We already know that there is no public education candidate running in this Presidential election. But we find ourselves in the unenviable position of having to choose between someone would subject public education to bad, disruptive, destructive, dismantling policies and someone who would just drop a nuke on public education.
Not that anyone really wants to talk about public education, mind you. Man, remember the old days, when everyone thought that education was going to be a marquee topic in this election cycle? (So sorry, Jeb! Too bad, Campbell.)
So Valerie Strauss at the Washington Post sent out some questions about education. The Trump campaign didn't actually answer ("Go look at our website, you journalistic losers!"). But the Clinton campaign did, and their answers give us an idea of the sorts of things we will need to bombard them and their Secretary of Education about over the next four years (if Trump somehow wins, we will be hunkering down while he bombards us). Here's the short form of the Q & A, with my thoughts about what we need to say in our Dear Hillary letters.
WP: Property tax-based funding of school seems to be Not Very Fair. You want to fix that?
HRC: Before I pretend to answer that, let me toss on the "every child deserves a great education regardless of zip code" boilerplate. Some districts are super-poor because of super-bad funding. But we should fund smarter. Because "invest in our future." I want to fund some very specific things like pre-K and computers. Oh, and she'll look for ways to "encourage" states to fund better.
PAG: Buried in a bunch of generic happy-talk is the fund-smarter-not-harder point, whicvh translates to "no more funding for schools that isn't earmarked by the feds." AKA "we will tell you what you need." This invariably translates into more top-down policy where local control and voices are ignored. Not cool. And I really think we've had enough of the feds "encouraging" states to do what the feds think they should.
WP: Can schools fix poverty by themselves?
HRC: "...what happens inside our classrooms can’t make up for the investments we’ve failed to make outside our classrooms." Policy is bad. I'll have some programs to work on it.\
PAG: At least on paper, that's a change of pace from fifteen years of "If we get every kid to pass the Big Standardized Test, poverty will just disappear.
WP: Should every student take the BS Test every year?
HRC: That's a controversial issue that I will now sidestep. Agree that too much time is being spent on testing, so I'll say "fewer, fairer tests" are the answer. Let's reduce "unnecessary and duplicative" tests, somehow.
PAG: Brrnnnnt. No. Wrong. It's a yes-or-no question, and the answer is "no.'
WP: Should parents be allowed to opt students out of state-mandated BS Tests?
HRC: "I think we can all agree that just adding more tests will not improve the quality of education our children receive. I also think tests can serve as a valuable tool to see how our children are learning." More with the fewer and fairer, with a side of conversation between parents and schools to do... something.
PAG: Brrrnnnnnnnnnnnt!! Wrong again. This is also a yes-or-no question, and an issue in which the feds have yet to own their role. This is a weasel answer, and the on ly reason to weasel that simple question is that you know your real answer ("Test 'em al!!") is going to be unpopular.
WP: Four and five year olds are being asked to sit and do academic work. Should play and other child-appropriate activities be re-instated?
HRC: Well, let's just do both. Early literacy and early math are swell, but so is play.
PAG: BBRRRRNNNNTTTT!!! Wrong wrongity wrong. Organized academic work for four year olds is not only unnecessary and unhelpful, but some research suggests it's actually damaging. Also, there are not infinite hours in the day.
WP: Do you support universal pre-K?
HRC: Thank goodness-- an easy one. Way yes. Highquality pre-K for all the four year olds.
PAG: This would be a fine answer except for the previous answer which suggests that Clinton's definition of "high quality pre-school" is seriously defective.
WP: Should teachers be evaluated based on test scores?
HRC: Clinton actually avoids answering this question at all. There's some blather about how hard teachers work and the old "biggest in-school factor" point. Maybe ESSA will help us evaluate teachers real good.
PAG: Sigh. It's a yes-or-no question. Do you wonder why people hate politicians? This is why-- the refusal to answer simple questions simply. Also, the answer is "no."
WP: What's the best way to measure schools, and what do we do with the "failing" ones?
HRC: The measure of success is getting every child college and career ready, even though nobody knows what the hell that means or how to measure it. ESSA will fix it. And failing schools should get more resources.
PAG: One out of three is below basic. But I'll give her some credit for saying we should help failing schools instead of just closing them and turning them over to charter businesses.
WP: I'm going to toss Common Core at you. How do you want to manage this third rail.
HRC: Standards are super, and CCSS was messed up by the implementation. Also, the whole thing was state-led, so federal hands are clean. It's those wacky states.
