During the Republican and Democratic conventions, The Hechinger Report will publish a new story each day, examining what the party proposals might mean for the future of education. Our staff reporters will provide education coverage from Cleveland and Philadelphia.
Education got only the briefest mention in Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention in Cleveland on Thursday.
“We will rescue kids from failing schools by helping their parents send them to a safe school of their choice,” he said.
He also blamed the current administration for failing the inner cities when it comes to education and warned that Hillary Clinton would allow in too many immigrants who would “overwhelm your schools and hospitals.”
Trump’s speech mirrored the rest of the convention in that it was focused more on foreign threats, the economy and the dangers of a Hillary Clinton presidency than anything else. Education policy was mentioned by only a handful of speakers.
Those who did talk about education either listed it as something Donald Trump would “fix” when he became president, called for more parental say in where children attend school or expressed disgust with the Common Core State Standards, a set of math and English learning targets currently used in 42 states.
The Trump sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, made the most substantial remarks on education. Eric Trump said his father finds the state of the American education system humiliating and told teachers “forced to walk through metal detectors” that his father was “running for you.” His brother had even stronger language to describe what he sees as the failure of the American public education system.
“Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class,” Donald Trump Jr. said. “Now, they’re stalled on the ground floor. They’re like Soviet Era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers; for the teachers and the administrators and not the students.
All of Trump’s adult children attended private primary and secondary schools.
The most high-profile, and most confusing, remark on education policy came from the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, who, referring to his fellow Republican senators, said “We’ve already passed the first major education reform in more than a decade and ended Common Core.”
[American schools are] like Soviet Era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers; for the teachers and the administrators and not the students. Donald Trump, Jr.
He didn’t elaborate during his speech, but “first major education reform” can only be a reference to the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed in December 2015, which replaced the George W. Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act as the law of the land for federal government policy. The act returns much of the authority for testing and accountability to states, a move that Democrats and Republicans in Washington largely agreed on.
However, the new law does not “end Common Core,” which is regulated by individual states and not the federal government.
Some, in both parties, have accused the Obama administration of forcing the adoption of the Common Core by tying money from competitive grant programs to having high quality standards, which was widely understood to mean Common Core State Standards. When asked for clarification, a McConnell staff member seemed to point to this argument by citing several of the majority leader’s previous statements on education, such as, in reference to the Every Child Succeeds Act: “It’s a bipartisan bill that would end the practice of states being coerced into adopting measures like Common Core.”
The new Act does effectively end that practice. It explicitly limits the ability of the federal government to require specific standards or curricula “as a condition of eligibility to receive funds under this Act.”
Thursday night, Republican National Committee’s chairman Reince Priebus went a step further in explicitly framing education reform as a partisan issue in his remarks. “Democrats want to put labor union bosses in charge of our schools, limit our choices and feed our kids a steady diet of their leftwing propaganda,” he said. “We know every child matters and the classroom is not an assembly line.”
Ted Cruz, Newt Gingrich, Ivanka Trump and Melania Trump also mentioned education in passing, but none said anything about specific policy proposals. Vice Presidential nominee and Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who has made education a regular talking point in his home state, did not mention education in his nomination acceptance speech.
This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education.