Memo to the Presidential Candidates: To Reduce Inequality, Reinvent Public Schools

By and / 3.9.2016

Growing inequality has emerged as a central issue in the 2016 presidential election. Yet none of you has paid much attention to a major source of economic inequality in America: the uneven quality of our public schools.

As far as we can determine, GOP frontrunner Donald Trump has no thoughts on how to improve K-12 education. With the exception of Jeb Bush, now out of the race, and Gov. John Kasich, the Republican candidates have said little about education on the stump, beyond ritual denunciations of the Common Core standards.

On the Democratic side, both candidates want to make public colleges more affordable, Sen. Bernie Sanders by eliminating tuition, Hillary Clinton by spending $350 billion for financial aid. Both also want to invest heavily in early childhood education. But Sanders’s web page lists 21 priorities, and K-12 education reform is not among them. Clinton includes it but offers only platitudes, such as “Make high-quality education available to every child—in every ZIP code—in America,”and “Ensure that teachers receive the training, mentorship, and support they need to succeed and thrive in the classroom.”

Given the glaring inequities in our public schools, we are mystified by the absence of K-12 reform from your campaigns. Frankly, this appears to reflect what is worst about each party. Republicans, in blind obedience to the ideology of local control, seem more upset by the prospect of “federal meddling” in public schools than by their endemic failure to give low-income students a quality education. Democrats tolerate failure for another reason, namely fear of alienating teachers’ unions. None of you, it seems, is prepared to stand up for poor children trapped in poor public schools.

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