The presidential candidates may not be talking much about education so far, but they’ve all had personal experience with it. After all, they were students themselves at one time or another. And the parents among them choose schools—public or private—for their own children.
So what did that experience look like? Did the candidates go to public schools, religious schools, or private schools? Where did they decide to send their own kids? And how much does any of it matter, when it comes to both politics and actual policymaking?
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.
Bennet attended the private Beauvoir School and St. Albans School in Washington, D.C. His children attended a mix of public and private schools.
Former Vice President Joe Biden
Biden attended private Roman Catholic schools, graduating from Archmere Academy in Claymont, Del. His children also attended Archmere.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J.
Booker went to public schools in New Jersey, graduating from Northern Valley Regional High School. He doesn’t have any children.
Montana Gov. Steve Bullock
Bullock and his three children all attended public schools in Helena, Mont.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg went to private schools, including Stanley Clark School, in South Bend, Ind., and St. Joseph’s High School, also in South Bend. He doesn’t have children, but his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, teaches at the private Montessori Academy at Edison Lakes in Mishawaka, Ind.
Julian Castro, former secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Castro, who served as President Barack Obama’s secretary for housing and urban development, graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in San Antonio. He also attended a private Roman Catholic school. His daughter went to the public Oyster-Adams Bilingual School in Washington, D.C.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio
De Blasio graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in Cambridge, Mass., a public high school divided into smaller learning communities. His children attended public schools in New York City, including Brooklyn Technical High School, a city-wide magnet school.
Former Rep. John Delaney, D-Md.
Delaney attended a private Roman Catholic High School, Bergen Catholic High School, in Oradell, N.J. His children went to private schools in the Washington, D.C., area.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii
Gabbard was homeschooled and also attended a girls-only missionary academy in the Philippines. She does not have any children.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Gillibrand attended the Academy of Holy Names, a Roman Catholic all-girls school, and graduated from the private Emma Willard School. Her older son goes to a private boarding school. And both her sons attended Capitol Hill Day School in Washington, D.C.
Former Sen. Mike Gravel of Alaska
Gravel attended Assumption Preparatory High School, a Roman Catholic School in Worcester, Mass. His campaign did not respond to inquiries about where his children attended school.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif.
Harris went to Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif., and graduated from Westmount High School, near Montreal, Canada.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, D-Colo.
Hickenlooper graduated from The Haverford School near Philadelphia. He attended Ardmore Junior High School and Penn Valley Elementary School, both public schools in Pennsylvania. His son attended public schools in Denver.
Gov. Jay Inslee, D-Wash.
Inslee graduated from the public Ingraham High School in Seattle. He also attended other area public schools, including Cascade Junior High School, and Shorewood Elementary School. One son graduated from Bainbridge High School in Bainbridge Island, Wash. The campaign did not respond to inquiries about where his other two sons attended school.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Klobuchar attended public schools outside the Twin Cities, graduating from Wayzata High School in Plymouth, Minn. Her daughter attended public schools in northern Virginia.
Mayor Wayne Messam, of Miramar, Fla.
Messam attended public schools in Florida, and so have his children.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass.
Moulton went to public schools in Massachusetts for elementary and middle school, but attended the private Phillips Academy, in Andover, Mass., for high school. His daughter is too young for school.
Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas
O’Rourke attended two public elementary schools and El Paso High School, before transferring to and graduating from the private Woodberry Forrest High School in Virginia. His three children have attended Mesita Elementary School in El Paso, a public school.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio
Ryan graduated from John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, a private Roman Catholic school.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, Independent from Vermont
Sanders, an independent who organizes with Democrats, went to public schools in New York City, including Brooklyn’s P.S. 197 Elementary School. He graduated from James Madison High School. His campaign did not respond to requests about where his four children went to school.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.
Swalwell attended public schools in Dublin, Calif.—Wells Middle School and Dublin High School. His children are too young to be enrolled in school, public or otherwise.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.
Warren graduated from Northwest Classen High School in Oklahoma City, a public school. Her campaign did not respond to inquiries about where she sent her children.
