Q&A by Clinton, Trump on education issues

I noted earlier that any substantive discussion of education issues was highly unlikely during the remaining presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, so the Washington Post asked each candidate some pretty direct questions and wrote down their answers.

Mr Trump’s staff referred the author to his website (more on that later), while Mrs Clinton responded to the questions thoughtfully. And while I disagree with some of her answers, she showed evidence that she had weighed the issues carefully and put a great deal of thought into the role she would want the federal government to play in education.

The questions:

  1. FUNDING: Local school districts in the United States are funded primarily by property taxes, meaning that every district spends a different amount per student and wealthier districts have more to spend. Is this system fair? If not, how would you change it to ensure that funding equity?
  2. POVERTY: Do you think that schools alone can systemically overcome the effects that living in poverty has on children’s education?
  3. STANDARDIZED TESTING: Do you think that all students should take the same standardized test every year so that score comparisons can be made to see how states are educating their children?
  4. Should students be allowed to opt out of state-mandated standardized tests?
  5. EARLY CHILDHOOD EDUCATION: Today students as young as 4 and 5 are being asked to sit for hours in class doing academic work with little or no recess. This is part of a “push-down” of curriculum in which children are being asked to read and write, analyze and perform math problems at younger ages than in the past. Do you support this trend?
  6. Do you support universal prekindergarten?
  7. TEACHER EVALUATION: Should teachers be evaluated by the test scores of students?
  8. ACCOUNTABILITY: What is the best way of measuring the success of schools and what should happen when schools are not measuring up?
  9. COMMON CORE: The Common Core State Standards is not a federal program, but the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of governors have backed its development and implementation in numerous states. Do you support the Common Core initiative? Please explain why or why not. What should the federal role be in relation to Common Core?
  10. EDUCATION DEPARTMENT: What should the role of the U.S. Education Department be in local public education?
  11. CHARTER SCHOOLS: Currently charter schools, which are funded by the public, are not required to be as transparent about their finances and other operations as traditional public schools. Should they be?
  12. Should for-profit companies be allowed to open and operate publicly funded charter schools?
  13. Should states have limits on the number of charter schools that can be created?
  14. DISCIPLINE: Study after study has found that black students as young as preschoolers are suspended and expelled at disproportionately high rates. How would you address this?
  15. VOUCHERS: Do you believe that public funds should be used for students to pay for private school tuition? If not, why not? If so, should the private schools be held accountable in any way for student achievement?
  16. HIGHER EDUCATION: Do you believe that colleges and universities should be allowed to factor into admissions the race and ethnicity of applicants?
  17. What would you do to help students pay for college?
  18. Should federally backed student loans be made available to all students, no matter what degree or discipline they are pursuing?
  19. PERSONAL: Who was your favorite teacher and why?
  20. Favorite and least favorite subject?
  21. What is the most important thing you learned in college?
  22. When you were in school, did you ever cheat?

Mrs Clinton said her least favorite subject was choir, since she can’t carry a tune to save her life. Her director, in fact, once asked her if she could please just mouth the words during the songs.

For her remaining answers, you’ll have to follow the link to the page on Valerie Strauss’s “Answer Sheet” blog on the Post.

Mr Trump, in referring reporters to his website, made the following statement, printed here in its entirety, since I believe it was faithfully reported:

As your president, I will be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice. I want every single inner city child in America who is today trapped in a failing school to have the freedom—the civil right—to attend the school of their choice. I understand many stale old politicians will resist. But it’s time for our country to start thinking big once again. We spend too much time quibbling over the smallest words, when we should spend our time dreaming about the great adventures that lie ahead.

I went to Mr Trump’s website and looked for the page on education (here it is). It’s all about school choice and how Mrs Clinton (he refers to her as Hillary, Mrs Clinton, and—probably, in the above excerpt—a stale old politician) doesn’t support school choice.

“It is no surprise Mrs. Clinton opposes school choice,” he writes, “because she is supported by the staunchest opponents of school choice—The American Federation of Teachers super PAC—which donated $1.6 million to the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and more than $2 million to Hillary’s 2016 presidential campaign. [Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2016]”

(The link to the Wall Street Journal article requires you to have an active subscription, but it says what Mr Trump says it says. If you want to read it for yourself, though, you’ll have to pay.)

The thing is, except for the question on vouchers, school choice wasn’t really one of the questions. Maybe it should have been, but Mr Trump’s referral to the website was unresponsive. This is one of the reasons I said I’m suspending coverage of the campaign. It is exceedingly difficult to find any answers to actual questions from one of the candidates.

Maybe we should ask more politicians some of these questions, instead of just Mrs Clinton. They seem pretty straightforward, and the answers can be very revealing. Several states, for instance, are initiating voucher laws, including Maryland. They’re controlled at the state level, but they still have to be in accord with the US Constitution. Let’s see how this works out.

Mr Trump on higher ed

Although he dismissed Ms Strauss’s questions without providing any answers, Mr Trump did speak about higher education at a rally this afternoon in Columbus, Ohio, the Chronicle of Higher Education reports.

Citing contributions from college trustees to hedge funds, he said he would plan to “reconsider” the tax-exempt status of college endowments. But he also endorsed what seemed to be an income-based repayment plan for college debt. It seems he would cap borrowers’ payments at 12.5 percent of their monthly income, and then, his plan would seem to forgive any outstanding debt after 15 years of steady repayment.

The plan is, at least on its face, completely responsive to Ms Strauss’s Question #17, about what he would do to help students pay for college. And Mr Trump’s plan is as specific as any plan gets at this point in the election process—about as specific as Mrs Clinton’s written response.

“I’ve put forward a plan to make college tuition-free for working families and debt-free for all,” she said in response to this question. “We’ll also lift the burden of student debt. It’s called the ‘New College Compact,’ because we need everyone to do their part. We’ll make bold new investments in higher education, and require states that take part to reinvest in higher education to keep costs in check.”

She said she would plan to cut interest rates on student loans, at least so the government doesn’t earn an actual profit, and that she would “simplify and expand income-based repayment.”

The bulk of Mr Trump’s speech was far less specific. He also thinks, for example, that curbing immigration will help college graduates get and keep their jobs. And citing a mostly-debunked “study” from Vanderbilt University, he suggested, broadly, that there’s too much administrative red tape and too many administrators or non-teachers at colleges and universities.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.