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Presidential Candidates, Part 2

By Donald Kim, CEI Intern, and Christine Mason, CEI Executive Director

In Donald Kim’s last blog entry, he covered the education interests of possible presidential candidates. But what do we (CEI) advocate? In short, we envision five objectives, all related to our vision for 21st Century Learning: 

  1. Adding meaning and rigor to classrooms

  2. Using neuroscience research to accelerate learning

  3. Leading schools to excellence in STEM

  4. Promoting ‘Heart Centered Education’

  5. Focusing on Principal Preparation and Leadership 

Of course, no candidate has a platform that will perfectly encapsulate these objectives; however, some of the issues overlap with our vision. More information regarding CEI’s mission can be found here.

Although it is early in the campaign process and we have heard more from Republicans than Democrats, we can look to candidates’ past records for insight into their likely stances on areas of concern. As we look at CEI’s issues, we stress that candidates’ views should be considered in relationship to their positions on larger issues such as whether there should be a U.S. Department of Education, funding for vouchers for private schools, and state autonomy versus federal mandates.

Adding Meaning and Rigor to Classrooms

Candidates such as Bernie Sanders, Chris Christie and Donald Trump advocate for an increase in classroom rigor and quality at a general level. Complications arise for some candidates, like Jeb Bush and Martin O’Malley, who have supported the ‘Common Core.’ Does this mean they are satisfied with the current curriculum? Or will the Common Core be improved upon and updated? That remains to be seen. Recently Bush, echoing public opinion, has modified his support, indicating that he favors individual state decisions about whether to and how to implement the Common Core.

The inverse is also unclear. Do candidates who oppose a national curriculum, such as Rand Paul, oppose setting standards that could potentially be rigorous? While that position has become more popular, how we transition from the Common Core to the next educational trends will be critical to the future of American schooling.

Despite the difficulty in navigating education standards, the way education is structured at a larger scale is not the only means of adding meaning and rigor to schools. Charter schools ‘“another topic heavily discussed among candidates ‘“ are potentially a way to increase classroom meaning and rigor. These kinds of schools have more freedom in the way they instruct students in that they have their own school boards, visions, and missions. However, they differ from private schools in that they are regulated by states (and sometimes districts) and receive government funding rather than relying on private tuition. Candidates such as Hilary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Martin O’Malley, Jeb Bush, and Chris Christie could potentially increase support for charter schools. John Kasich, a supporter of charter schools, has also taken a stand to increase state oversight and regulation of charters.

Learn more about our approach to improving school instruction here.

Leading Schools to Excellence in STEM and Neuroscience

No candidate is against improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM), yet most have not made general statements about it. It is more likely that they have recommended better preparation for college and careers. The private industry endorses STEM education in its search for better-qualified scientists and engineers. Additionally, STEM adds a practical, hands-on component to education and also provides hope in terms of career pathways for students. This is particularly important for girls and minority students who have been underrepresented in STEM careers. Of course candidates’ position on issues such as global warming, alternative fuels, and even ‘creationism’ may foretell their support of STEM. In general, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have demonstrated far greater support for these concepts than the other candidates. Some candidates, including Jeb Bush, have voiced the need to increase STEM graduates, as well.

When it comes to neuroscience, probably once again the best predictor of interest might be the support of the candidates for science research. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, and Joe Biden each have a record of voting for increased funding for environmental issues, reducing carbon emissions, and renewable energy subsidies.

Promoting Heart Centered Education

This part of CEI’s vision is harder to align with specific policies, at least as it relates specifically to education. The one candidate who seems to be explicitly against a comprehensive approach to education steeped in compassion and community is Donald Trump. In 2000 he stated,

The people running our public schools don’t want to damage a student’s self-esteem. They’re concerned about ’empowerment.’ They’re worried kids will feel bad if they get a problem wrong or flunk a spelling test. It’s better to pat a kid on the head and praise his ‘creative spelling’ than point out that there is a traditional name for people with poor spelling skills. We call them illiterates.

In general, conservative Republicans have tended to favor ‘family values’ including leaving character education and other similar social emotional curricula to families. Other indicators of interest in heart centered education and compassion are the candidates’ views on immigration and LGBT rights. In general, Democratic candidates have expressed greater concern for the rights and welfare of others, which we can see by their support for legislation for gay and lesbian marriage rights, and concern over citizenship opportunities for immigrants. On the other hand, the Republican candidates have leaned towards protecting traditional values and promoting continuity rather than change. This is evidenced by their suggestions that protective walls be built along the U.S. borders and their support for religious beliefs that decry marriage for gay and lesbian couples.

Positions on school anti-bullying, healthcare, and preschool programs also tell us something about the compassion and school community building of candidates. For example, Hillary Clinton has voiced her support for anti- bullying programs, Joe Biden has expressed concern about anti-gay bullying, and John Kasich has also signed legislation in Ohio to reform Ohio’s anti-bullying laws to include provisions against online harassment. Kasich has also supported full-day preschool programs for low-income children. When it comes to healthcare, most of the Republican candidates are interested in reforming or repealing Obama’s healthcare programs, while Democrats tend to support adequate healthcare provisions for all.

We are certainly concerned with approaching education with this fact in mind: students aren’t numbers, aren’t units of production, but rather they are unique humans capable of greatness. You can learn about our exact approach in previous blog entries and here. Implementing our approach to education on a national scale would require significant changes in priorities, including perhaps the vision of education and its role in society. However, grassroots action such as writing to candidates, and spreading ideas to colleagues, could have a large impact. And any research that is currently being conducted on these topics.

Principal Preparation and Leadership

Unfortunately, too often principals are left out of the vision for education. Often attention is turned to the principal only after implementation of new initiatives has begun. For anyone with a background in business, for anyone who has a glimmer of an idea about how to introduce and manage change, this is indeed backward. Support and understanding from principals is needed to garner time and resources within school buildings, to monitor progress, and even to plan for support, or cross-curricular implementation. As the Wallace Foundation, among others, has discovered, principal leadership is critical to the success of a school. Also, as Wallace has reported, the pipeline to the principal must be strengthened. Procedures are needed to attract and prepare the best and brightest principal candidates.

From what we see principals are not on the radar screens of any of the candidates.

21st Century Education

In 2015 we are already 15 years into the new millennium. It will not be long before a quarter of the 21st century will have elapsed. Technology and innovations are continuing to advance rapidly while schools struggle to keep up, to implement reforms, to obtain the needed technologies to remain current. To our knowledge, none of the candidates has yet spoken about the need to reform education to prepare students for the future.


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