Marianne Williamson, author
Williamson graduated from Bellaire High School in Houston, a public school. Her campaign did not respond to inquiries about where she sent her daughter.
Andrew Yang, businessman
Yang went to public schools in Somers, N.Y., and graduated from Phillips Exeter, a private boarding school in Exeter, N.H. One of his sons is preschool age and the other attends a private school for students in special education, according to the Yang campaign.
At least 16 candidates—all Democrats—went to public school for at least part of their careers, including Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey; Montana Gov. Steve Bullock; former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro; Sen. Kamala Harris of California; New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio; former Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado; Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington; Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota; Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, Fla.; Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts; former Rep. Beto O’Rourke of Texas; Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont; Rep. Eric Swalwell of California; Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; author Marianne Williamson; and businessman Andrew Yang. Just one—Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii—was homeschooled for part of her career.
And at least 10 candidates have sent at least one child to public school, at one point or another, including Bullock; Castro; de Blasio; Hickenlooper; Inslee; Klobuchar; Messam; O’Rourke; Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo.; and former Massachusetts governor William Weld, a Republican. (These findings come from an Education Week Library analysis of public records and reports. We reached out to other campaigns for missing information and noted when we didn’t hear back.)
Still, among the children of all the current candidates and each of their schools, about half are attending or have attended private schools.
If the next president doesn’t have direct experience with public schools, it would hardly be out of the ordinary. Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush each attended public school for at least part of their careers and sent children to both public and private schools. President Barack Obama went to both public and private schools during his K-12 career, but he sent his own daughters to private school. And President Donald Trump attended private schools his entire career—and sent his kids to them.
How much does a president’s experience with public school matter to policymaking? That’s a tough question to answer, said Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor of education and history at the University of Pennsylvania.
He noted that at least eight presidents had some teaching experience. That’s partly because, back in the 19th century, being a teacher was something you did before going on to other careers, like running a business. Andrew Johnson taught in a one-room schoolhouse for a year, then got tired of preparing lessons and became a lawyer. And Warren G. Harding, who was president in the early 1920s, taught for a year and called it the hardest job he ever had, Zimmerman said.
But during their administrations, education had a relatively small role at the federal level. That changed when another former teacher, Lyndon B. Johnson, took office in 1963. Johnson’s experience teaching at a high-poverty school along the Rio Grande border in Texas had “an enormous effect” on him, said Zimmerman. Johnson pushed for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which passed in 1965 and provided extra federal money to help schools educate poor children. He signed the law at his own one-room schoolhouse in Texas.
That doesn’t mean presidents need to have taught in—or attended—public schools in order to be effective stewards of them, at least in Zimmerman’s opinion.
For instance, he said, Obama made education a focus of his presidency, through Race to the Top, a $4 billion grant program that rewarded schools for adopting certain education redesign priorities.
“Obama himself did not experience public schools” for most of his career “but he certainly thought and cared about them,” Zimmerman said.
Does it matter to the teachers who will be voting in the wide-open Democratic primary?
Joshua Brown, a special education teacher at John H. Francis Polytechnical High School thinks it would be a plus if the next president was a public-school student at some point, but it’s not a must.
“I think they need to understand the major issues in education,” he said. “It’s more how do you want to make our school systems better, and what would you do to achieve that?”
Former Gov. William Weld, R-Mass.
Weld graduated from Middlesex Academy, a private school in Concord, Mass. One of his daughters went to the public Cambridge Rindge & Latin School in Cambridge, Mass. His other children went to the private Milton Academy, in Milton, Mass.
President Donald Trump
Trump attended private schools and sent his own kids to them. He went to elementary school at the Kew-Forest School in Queens. And he graduated from the New York Military Academy in Cornwall-on-Hudson. His five children have attended private schools for their entire K-12 careers. His son Barron currently attends St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Potomac, Md.
But Nate Bowling, a social studies teacher at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, Wash., sees where candidates send their own kids as an important signal of their priorities.
“I think where you choose to send your child says a lot about what you value,” he said. “I think it’s very hard for somebody who wants to become president of the United States to opt out of public education where they are from.”
A version of this article appeared in the June 05, 2019 edition of Education Week as 2020 Presidential Candidates: Where They Went to School