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“The Education President” by John Edward

John Edward teaches economics at Bentley and UMass Lowell. This is the sixth in a series of columns he has written on economics and the presidential election. Links to his earlier posts may be found at the end of this column.

George H.W. Bush might have been the first candidate to claim he would be the “education president.” He will not be the last. Granted, we cannot hold the President responsible for teaching our children. However, a President can use the power vested in the office to drive, encourage, support, and celebrate those who are responsible.

We need an education president. The United States has a serious shortage of trained workers. Low and stagnant wages are making excessive inequality even worse. As candidate Bush said in 1988, “I want to be the education President, because I want to see us do better.”

Who is more likely to be the education president, Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Their philosophies, their experience, and their words give voters a good sense of what to expect. With whom will we do better?

Trump’s philosophy toward education mirrors his approach to health care – his focus is on competition. In his book Crippled America: How To Make America Great Again he says, “Let schools compete for kids…. Those schools that weren’t good enough to attract students would close, and that’s a good thing.”

As reported by CNN Money, “Donald Trump brags about how well his businesses have fared in bankruptcy. And in fact, no major U.S. company has filed for Chapter 11 more than Trump’s casino empire in the last 30 years.” If schools close because someone judges them to not be competitive, Trump will be bankrupting the future of our children.

On his web site, candidate Trump has only one policy for education. He says he will kill Common Core. Common Core and standardized testing are controversial topics. There are valid concerns regarding an overreliance on teaching to the test.

Trump fails the test of knowing what Common Core is. He refers to it as “education through Washington D.C.” In evaluating that statement as False, Politifact says, “the federal government didn’t help create the standards, and has no control over how they are implemented. Even states that have adopted the standards are still free to set their own curricula.”

Governors, state education leaders, and business leaders initiated Common Core. They recognized the need for consistency across our united states in defining and assessing proficiency. Military families and others who move across state borders appreciate the need for consistency.

What we have learned about Trump University (TU) does not bode well for Trump as the education president. He claimed his University got an A from the Better Business Bureau. A search of archives revealed that TU received grades ranging between A+ and D-, the latter being the last grade recorded, in 2010. Trump’s on-line seminars were by no means a University. Education officials forced him to change the name. Now he is forced to defend his defunct program against two lawsuits claiming TU was guilty of what the New York State Attorney General called “straight up fraud.” An article in The New Yorker titled “Trump University: It’s worse than you think” described Trump as “a businessman who founded and operated a for-profit learning annex that some of its own employees regarded as a giant rip-off…”

Trump supports school vouchers. School vouchers will take money away from schools that are not doing well. That is at least consistent with his if schools close it is a good thing philosophy.

Trump correctly observes that the U.S. spends a lot on education, but as usual he gets the facts wrong. Trump says, “We are number 1 in spending per pupil by a factor of 4.” Politifact says we are not number 1, and “Trump overstated spending by 500 percent.”

Hillary Clinton’s philosophy toward education is reflected in the title of her book, It Takes a Village. “Parents bear the first and primary responsibility for their sons and daughters” but many others contribute to childhood development. “Each community is the best judge of what will work in its schools” but they often need help in setting goals and measuring achievement, and need resources to provide children with a healthy learning environment.

Clinton is in favor of standardized testing, but not an obsession on testing. She says, “I would like to see us do assessments, but understand we need a broad, rich curriculum that honors the spark of learning in every child.”

Clinton is against vouchers. She understands they take money away from public schools. She understands vouchers can violate separation of church and state.

She is calling for universal pre-kindergarten. We will be leaving children behind until we have it.

She is not promoting free college but rather affordable college. She advocates free community college, debt-free public college, and allowing students already in debt to refinance. She is also calling for students to be responsible by working ten hours a week (many of my students already work more than that) and for colleges to be responsible for holding down costs.

The National Educators Association (NEA) endorsed Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primaries, saying:

Clinton is a strong leader who will do what is best for America’s students. For more than four decades, Clinton has fought to make sure all children have a fair opportunity to succeed regardless of their ZIP code. Clinton will continue to advocate on behalf of students, educators and working families because she understands the road to a stronger U.S. economy starts in America’s public schools.