PAG: I suppose that's pretty mild for someone who probably gets her education briefings from remnants of the Center for American Progress, a group whose love for Common Core is so relentless deranged that I have literally run out of ways to make fun of them.
WP: What's the federal role in education?
HRC: Mostly to make sure that school can be a way out for poor kids in urban and rural poverty spots.
PAG: So we're back to the notion of schools as mainly a social program and not so much an educational one.
WP: Charters are not currently required to be as transparent about finances and other stuff as public schools are. Should they be?
HRC: Almost manages a clear yes for this one, though she has to include a bit about how swell good charters can be, and she's always been a supporter, but boy-- loves that public school. Unprompted, she adds the bit about taking and serving all students that previously made her charterista friends nuts.
PAG: For once, I have no complaints.
WP: Should for-profit businesses be allowed to operate charters?
HRC: I can give an unequivocal no to this because I will continue to pretend not to understand that nominally non-profit charters can be just as lucrative as the profit ones. When we hand out federal largesse to charters in the form of mountains of public tax dollars, we totally rule out for-profits, so you know no businesses are getting rich from that money.
PAG: Nope. The many ways in which non-profit charters can be used to turn a nifty profit have been so widely documented that no sentient being can pretend not to know about them. I'm a little disappointed that the question didn't press the issue a little more directly.
WP: Should states limit the number of charter schools?
HRC: Clinton flat-out doesn't answer this, but instead says we should shut down bad schools and hold charters accountable. Not an answer.
PAG: There is nobody to keep happy with this answer except the millionaire backers of charter businesses. It is exactly the kind of answer that makes it hard to shake the feeling that HRC remains mainly loyal to her big-money Wall Street pals.
WP: Studies show that lots of black children, even pre-schoolers, are disproportionately suspended? Want to comment?
HRC: I have a detailed plan to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Boom.
PAG: In any other year, I would dismiss this as the kind of question that any dummy running for office could figure out and offer a correct answer to. This year we're all learning better.
WP: Vouchers? Should giving public dollars to private schools be a thing?
HRC: No. Private schools don't follow accountability rules when it comes to content, staffing or student treatment, and a voucher system drains precious resources from already-struggling public schools.
PAG: It's a good answer and a good repudiation of voucher systems, but can Clinton explain how it is not also a repudiation of a charter system? This is nuts. For three paragraphs she gives a beat-down of vouchers that could be used, word for word, to oppose charter schools. I start to wonder if Clinton actually understands any of what she's talking about, or whether she is just well-prepped with pre-loaded talking points.
WP: Should colleges and universities be able to factor in race and ethnicity in admissions?
HRC: "I do."
PAG: Look at that. She can give a straight answer to a yes-or-no question when she wants to.
WP: Help pay for college?
HRC: I have been a staunch supporter of free(ish) college ever since Bernie Sanders kicked my ass with the issue.
PAG: Let's take this as a sign of her flexibility and leave it at that.
WP: Should federal loans be for all study areas?
HRC: Sure, but I like the Obama administration's idea of reducing college "quality" to a few really simple metrics, including "how much money do your alumni make," so we'll do more of that.
PAG: The Obama plan leans heavily on the notion that the best college provides vocational training, and metrics that don't really measure what they pretend to measure. They encourage colleges to avoid accepting those damn poor kids who predictably don't go on to make the kind of numbers (or kind of money) that make colleges look good under this ham-brained system.
The questionaire winds up with some personal questions, from which we learn that Clinton had a favorite teacher, hated choir (she can't sing, which is somehow... unsurprising), learned resilience in college, and never cheated because her father would have been disappointed. I will let someone else unpack the world contained in that answer.
So what did we learn? HRC belongs to the Cult of the Test, doesn't display real understanding of charterdom, isn't up on the research about premature academics, and still doesn't understand the whole Common Core thing. There are Grand Canyon sized gaps in her understanding of the whole landscape of educational issues and the debates thereof. She talks kind of like a person whose education about education has come primarily from rich reformsters, and not so much like someone who has regular contact with regular teachers. She is totally welcome to come hang out with me for a day or two. Have your people call my... well, me. I have no idea if Clinton is educable, is willfully ignorant of the issues, or has a full understanding but just prefers the dark side. But I suggest the rest of us gear up for the work of trying to help her "evolve." Of course, if Trumpm wins, no evolving will be going on for a while. Good luck to all of us.