Top 5 Things to Listen for in the Primary Debates
June 25, 2019
This week, the qualifying Democratic Candidates will converge for a night of debate as they work to differentiate themselves among a crowded primary pool. While there will be many important issues discussed, one way the candidates can stand out is through strong education policy that will help move educational equity forward across our country. Below are the top 5 questions we’re asking to see who is serious about improving outcomes for students.
1. Who will offer a solution to school finance inequity, which is arguably the biggest civil rights issue in education outside of school desegregation?
There are significant within-district inequities in per-pupil spending, driven in large part by seniority-centered teacher pay and placement policies. These discrepancies are exacerbated by direct federal grant aid formulas that discriminate against low-income children in the South, West, and rural areas. And federal tax expenditures in support of K-12 education, that are larger than direct federal aid, are sharply regressive by income.
2. Who isn’t just talking about increasing teacher pay, but who is looking to improve teacher preparation?
Several of the 2020 candidates have discussed increasing teacher pay. Boosting teacher salaries across the board is a strong start, but candidates’ plans should include a pay differential to attract and retain high-quality teachers in our highest-need subjects (e.g., ESL, special education, STEM) and under-resourced schools. Thus far, candidate proposals have also neglected to address how to better support teachers in the classroom. A study released last year found that 68 percent of teachers thought their preparation programs placed too much emphasis on theory and not enough on classroom-ready skills.
3. Will any candidate go beyond the applause line of free college or student loan forgiveness to matters of equity and quality in higher education?
When it comes to higher ed, the three words to listen for are cheaper, fairer, and better. Almost all 2020 college affordability proposals are directed at the price families pay during and after enrollment, rather than the cost of education to families and taxpayers. Candidates haven’t yet weighed into how they would hold colleges and universities accountable for admitting, and graduating, their fair share of low-income and minority students—an area where our nation’s elite universities have failed miserably. And few have paid attention to the near 50 percent college dropout rate, never mind the knowledge and skill levels of those who do graduate.
4. Which candidates are above politicizing education and are serious about investing resources to help all public-school students receive the highest quality education?
Public charter schools provide choice to low-income communities—particularly communities of color—who have too long been denied the opportunity to choose which public school will best serve their child. Our best urban public charter schools provide students with the equivalent of three to five months of additional learning time in math and reading as compared to what they would have received otherwise. Candidates—like Sen. Sanders whose state of Vermont doesn’t have a single public charter school—don’t understand the critical role public charter schools fill in communities across our country.
5. Who will introduce bold and innovative ideas to improve student outcomes?
Over the past few years, states have written and began to implement new accountability plans based upon the unique needs of their communities. While we’re still in the early days of implementing these plans, listen for bold and innovative ideas for how the federal government could incentivize continued improvements.
We’ll be listening, and following along with our Education Reform BINGO cards. Join us!
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