Hillary Clinton taught reading to poor children in the Roxbury section of Boston. She studied at the Yale Child Study Center. She worked for years with the Children’s Defense Fund. She worked on education reform in Arkansas. She enacted education legislation in the U.S. Senate.

The NEA has forcefully criticized Trump’s education credentials. Their assessment for his prospects as the education president is:

Donald Trump’s own forays into higher education don’t inspire any confidence that he would protect the public good that is public higher education.

Trump doubled down on his education positions by selecting Mike Pence as his running mate. Here is what the American Federation of Teachers had to say about Pence:

His extreme obsession with vouchers and tax cuts for the rich [has] starved public schools in Indiana of funding, and helped to create a privatized system of winners and losers. Budgets signed by Pence shifted money away from racially and socio-economically isolated children—kids whose futures most deeply depend on a high-quality public education.

A few years ago The Washington Post published responses to the question “which president was the best for public education?” The question was posed to experts in education, and scholars in political science and history. Lyndon Johnson’s name came up the most. As one respondent observed:

A teacher himself, from a little town in south Texas, President Lyndon B. Johnson made education a national priority more than any other president. Historian and LBJ biographer Robert Dallek noted that he had an ‘almost mystical faith in the capacity of education to transform people’s lives and improve their standard of living.’

Daniel Katz, chair of the Department of Educational Studies at Seton Hall University published an essay on the “Education President.” Katz said:

We won’t have a President who deserves the title ‘The Education President’ until we once again have a public servant in the Oval Office who sets equity of access and equity of resources as primary goals of federal education policy.

More recently he posted “A Teacher’s Case for Hillary Clinton” which makes a detailed and compelling case for Hillary Clinton as that public servant.

An informed voter is our best citizen.

Next up, energy policy – could two candidates be any further apart?

The first column in this series, “The 100 Percent,” appeared on May 16, 2016; The second, “Voodoo Two,” on May 23, 2016; the third. “Paying for the Wall” on June 22, 2016; the fourth, “Trump’s Trade War” on July 5, 2016; the fifth, “Making America Sick Again” appeared on August 16, 2016.

The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum

FDR libraryexterior02

Last week, my wife, Rosemary, and I diverted to Hyde Park, New York, on the way back home from Syracuse University to see the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. The experience was well worth the hour-and-a-half drive south from Albany along the Hudson River and surprisingly relevant. Once you arrive in Hyde Park the main route through town is lined with FDR banners on light poles. The Roosevelt site is on the east bank of the Hudson, high above the river, the views of which have been obscured at the family house level by FDR’s robust conservation and reforestation policy, which the overlook sign text notes as ironic.

Entering the stone Dutch colonial-style library the first big quotation you see high on the wall is this: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”  So much of the New Deal government program displays speak to the current argument about activist vs. laissez-faire public policy—and activist on behalf of the downtrodden and those aspiring to a better life rather than activist in protecting the aristocracy. Maybe it took an aristocrat to say those things, not unlike the Kennedys and old-time Republican Rockefellers in New York and later Democratic Rockefellers in West Virginia. The library, whose public component is a museum with dynamic exhibits about the FDR years, from youth to death, is in a cluster of buildings that includes a modern visitor center and the Roosevelt family home as well as the burial site for Franklin and his wife, Eleanor, so consequential in her own right. There are other buildings on the grounds, such as a hilltop residence that must have a beautiful river view, but we ran out of steam after three hours. The recent Ken Burns film on the Roosevelts had to have been a boost for visitation—there were hundreds of cars on a Friday at 12 noon. All the facilities were top notch, which you want to see at any national park site but especially at a presidential library. We did not go to the sprawling Vanderbilt summer country estate just up the road, another NPS property.

I’m still processing the FDR encounter. In some ways I’m a product of the middle of the 20th century as much as my parents were, mostly because I grew up in a house shaped by their experiences from the 1920s through the ’40s. I showed up in 1954, but really carried their experiences until I was old enough to start adding rings to my own tree that meant something about me.

