“The Education President” by John Edward

John Edward teaches economics at Bentley and UMass Lowell. This is the sixth in a series of columns he has written on economics and the presidential election. Links to his earlier posts may be found at the end of this column.

George H.W. Bush might have been the first candidate to claim he would be the “education president.” He will not be the last. Granted, we cannot hold the President responsible for teaching our children. However, a President can use the power vested in the office to drive, encourage, support, and celebrate those who are responsible.

We need an education president. The United States has a serious shortage of trained workers. Low and stagnant wages are making excessive inequality even worse. As candidate Bush said in 1988, “I want to be the education President, because I want to see us do better.”

Who is more likely to be the education president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Their philosophies, their experience, and their words give voters a good sense of what to expect. With whom will we do better?

Trump’s philosophy toward education mirrors his approach to health care – his focus is on competition. In his book Crippled America: How To Make America Great Again he says, “Let schools compete for kids…. Those schools that weren’t good enough to attract students would close, and that’s a good thing.”

As reported by CNN Money, “Donald Trump brags about how well his businesses have fared in bankruptcy. And in fact, no major U.S. company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump’s casino empire in the last 30 years.” If schools close because someone judges them to not be competitive, Trump will be bankrupting the future of our children.

On his web site, candidate Trump has only one policy for education. He says he will kill Common Core. Common Core and standardized testing are controversial topics. There are valid concerns regarding an overreliance on teaching to the test.

Trump fails the test of knowing what Common Core is. He refers to it as “education through Washington D.C.” In evaluating that statement as False, Politifact says, “the federal government didn’t help create the standards, and has no control over how they are implemented. Even states that have adopted the standards are still free to set their own curricula.”

Governors, state education leaders, and business leaders initiated Common Core. They recognized the need for consistency across our united states in defining and assessing proficiency. Military families and others who move across state borders appreciate the need for consistency.

What we have learned about Trump University (TU) does not bode well for Trump as the education president. He claimed his University got an A from the Better Business Bureau. A search of archives revealed that TU received grades ranging between A+ and D-, the latter being the last grade recorded, in 2010. Trump’s on-line seminars were by no means a University. Education officials forced him to change the name. Now he is forced to defend his defunct program against two lawsuits claiming TU was guilty of what the New York State Attorney General called “straight up fraud.” An article in The New Yorker titled “Trump University: It’s worse than you think” described Trump as “a businessman who founded and operated a for-profit learning annex that some of its own employees regarded as a giant rip-off…”

Trump supports school vouchers. School vouchers will take money away from schools that are not doing well. That is at least consistent with his if schools close it is a good thing philosophy.

Trump correctly observes that the U.S. spends a lot on education, but as usual he gets the facts wrong. Trump says, “We are number 1 in spending per pupil by a factor of 4.” Politifact says we are not number 1, and “Trump overstated spending by 500 percent.”

Hillary Clinton’s philosophy toward education is reflected in the title of her book, It Takes a Village. “Parents bear the first and primary responsibility for their sons and daughters” but many others contribute to childhood development. “Each community is the best judge of what will work in its schools” but they often need help in setting goals and measuring achievement, and need resources to provide children with a healthy learning environment.

Clinton is in favor of standardized testing, but not an obsession on testing. She says, “I would like to see us do assessments, but understand we need a broad, rich curriculum that honors the spark of learning in every child.”

Clinton is against vouchers. She understands they take money away from public schools. She understands vouchers can violate separation of church and state.

She is calling for universal pre-kindergarten. We will be leaving children behind until we have it.

She is not promoting free college but rather affordable college. She advocates free community college, debt-free public college, and allowing students already in debt to refinance. She is also calling for students to be responsible by working ten hours a week (many of my students already work more than that) and for colleges to be responsible for holding down costs.

The National Educators Association (NEA) endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, saying:

Clinton is a strong leader who will do what is best for America’s students. For more than four decades, Clinton has fought to make sure all children have a fair opportunity to succeed regardless of their ZIP code. Clinton will continue to advocate on behalf of students, educators and working families because she understands the road to a stronger U.S. economy starts in America’s public schools.

Hillary Clinton taught reading to poor children in the Roxbury section of Boston. She studied at the Yale Child Study Center. She worked for years with the Children’s Defense Fund. She worked on education reform in Arkansas. She enacted education legislation in the U.S. Senate.

The NEA has forcefully criticized Trump’s education credentials. Their assessment for his prospects as the education president is:

Donald Trump’s own forays into higher education don’t inspire any confidence that he would protect the public good that is public higher education.

Trump doubled down on his education positions by selecting Mike Pence as his running mate. Here is what the American Federation of Teachers had to say about Pence:

His extreme obsession with vouchers and tax cuts for the rich [has] starved public schools in Indiana of funding, and helped to create a privatized system of winners and losers. Budgets signed by Pence shifted money away from racially and socio-economically isolated children—kids whose futures most deeply depend on a high-quality public education.

A few years ago The Washington Post published responses to the question “which president was the best for public education?” The question was posed to experts in education, and scholars in political science and history. Lyndon Johnson’s name came up the most. As one respondent observed:

A teacher himself, from a little town in south Texas, President Lyndon B. Johnson made education a national priority more than any other president. Historian and LBJ biographer Robert Dallek noted that he had an ‘almost mystical faith in the capacity of education to transform people’s lives and improve their standard of living.’

Daniel Katz, chair of the Department of Educational Studies at Seton Hall University published an essay on the “Education President.” Katz said:

We won’t have a President who deserves the title ‘The Education President’ until we once again have a public servant in the Oval Office who sets equity of access and equity of resources as primary goals of federal education policy.

More recently he posted “A Teacher’s Case for Hillary Clinton” which makes a detailed and compelling case for Hillary Clinton as that public servant.

An informed voter is our best citizen.

Next up, energy policy – could two candidates be any further apart?

The first column in this series, “The 100 Percent,” appeared on May 16, 2016; The second, “Voodoo Two,” on May 23, 2016; the third. “Paying for the Wall” on June 22, 2016; the fourth, “Trump’s Trade War” on July 5, 2016; the fifth, “Making America Sick Again” appeared on August 16, 2016.