This was the time when Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was supposed to become more “policy-centric” and “optimistic.” There were supposed to be details about his proposals in a series of speeches that would transition him from a make-it-up-as-I-go candidate to one worthy of the presidency. Last week was supposed to be “education week,” a time for the candidate to talk turkey about his proposals to make public schools great again.

So what happened?

According to edu-pundit Rick Hess, not much. Hess says it was a bust:

And how did the Trump campaign actually spend the [‘education’] week? First by telegraphing that Trump was going to “soften” his hardline stance on immigration. Then by sending the candidate to Mexico to meet with Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto. Then by having Trump give a histrionic speech in Phoenix in which he mostly reiterated his hardline stance. The week closed with a controversy over the fact that Trump altered his major policy address at the last minute in response to a tweet sent by president Nieto. All this while the campaign continued to deal with fallout from Trump’s bizarre doctor’s note about the candidate’s yuuugely awesome health.


The candidate is wafer-thin on substance, and so are most of his position statements and campaign materials. Given all this, it’d be crazy to put much credence in his off-hand comments regarding charter schools, the U.S. Department of Education, the Common Core, or anything else.

Does education matter for Trump?

For the first time in recent memory, education isn’t a major issue in the 2016 presidential election. Apparently, nobody wants to be the education president any more.

Maybe Americans have reform fatigue. Maybe years of obsessing about public schools and failed efforts to make them relevant have muddied the waters, especially for voters who are basically happy with what they’re getting. For whatever reason the public is letting both major candidates – Trump and Hillary Clinton – off the hook for offering education plans that address critical and system issues like faulty teacher preparation pipelines fed by 1,700 colleges of education of uneven quality; inadequate classroom instruction in schools proffered by under-supported and lesser qualified teachers to students in poverty; and opaque accountability systems across states.

The issues are wonky, but voters are not. That means candidates have no urgency to to be leaders on education, just poets.

That may be especially true for Trump who appeals to the lowest emotions of whiter, lesser-educated voters.

See, here:

trump clinton

That said, it’s not as if Trump has ceded non-white voters, or education policy, completely.

Education Week says “As of late on the campaign trail, Trump has been speaking more frequently about his support for school choice as part of a recent attempt to win African-American votes by decrying the state of education in inner cities.”

When polled, black respondents consistently and overwhelmingly support school choice. In a recent poll by Education Next black support for tax credits covering private school tuition was at 67%.

Yet, another poll Trump’s “popularity” with black voters rests at 0%.

No shade.

Without the education week, what can we assume is the Trump education plan?

Now that Trump’s education week is done, policy watchers and education enthusiasts are tasked with discerning what his actual plan is based on his public statements.

Vox pulled together his education task list using speeches and media appearances:

  1. End common core state standards
  2. Bolster school choice and charter schools
  3. Support merit pay for teachers
  4. “End” tenure polices that “hurt good teachers and reward bad teachers”
  5. Dismantle the Department of Education
  6. Make America tops in test scores, not just education spending

Education journalist Alyson Klein warns readers about these potential consequences of #5.

  • 490,000 teaching positions could be eliminated, which is about 14 percent of public school teachers nationwide;
  • 8 million students annually would lose Pell Grants;
  • 4,000 or more rural school districts would lose money to train teachers and improve student learning; and
  • Students from military families and those on Native American reservations or living on federal property would lose $1.1 billion annually to make up for lost tax revenue through the Impact Aid program.

Using Education Week’s interactive tool comparing Clinton and Trump on education issues, we can round out his education agenda with a few more items:

  • Teaching “patriotism” in public schools
  • Making child-care fully tax deductible
  • Opposing “gun-free school zones”
  • Having student loans originate with banks instead of the federal government
  • Moving the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights office to the Department of Justice

In the end, a presidential candidate’s website should give voters deep insight into their positions and policy proposals. Though education week went the way of Trump University, Mr. Trump’s website provides an elegant portrayal of his education views.

Here it is…

Chris Stewart is the Chief Executive Officer of Education Post, a media project of the Results in Education Foundation. He is a lifelong activist and 20-year supporter of nonprofit and education-related causes. Stewart has served as the director of outreach and external affairs for Education Post, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), and an elected member of the Minneapolis Public Schools Board of Education.


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