In the World War II section, Rosemary mentioned that her mother was at Lowell Memorial Auditorium on Sunday, December 7, 1941, when the U.S. Navy ships at Pearl Harbor were attacked by Japanese aerial bombers. The Trapp Family Singers, whose story we know from The Sound of Music and who had left Europe as the Nazis advanced, were on stage in a Moses Greeley Parker Lectures performance. My colleague Dick Howe’s mom was an eight-year-old in the audience and recalls the show being interrupted with an announcement about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I don’t think I’ve ever read an account of that day in Lowell, although in “Atop an Underwood” there is a Kerouac essay about that day, which is called “Search By Night.” In it he describes going for a walk that night, looking at what is going on in the city on that momentous day that changed everything for everyone in Lowell. He has the day’s special-edition newspaper with blaring headlines. There was a special exhibit at the Presidential Library about Pearl Harbor, from lead up through the attack and then the aftermath of conspiracy theories about FDR manipulating the course of history.

The Great Depression section is a clever display using scaffolding to hold up exhibit elements. Every room has a media component, brief and set up in small alcoves that hold about 20 people or on screens that you could stand to look at. There are interactive features like a map that shows Pacific locations the Japanese attacked in the campaign that included Hawaii. There was a reproduction of FDR’s study in the White House, not an Oval Office set up but his private study from what I recall. Around the back of the library is an evocative sculpture of two figures carved from sections of the Berlin Wall after the wall was dismantled. The artwork is a tribute to Roosevelt and Winston Churchill and their partnership during WWII. The Berlin Wall material is a reference to Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in 1946 in Fulton, Kansas, where the matching section of the Wall with figure cut-outs stands. The artist is Churchill’s granddaughter, Edwina Sandys.

berlin wall sculpture

Web photo courtesy of

The grounds are extensive, and the garden around the burial site of Franklin and Eleanor is extraordinary. A hedge of 3.5 -foot-tall zinnias ranging from salmon and lemon to fire-engine red and orange made one side border. Roses had gone by but must have been spectacular early in the summer.

The family home is a country mansion in the style that was popular among wealthy New Yorkers. The place is as it was when the family spent time there, pretty much. Visitors get to see the bedroom in which King George VI and Churchill slept, not at the same time of course.

I had forgotten about the Four Freedoms that became the cornerstone of FDR’s vision after the Axis was defeated. Freedom of speech, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. This could be Hillary’s campaign outline in 2016 and be as relevant today.

Of course it is not all uplifting in reviewing his political life. Japanese-Americans were rounded up and detained at the start of World War II. Jewish refugee children were turned away at New York harbor (despite Lowell’s congresswoman Edith Nourse Rogers and U.S. Sen. Robert Wagner of N.Y. trying to open the American door to them). FDR bullied the Supreme Court. And other items on the “minus” side of the ledger.

At the dedication of the library in 1941, FDR said, “The dedication of a library is in itself an act of faith…A Nation must believe…in the capacity of its own people to learn from the past that they can gain in judgment in creating their own future.”

Ballparks, books and last days of summer by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.


Campaign 2016 has become intolerable, even for this confirmed political junkie. I won’t go into why. You know what I’m talking about. So, in the interest of sanity, it has become increasingly important to savor the baseball, books and beauties of the last days of summer.

lil papiToday, the Red Sox have a tenuous hold on first place, but it has made for a very entertaining season.  While their pitching, especially the bullpen, is sometimes painful, their starters have held their own, and their offense has provided some moments of sheer joy. Which is more than I can say for Donald Trump.

The rabbits in my garden definitely have the upper paw during these last weeks of summer. And who can blame them? Everything is so parched they’re driven to eat in contemptible disregard for the efforts I’ve put into my roses, hostas, blue salvia and more. I’m keeping the manufacturers of Rabbit Scram in business as hope trumps (oops, there’s that man again) experience.

These are the days to wallow in summer reading, and, as I usually do at this time of year, I am herewith passing along a few recommendations. First, to the fiction, to maximize escape from politics.

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah, tells of two sisters in France during the Second World War, their relationship with each other, what strengths they draw from their family, how disparately they respond to war and occupation, and how ultimately they find each other again. It is a powerful story, beautifully written,  about women and war and love.

A Little Life, by Hanya Yonagihara, is long (700+ pages) but, for the most part, riveting. The spine is the lifelong relationship among four college friends, an actor, an artist, an architect, and an attorney. The attorney is totally messed up physically and emotionally by a series of childhood traumas, which are gradually revealed through the book. The story is dark and tragic, and anyone who has followed the news for the last 20 years will find it difficult to put down.  Although some parts get repetitious, it is still a page turner.

