school-to-prison pipeline by challenging schools to research and develop better disciplinary tactics to replace out-dated methods like suspensions and expulsions, especially when delivered through School Resource Officers.

Clinton even said she would support intervention for schools refusing to reform:

”...for schools that refuse to reform and states that refuse to take this issue seriously, I want the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights to intervene, because this—this is not just an education issue, this is a civil rights issue and we cannot ignore it any longer.”

Clinton has expressed support for implementing computer science education in all K-12 schools, even saying she will train 50,000 computer science teachers in just 10 years.

In February, Clinton said she would support longer school days and years to help disadvantaged students receive equal educational opportunities. When Education World polled our readers about this idea, over 563 respondents argued that longer school days are not in the best interest of students while only 60 voted in favor.

Despite this clear disagreement, Clinton was never asked about these intentions again.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump has called a lack of school choice the greatest civil rights issue of our time and released a $20 billion proposal backing the support of school choice opportunities like charter and private school options.

Though he unveiled his plan in the beginning of September, he has not elaborated on his proposal since. When asked to elaborate on his education policy goals by The Washington Post, he opted not to respond and referred voters instead to his website.

Before honing in on school choice as the pivotal part of his education platform, Trump claimed he would get rid of both the Common Core and the Department of Education. He has yet to elaborate on how he would get rid of either.

Further, early in Trump’s campaign his campaign director alarmed voters by claiming that Trump would work to make it more difficult for students to pursue liberal arts studies in favor of STEM subjects. Again, Trump has not been pushed to elaborate on these intentions.

Conclusion

The education candidate that never was isn’t here because of a lack of support for education in this election. There have been repeated missed opportunities to talk about the subject—such as after the release of Jeb Bush’s education plan, the announcement of Weld’s entrance into the race, the introduction of Donald Trump's radical claims and the vague plans released by Hillary Clinton.

Here’s to hoping education graces the stage tomorrow night—stay tuned.

Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor

10/18/2016

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