As the 2016 Presidential election season continues to develop, Republican presidential candidates are talking more about their stances on education.
Jeb Bush, at a panel discussion sponsored by the American Federation for Children, a group that advocates school vouchers, and The 74, an education news website launched by former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, said the kids who are left behind tend to be young people who live in poverty, mostly African-American and Hispanic kids. When they fail, he said, we blame it on the “social circumstances of their lives.” Bush also stated that he supports annual standardized tests for public school students just as his brother President George W. Bush did.
The New York Times’ Motoko Rich writes that Bush, a former governor of Florida, used one of his brother’s signature phrases when he said, “And that is what a former president called the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations,’ and we should reject that out of hand.”
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said he did not support the federal government overseeing public schools.
“The federal government doesn’t have a very good track record of holding anybody accountable,” he said. “My solution is, I would like to take the money and the power from Washington in education and send it back to the states.”
By saying this, he added, he would be going against some in his own party.
Republicans in the race for president have been divided on the subject of education, and the panel was a testimony to that fact as participants tried to explain how little they would have the federal government involved in public schools; that they were on the side of high standards for the country’s schoolchildren; and that some were backing away from the Common Core, the educational guidelines that have become extremely controversial among teachers, parents, and conservatives.
Both Walker and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie are critical of teachers unions. And for years, Republicans have wanted the federal government to get out of the education business, even as far as abolishing the federal Education Department. But President G. W. Bush’s education law, No Child Left Behind, greatly expanded the role of the federal government by requiring annual standardized tests and ordering interventions for schools that were judged to be failing.
The summit on education took place at a Londonderry, NH high school and was moderated by CNN anchor-turned education reformer Campbell Brown. The American Federation for Children and Brown are backers of expanding access to charter schools and overhauling teacher tenure laws that they say make it too hard to fire a bad teacher.
Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were the only backers of Common Core in the group. Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, says she does not support the Common Core, however, five years ago she praised President Obama for initiating the “internationally benchmarked standards.”
Obama’s Race to the Top called for states to use higher quality, more stringent academic standards, which did not necessarily have to be the Common Core, in exchange for federal dollars. Most states did choose to add Common Core, according to Stephanie Condon of CBS News.
Bush and Fiorina endorsed school vouchers to push competition and innovation in the nation’s school systems. Fiorina touted Nevada’s new law that permits parents to open a K-12 education accounts which would allow their children to take their public funding to whichever school they and their parents choose. The plan is strongly opposed by Democrats and several education organizations, as opponents say this will leave struggling and low-income students in lower-funded schools.
Caitlin Emma of Politico writes that Louisiana Gov. Jindal was behind the Common Core at the start, but is now suing the federal government over the standards. Gov. Chris Christie agreed to the Common Core in 2010, but now denounces the curriculum. The GOP candidates speak often of restoring local control, but Brown asked whether education could be improved if there is no federal role.