Saturday, February 27, 2016


by Karen Wolfe | PS Connect |

February 26, 2016  ::  At Tuesday night’s CNN Town Hall in South Carolina, public education got a moment on the Democratic primary campaign stage. But was it real?

Reminiscent of Joe the Plumber entering the public realm in 2008’s presidential race, audience member John Loveday was introduced as the principal of a charter school. He asked Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton whether she would support a longer school day or school year to keep up with India and China.

Given the limited attention K-12 schools have received in any of presidential campaigns, education voters were glad for an opportunity to evaluate a K-12 position.

Public education advocates recognize this particular question as a talking point of Democrats for Education Reform, “Third Way” dems who seek to turn public education into a business. They're supported by disruptive innovators poised to receive massive amounts of public money to provide the services. It wasn’t surprising that this question would come from a charter administrator. You can think of it as you would if a fund manager wanting to privatize social security asked a candidate about collecting fees on retirement accounts.

The charter principal claimed that his school was doing something innovative--and he hoped to hear Secretary Clinton declare her support for it--and thereby support for charters.

“My charter school is unique because we are the only school in the state that offers more instructional days than required by law. We offer 230 instructional days versus the traditional 180. If you look at countries like India and China, they offer--they require--their high school students to attend 220 days to attend on average. That’s 40 more than our high school students. Do you think that puts our students at a disadvantage and, if so, how would you work with states to modernize that policy?”

Hillary Clinton answered by explaining that some kids languish when school lets out for the summer. She concluded, “I have said I want to be a good partner for educators and teachers. But I want to help them do what they know they are supposed to do. We need better and fewer tests, not more tests. We need more support in the classroom because a lot of kids come with needs.”

But just like Joe the Plumber shared the spotlight with the candidate years ago, this charter principal deserves some attention, too. Is he helping the kids Clinton describes? Should a presidential candidate support innovations like his?

Well, Loveday is the principal of an online, virtual charter school which boasts that students “can enroll any time of the year. Our self-paced curriculum allows students to graduate early or to take the extra time they need to master a subject.”

So it’s hard to take Loveday at his word when he seems to brag about his school offering more instructional time to give American students an edge. Is his school really just taking advantage of more days of funding? We don’t know for sure.

But the question--and the questioner--underscore something important. With “innovators” like this charter administrator at the mic, we need candidates to show they understand what is really being asked about public education policy. To determine that, we need more education questions to be asked in the first place.

To judge who is most capable of standing up for our schools, we need to know if candidates even understand how much is at stake. For that to happen, this election must include a more vigorous education debate.

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