Experts Look Into the Crystal Ball of the Next Administration’s Ed Policy

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One presidential and vice presidential debate later, the American public has still not heard much from the candidates about U.S. education. The word ‘education’ was mentioned only a handful of times during these prime-time events, leading many of us to wonder: How will a Clinton or Trump administration impact U.S. education?

To answer questions that the candidates have eluded in recent conversations, EdSurge sat down with some Washington, D.C. insiders who have ideas about where the puck might head under both potential administrations.

EdSurge Managing Editor Tony Wan moderated an online conversation between Whiteboard Advisors Senior Advisor Andy Rotherham, former North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue and Gerard Robinson of the American Enterprise Institute.

While the future will remain uncertain even beyond Nov. 8 (Who will the president-elect choose as the next Secretary of Education?), the experts agreed that equity, access and accountability will define the next four years of education policy. Here’s what they had to say:

On early childhood education

Everyone loves babies. All panelists affirmed that support for Pre-K programs is a nonpartisan issue. Both candidates have offered plans—to varying degrees of detail—about their support. The Obama administration has committed $1 billion to expand preschool services, and early childhood education has been a defining characteristic of Secretary Clinton’s career.

Where policy might differ is in the regulation of such programs, Robinson added. While Clinton might push for standards in how to regulate these programs, Trump is likely to push for more accountability in states, such as Florida and Oklahoma, that receive a large portion of federal funding for preschool, Robinson said.

On the Common Core

Trump has called the Common Core standards “a very bad thing.” Clinton expressed concerns over their implementation but remains supportive of national benchmarks. All three experts agreed that Common Core is currently more of a state issue than a federal one at this point. Some states that have withdrawn from the consortium have written their new standards that closely resemble the Common Core, Rotherham noted.

“The bigger issue is: How do you continue to have accountability when the assessment market is slightly more consolidated, but idea that they were going to have all this comparable data has gone out the window?” Rotherham said. “I think it’s going to play out at state level.”

On the Every Student Succeeds Act

Purdue compared the future of ESSA to looking into a crystal ball, since the proposed rules for the K-12 education policy have yet to take effect. She said there will be opportunity for de-federalization no matter who’s in the White House. “We’re going to have 50 laboratories in the end with no federal mandate—but some regulations.”

ESSA will likely require districts and states to report more rigorously on spending and student achievement data, which in turn will create opportunities for companies and entrepreneurs to help, according to Purdue. Robinson agreed, adding that ESSA opens up new doors for education service providers who can “can come to the table to help states put together one- or two-year plans to make this work.”

Rotherham added that since ESSA puts restrictions on what the federal government can do, “from both administrations you’re going to see workarounds for what they want to get done.”

On big data

Experts agreed that any incoming president will have to address the potential for data to improve accountability for schools. Purdue added that “a lot of schools, teachers and administrators are so busy trying to do their daily work that they don’t think about how the data they’re gathering could be used to augment student learning and personalization.” There is also a huge problem with procurement—schools know the tools exist to help them sort through and use data more efficiently, but they struggle to find and implement them.

Robinson said a Trump administration might push for more partnerships between businesses and districts, citing Apple’s contracts with school districts as an example.

On higher education

Clinton has proposed free tuition at public colleges and universities for students whose families earn less than $125,000 annually. Trump has been critical of the government profiting off of student loans but has said little about how he’d make college more affordable.

Rotherham says for-profit colleges will be a “flashpoint” between the two parties. “Clinton has talked about cracking down on for-profit colleges. If she wins I’d pay attention to that issue.”

All experts agreed that the next administration will have to consider that college student demographics have changed significantly. Students are older, working full- or part-time and increasingly logging into class from their computers and phones instead of walking to a lecture hall. “Both candidates have to look at a demographic who won’t go to campus as much,” Robinson said. “Edtech companies can help us think smartly and differently about delivering education.”


The conversation ended with speculation about who might take the Secretary of Education position under the next administration. No names were offered, although all panelists agreed that it will be someone who has a record of brokering bipartisan deals and partnerships. Likely, the next secretary will be someone who focuses on higher education. For Trump, the pick might be someone from the business or philanthropic sector, Robinson said. Purdue thinks it might be a governor.

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