Election 2016: Where Does Education Fit?

From national security and international relations to the economy and jobs, there’s been no shortage of policy discussions and news from candidates in the 2016 presidential election. However, with the focus on these large topics, and the candidates themselves, it can be easy to lose the specific candidate platforms on less-discussed areas including U.S. education.

Each candidate has a defined stance on some or all areas of education in the United States, from early childhood care to college affordability. For example, candidates Donald Trump and Gary Johnson are concerned with giving states many of the responsibilities for deciding curricula and standards, while Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein have platforms that support tuition-free college for at least some students at some schools.

Understanding the specifics of each candidate’s prospective education policy is important for students, teachers, parents, and school administrators before heading to the polls this November. Although education policy may not make the headlines or stump speeches as often as other topics, it has a tangible impact on millions of Americans every day.

Who Are The Major Players?

The 2016 U.S. presidential election includes Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican candidate Donald Trump from the two major political parties as well as two “third party” candidates, Jill Stein of the Green Party and Gary Johnson from the Libertarian Party.


As a former U.S. Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, senator of New York, and First Lady of the United States, Hillary Clinton is a familiar name and face for many Americans. Eight years after a failed presidential bid in 2008, Clinton captured the Democratic nomination in the summer of 2016. Clinton was born in Illinois and graduated from Wellesley College for an undergraduate degree. After college, she studied at Yale Law School where she met her future husband Bill Clinton and became a lawyer. Since Yale, Clinton has been a social activist, a practicing lawyer, the first lady of Arkansas and the U.S., and a politician and public servant in her own right.

Like Clinton, Donald Trump has been well known in America long before the 2016 primaries. Trump, famous for his real estate empire, best-selling books, and television shows, won the 2016 Republican nomination in the summer after defeating a large number of Republican hopefuls. New to politics, Trump graduated from the Wharton School at Pennsylvania University before following in his father’s footsteps by becoming involved in New York real estate. A number of hotels, golf courses, and buildings bear Trump’s name around the world.

Jill Stein, a practicing physician, is the only repeat nominee running for president in 2016. Stein’s first step into politics was running as the Green-Rainbow Party nominee for Governor of Massachusetts in 2002 where she lost to Mitt Romney. Since then, Stein has been the face of the Green party, which fights for environmental causes, healthier communities, grassroots democracy, and “green” economic policies. Stein also ran for president in 2012 and has set the record as the woman who has received the most votes for president of the United States.

As the Republican governor of New Mexico from 1994-2003, Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson has the most executive experience among the four candidates. As governor, Johnson was well known for his frequent vetoing of bills. His current platform for president includes running the government like a business, reducing taxes, and fiscal conservatism. Johnson is an avid outdoor adventurer and has climbed Mount Everest. He also has been a successful businessman in New Mexico for more than 20 years.

The Issues – Where Do They Stand on Education?

A main talking point in the primary elections, educational issues are among the most important issues for American voters. College affordability, student debt, and free tuition are major education topics today, but they’re far from the only ones.

The Common Core testings standards continue to be major political polarizers, especially in the legacy of No Child Left Behind. Candidates disagree about what the Common Core should be, how it should be accomplished, and who should be in charge of educational standards in general.

Additionally, free or affordable pre-school, free market school options such as charter schools, and equal opportunity in high schools all are major political issues for the 2016 race. Analyze each candidate’s platforms to learn more about which stances they’ve taken on specific issues or which policies may emerge during their prospective administrations.

Hillary Clinton has the most educational policies among the candidates. For kindergarten through 12th grade, Clinton advocates improving teaching itself. By moving away from using test scores as an indicator of teaching success, Clinton argues for better and more “modern” teaching techniques for educating English-language learners, disabled students, and all students for the modern economy. Clinton also advocates for computer science education in K-12 and improved educational infrastructure.

For college and higher education, Clinton’s platform states that students should be able to graduate from a state university or college debt-free, or attend community college tuition free. She also wants a greater investment in minority education resources, among other improvements.


Trump has made a number of statements on education in speeches during the primaries, which define his stance on a variety of issues. As reported by Forbes magazine, Trump wants to drastically reduce the size of the Department of Education and get rid of the Common Core in favor of local control over standards and education generally. Trump has also voiced the need for improvement in school infrastructure among the other infrastructure needs.

Jill Stein’s platform is defined by her “Power to the People Plan“, which addresses education as well as increased renewable energy and healthcare. Stein lists education as a “right” in her plan, along with jobs and healthcare. Her plan guarantees tuition-free education for all from pre-school through college. It advocates the abolition of “high stakes testing” and is against the privatization of public schools. Stein also wants to get rid of current student debt on those who are in college or have already gone to college to “free a generation of Americans from debt servitude.”

Former Gov. Johnson’s views on education follow the libertarian ideology closely. He is in favor of states retaining the power over education rather than the federal government and has said that the Department of Education should be abolished, Forbes reported. He is in favor of using the free market concept of competition for improving schools. As governor, he argued for a voucher program to allow students more freedom in choosing their education opportunities.

What’s at Stake?

Every aspect of these policy platforms on education, from wanting to get rid of testing as a teacher success indicator to abolishing the Department of Education, could lead to real life changes for America’s teachers, students, and administrators, making the 2016 election particularly important for them. Once elected, presidents have the power to appoint a Secretary of Education and push for specific legislation in Congress that could change everything from standards to funding. As the National Education Association noted, many teachers around the U.S. are concerned about the outcome of this race and its implications.


  1. courses

    September 23, 2016 at 11:12 am

    Thanks for your awesome effort to make online education more useful!

  2. Kayela Wallace

    October 2, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Loved this article! Great insight into the upcoming election. It was refreshing to look at this from an Educational standpoint. As a future teacher, this is very important to me.

    • Carol Epstein

      October 20, 2016 at 12:54 pm

      I’ve been a school teacher for 30 years. I find it appalling that a company that I pay money to oversee my schools tuition thinks its OK to push there personal political agenda on a platform such as this. Hillary Clinton will be a nightmare for the educational system in this country and FACTS has an absolute nerve to push their agenda to their customers.
      THIS MUST STOP!!!!
      No matter what your personal political beliefs are, companies like this have no right to send out biased agendas and propaganda as such. I am going to my board today to look into other companies to handle our business. I’m so disgusted with our society today.
      What ever happened to our freedom.

      • Alyssa Edwards

        October 21, 2016 at 9:28 am

        *their – As a teacher, you should probably learn the difference between their, they’re and there.

        Also, I’m not sure where you see “FACTS” at. Private companies have the right to say whatever they want, and to support any cause they choose. Political or otherwise.

        Freedom isn’t limited to you and your poor grammar.

  3. Jori K

    October 3, 2016 at 2:16 pm

    Great job of summarizing the points of each political leader – this was really helpful to read about both education and politics in one article. It’s important to be knowledgeable about this information.