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf is a tender story about a loving relationship between two older people (as in, seniors) who find solace in companionship after their spouses have died. The comfort of friendship becomes something deeper as practical (read, family) issues assert themselves. The ending is more poignant than sappy, and it’s well worth a read.

For those who haven’t yet discovered Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels (I was late to the game), this series of four (I’m in the middle of the third) books chronicling a deep and complex friendship between two impoverished girls Southern Italy. It explores their competitive relationship, their dependence on each other, and the incendiary battles among a variety of colorful characters and families a half century ago.  Against the backdrop of Italian politics, class differences and violent clashes between Communists and Fascists, the books raise the question of what is takes to rise above one’s background and develop to full potential. The first is My Brilliant Friend.  Then come The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, and The Story of a Lost Child. As with Yonagihara, Ferrante excels in recording social details.  As soon as the reader completes one of the books, she wants to go on to the next one.

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, author of The Nest,  knows how to tell a good story, but she is not as skillful a writer as any of the previous authors. The Nest is her debut novel, telling of four siblings who have spent their lives waiting for their problems to be solved by receiving their share of their father’s estate, the nest egg. It’s an interesting premise, and the weaving of the siblings’ stories provides intriguing plot lines enough for a 13-part Netflix series. It will hold your attention for a couple of days of beach reading, but really there are so many other places to read about dysfunctional families that The Nest is rather superfluous.

My next blog will reflect on some non-fiction that I’ve read over the last several months. Until then, I wish you extended summer days and hours of pleasurable reading and would appreciate your contributions to this list.

I welcome your comments in the section below and urge you to share recommended reading. To be alerted when a new blog is posted, click on “Follow’ in the lower right portion of your screen.

Lowell Week in Review: August 28, 2016

Back to School Edition

School starts on Tuesday

Add some extra time to your morning commute on Tuesday. Students at Lowell Public Schools start the 2016-17 academic year that day. Besides the dozens of yellow school buses that navigate the city’s roads, the start of school also brings thousands of extra commutes with adults driving children to and from school, staff members heading back to work, and children walking to school. The big difference in morning traffic volume on a school day versus a non-school day is a reminder of the enormous role that education plays in our local economy.

Although the students don’t return until Tuesday, all Lowell Public School teachers and staff head back a day earlier. For them, the school year starts with a mandatory, all-employee gathering at Lowell Memorial Auditorium at 7:30 a.m. this Monday. So if you don’t work for the Lowell Public Schools, be sure to avoid East Merrimack Street early on Monday morning.

At UMass Lowell, residence halls open this weekend and classes begin on Thursday, September 1, 2016. Opening day for Middlesex Community College is Tuesday, September 6, 2016.

While I focus on the Lowell City Council on this website, I have a counterpart who does the same for the Lowell School Committee. She is Amy Bisson, a recently retired elementary school teacher who lives downtown and writes a blog called An Educator’s Journey. After each school committee meeting, Amy writes an excellent account of what took place. She also writes about other issues in education. Please check out her site. For more coverage of Lowell public schools, many of Gerry Nutter’s recent posts have focused on school issues. Social media is also a good place for information about Lowell’s schools. On Twitter, I recommend the official Lowell Public Schools site (@LowellPSD) and also the Lowell Sun’s education reporter, Amelia Pak-Harvey (@AmeliaPakHarvey). (Although I don’t tweet much about the public schools, I’m also on Twitter @DickHowe, so please follow me if you are too, and I’ll reciprocate.)

Lowell High School’s Coburn Hall, viewed from Lucy Larcom Park.

Lowell High School addition

As Amy Bisson reported on her blog, the Lowell School Committee received a report on the Lowell High School addition process at its last meeting. The report is available in the midst of the 212 page school committee packet (starting on page 40).

