Clinton’s Wonky Side Could be a Weakness But One She Keeps Well Hidden on K-12 Education
According to the Associated Press, Hillary Clinton is now the presumed Democratic nominee for president. However, a challenge she encountered in defeating Bernie Sanders during the primary process is likely to persist in a general election against Donald Trump.
Sanders was able to outmaneuver Clinton with his bold policy proposals, such as free healthcare and free college, leaving Clinton to struggle to articulate more targeted policies for specific groups. This challenge will likely be even more pronounced in a head-to-head matchup against the straightforward and polemical Trump.
However, this difference in policy approach does not hold true when it comes to K-12 education, as both Clinton and Sanders campaigned on similar talking points. Both have made inaccurate claims about public charter schools and have expressed generic support for teachers. Neither candidate has provided specific details or plans, and this is unlikely to change as we shift focus towards the general election.
This campaigning style aligns with Sanders’ call for a "political revolution" and Trump’s use of catchy soundbites. However, it is a departure for Clinton as a potential Wonk-in-Chief. A search on her website for education terms reveals a lack of specifics in the "Factsheets" section. Terms like "preschool" and "college" yield detailed descriptions of the Clintons’ history, beliefs, and plans, including dollar amounts and time frames. However, there are no concrete proposals regarding K-12 education.
Clinton’s public addresses also lack specific details. In a recent speech before the New York State United Teachers Representative Assembly, she made promises to support teachers and address issues like over-testing but provided no policy proposals with goals, timelines, or dollar figures.
Despite having the opportunity to address K-12 policy during the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Clinton did not provide any substantial comment, apart from a nondescript press release after the law passed. Additionally, Clinton and Sanders declined an invitation to speak about education at education debate, leaving the K-12 community searching for information on their education platforms.
This lack of information creates confusion whenever the candidates mention education. Recently, Bill Clinton’s comment that Hillary believes federal assessments are excessive and only benefit those at the lowest achievement levels caused speculation. Hillary’s statement that she would not opt her granddaughter out of standardized tests also created controversy.
It is important to note that it is not only Clinton who lacks specificity on this issue. Jonathan Chait noted that full-on anti-testing rhetoric would be challenging for Clinton because civil rights groups see testing as crucial for measuring achievement gaps among different groups. The Democratic Party traditionally aligns with the interests of the less privileged, but it is also aligned with unions, which tend to be less supportive of testing and broader school reforms.
Although it may be too late for the current election cycle, it is crucial for both the media and the voters to start challenging the candidates on their plans for K-12 education. Democrats and Republicans alike should inquire about how the candidates intend to improve the education system in this country. It is essential to know the specific actions they would take, the financial implications, and the estimated timeframe for implementation.
Considering the stage we are in the presidential cycle, it is increasingly likely that the next president could assume office without a clear mandate regarding K-12 education. This is concerning, given that the education sector is a $600 billion industry that directly impacts the lives of 50 million children and 3.3 million teachers. Thus, it deserves greater and more sincere attention from the candidates.
Receive similar stories directly in your inbox by signing up for Newsletter.