Little Eddie's Debate Wish List

Tonight’s a big night, my friends. To fully enjoy the spectacle, you’ll need a comfortable couch, plenty of popcorn, and the abilities to suspend disbelief and suppress maniacal laughter. You may also want to have what my dad calls “adult beverages” on hand in case the opportunity for a “drinking game” presents itself. I’m too young to know what either of those things mean, naturally.

No, I’m not talking about another absurd Douglas County school board meeting where the three members of the district’s Toxic Trio attempt to blow up any remaining notion of responsible governance—though that could be pretty entertaining. I’m talking about the presidential debate this evening between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. The event is predicted to draw as many as 100 million viewers. That’s a pretty ridiculous number. So ridiculous, in fact, that I do believe I have a meme for that.

If you are wondering whether my use of Dr. Evil’s likeness hints at my feelings for either candidate, I assure you that it does not. I am far too young to vote on anything other than where to go for dinner with my family. But tightening polls indicate that we could potentially wind up with either of these folks in the White House, and that means we all should have a good understanding of where they stand on important issues. So while I may not be old enough to vote, I’m definitely old enough to be interested in what our presidential candidates have to say about education.

Of course, my interest assumes that they will say anything about education at all. Sadly, what I view as the most important domestic policy field in the nation is too often relegated to a second-tier conversation in presidential races. If education does come up, though, I have a pretty good wish list of things I’d like to hear from each candidate.

For starters, I’d like to hear Mrs. Clinton step even further back from her incorrect anti-charter rhetoric and loudly embrace the power of educational choice to lift disadvantaged students out of poverty and provide all students with the most effective education possible. I know this issue gets tricky, particularly after the dreadfully misguided decision by two national groups representing people of color to denounce and call for a moratorium on public charter schools. But Mrs. Clinton often portrays herself a champion of rational thought and science, and the research on this issue is clear: Charter schools overwhelmingly serve to improve outcomes for minority and low-income students in urban environments nationwide.

Along the same lines, I’d love to see Mrs. Clinton adopt a take on education that is focused on the interests of students rather than built around political pandering to the teachers unions. I understand that politics is politics, and any Democratic presidential nominee will have to be very delicate with his or her relationship with the political titan that is organized labor. But that doesn’t mean we can’t honestly assess problems or work toward progress rather than inertia. Speaking of problems, I’ll award double points if Mrs. Clinton brings up the importance of minimizing the federal role in American education.

As for The Donald, I’d like to hear some specifics on his education plans. He has said that he is supportive of school choice, that it is an effective means of helping underserved populations, and that he plans to put $20 billion per year in federal money toward school choice initiatives designed to help students. But he hasn’t talked in any great detail about how exactly that would work or where that enormous pile of cash would come from. Similarly, he has pledged to end Common Core, but he hasn’t elaborated on how he might go about doing that in light of the fact that states, not the federal government, are and should be the ones to make such decisions.

Mr. Trump hasn’t exactly instilled great confidence in many edu-politics observers. That skepticism extends to some notable folks on the conservative side of the political spectrum who question the feasibility and truthfulness of his promises and wonder aloud whether his education policy would be appreciably different from what we’ve seen since 2001. Tonight is Mr. Trump’s chance to prove that despite his whiplash-inducing position shifts in other policy areas, he means what he says when it comes to education. It’s also his chance to show that he has a clear goal and vision for American education should he win the Oval Office in November. It’s not like he’s hurting for good suggestions or ideas on that front.

I can almost feel my politically minded readers shaking their heads at my naiveté. Don’t worry, I haven’t lost my marbles. My expectation that any of my wish list items will be addressed tonight is exceedingly low. Presidential debates rarely involve detailed policy outlines or risky stances, so it’s far more likely we’ll spend our time listening to vapid rhetoric and insult hurling than anything of good, meaty edu-substance. But hey, this is 2016. Anything’s possible.

No matter who “wins” tonight’s debate or, ultimately, the presidency, you can bet that Little Eddie will be watching.