Several timelines for the high school addition appear beginning on page 70. Because these documents are intended for decision-makers, architects, engineers, and others intimately involved in the process, they are understandably heavy on jargon and acronyms. From what I can comprehend, there will be a three day “kick-off meeting” this September; the “Preferred Schematic Report” which I take to mean the recommendation as to the site of the school (i.e., the existing location or a new one) is to be submitted by February 9, 2017; the Schematic Design, which I think is the process of designing the school itself, begins in May 2017 and ends in March 2018; state review of the design occurs between December 2017 and March 2018; the bid process occurs in the early part of 2019; and construction begins in April 2019 and is completed in April 2022.

The timeline on big government construction projects like this one tend to slip, but everything else about this Lowell High School addition has been ahead of schedule, so I wouldn’t be surprised it that rapid pace continues.

Lowell Community Charter Public School on Jackson St.

Charter Schools

On Friday, the Sun reported on the grand opening of the new Collegiate Charter School of Lowell facility at 1857 Middlesex Street. The school came into existence three years ago but has used temporary sites since then. The CCSL, which for now has kindergarten through sixth grade, joins Lowell Community Charter Public School on Jackson Street, and Lowell Middlesex Academy Charter School, a high school associated with Middlesex Community College and located at 67 Middle Street, as the city’s three charter schools.

Charter schools will be in the news for the next 70+ days since there will be a referendum question about them on the state election ballot this November:

Questions 2. Charter School expansion. “The question, if approved, would let state education officials approve up to 12 new charter schools a year.”

A “yes” vote supports this proposal.

A “no” vote opposes this proposal.

Although it is a presidential election year, there are no statewide races on the ballot in November which means the ballot questions may get more attention than usual. The Charter School referendum will certainly attract a lot of money in support of both sides of the issue.

The other three questions on the November ballot are Question 1, which would allow the State Gaming Commission to issue an additional slots-only casino license; Question 3, which would prohibit certain methods of farm animal containment; and Question 4, which would legalize recreational marijuana for individuals at least 21 years old.

Highlight of downtown tour for these UML students: meeting Dick Eklund. They all had seen “The Fighter”

Lowell as a College Town

This summer, I’ve written frequently about Lowell’s supposed aspiration to be a college town. This week, the concept becomes a reality when the students return for the fall semester. UMass Lowell is doing its part to introduce its students to its host city. For example, all incoming freshmen in the Honors Program, regardless of major, are required to take a seminar called “Text in the City.” Here’s the description of the course from the UMass Lowell catalog:

The First Year Seminar in Honors (FYSH) uses Lowell as its text. Rich in history and culture, and the students’ home for the next four years, the City of Lowell offers a perfect topic to promote connections while learning how to view the city through the lens of the Humanities. Students will develop library research skills, including facility with primary and secondary sources, and an appreciation for the narratives that lie in buildings, objects, and what people leave behind. Activities include field trips, readings, writing, and an artistic interpretation. As important, students will have the opportunity to form strong connections to each other, to the faculty, and to the community.

There are dozens of sections of this course, taught by a variety of instructors. All seek to get the students out of the classroom and into the city at the very start of their college careers.

And on this coming Thursday, September 1, UMass Lowell is holding a “Welcome Back Night” for students, staff and faculty in downtown Lowell from 4 pm until 8:30 pm. There will be guided walking tours, a scavenger hunt, discounts at downtown businesses, and a social at Mill No. 5, all to coincide with the special lighting of the canals at Swamp Locks (which is just beyond Mill No. 5 on Jackson Street).

Swamp Locks – scene of the great canal lighting event on Thursday, Sept 1 at 7:40 pm

Lowell Walks

Thanks to Lowell National Park Superintendent Celeste Bernardo for leading our final Summertime Saturday Walk yesterday. The walk drew 135 people who learned much about the early history of the National Park in Lowell.

While yesterday’s was the last Summertime Saturday tour, we have a full schedule of Lowell Walks for this fall. All are mentioned in a blog post I did yesterday, and all appear on our blog calendar, visible in the left column of this site.

The first of these walks will take place this coming Thursday night (September 1, 2016) as part of Downtown Lowell First Thursdays. The tour will begin at 6 pm at Lowell National Park Visitor Center, 246 Market Street, and will provide a comprehensive view of the Lowell canals and the mills they powered. The walk will end at Swamp Locks in time for the special lighting of the canals and all the festivities associated with that. If you can’t make the walk, please come to Swamp Locks for 7:40 pm to see the lights.

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