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Education takes the back burner in presidential spotlight

education-early-childhoodOn Monday, Education Week offered a thorough analysis of K-12’s role in this year’s bristling presidential campaign. 

According to that report, that role is somewhat nonexistent in a campaign dominated by debates over guns, terrorism and the economy.

From Education Week:

Is K-12 education poised to catch fire in the policy debates leading up to November’s presidential election, now less than 100 days away?

Don’t bet on it.

Based on the dynamics at the just-finished Democratic and Republican conventions—and the profiles of the two nominees—K-12 is likely to lag behind other issues in a tumultuous election year dominated by national-security concerns, immigration, and sheer force of personality.

Donald Trump, the Republican standard-bearer, and a succession of other speakers at the GOP convention in Cleveland July 18-21 barely discussed education beyond a few perfunctory nods to school choice.

At the Democrats’ convention, where Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination July 28, there were plenty of shout-outs to early-childhood education and college access, along with a trumpeting of her long record on children’s issues. But she and other Democratic luminaries in Philadelphia mostly bypassed K-12 policy talk, even though the party made some waves over how it handled standardized tests in its platform.

But Jeffrey Henig, a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, who focuses on education and politics, doesn’t expect K-12 policy to get much more of the spotlight between now and Nov. 8.

“I don’t see education as being all that central to this election,” he said. “Trump is so mushy on everything. It’s hard to see how [his presidency] would play out on education. I think Hillary is pretty much in the clear to stake out whatever position on education that she thinks is right and is not going to hurt” with any faction of the Democratic constituency.

The report also includes a breakdown of the chief differences in the parties’ platforms when it comes to K-12 education.

More from Education Week:

Clinton’s play-it-safe strategy so far and Trump’s almost-complete lack of specifics have left some of the faithful in both parties jittery about how their respective nominees would handle tough education issues in the White House.

Republicans in Cleveland wondered aloud if Trump would really get rid of the U.S. Department of Education, as he’s hinted he might on the campaign trail—echoing a 1980 position advocated by Ronald Reagan, and long espoused by many in the party. It’s a prospect that thrilled some and turned off others.

And while most Democrats are likely to be heartened to hear Clinton say she’ll push for more resources for child care, college access, and student supports, a number of those in Philadelphia weren’t sure just how far she’d stray from President Barack Obama’s approach to K-12 on issues such as testing and charter schools.

In her speech accepting the nomination, Clinton, the first American woman to receive a major-party nomination, stuck to broad areas of agreement and outreach within her party. She pledged to work for a country where “you can send your kids to a good school, no matter what ZIP you live in,” and to work with her rival for the nomination, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, “to make college tuition-free for the middle class and debt-free for all.”

Former President Bill Clinton’s convention speech earlier in the week highlighted his wife’s long record as an advocate for children and families, including her early work for the Children’s’ Defense Fund and her championship of early education and higher K-12 standards as first lady of Arkansas.

But behind the scenes, the policy fissures among Democrats were clear.

Most of the controversy centered around the party platform, which was crafted with help from Sanders supporters. The platform skewed toward the party’s progressive wing, which has felt marginalized over the past eight years.

The platform decries test-based accountability systems that “falsely and unfairly label students of color, teachers, and schools as failing,” and affirms parents’ right to opt their children out of tests.

The National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, both of which endorsed Clinton early on in the race, are delighted with that language.

In fact, Lily Eskelsen García, the NEA president, said on a panel in Philadelphia that the union could have written the platform. “I think we actually kind of did,” she added.

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