In the heat of a competitive 2016 presidential primary season, candidates are vying to present their ideas in early-voting states like Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.
Primary elections are one of the best opportunities for voters to see what their candidates are really made of. Primaries force the candidates to grapple for a vote in a common party, and candidates (there are 17 in the GOP field) have to work overtime to distinguish themselves from their opponents, despite their largely-shared party ideals. This summer’s 2015 Education Summit in New Hampshire gave several presidential hopefuls a chance to do just that.
Education policy has been contentious in the 2016 election, and several candidates have already exchanged verbal shots on the subject, most recently at August’s Fox News debate. The one-minute snippets from the debate were revealing. And now this series of education summits has given the candidates 45 minutes to elaborate on their policies in finer detail.
The most recent summit was hosted by The Seventy Four and sponsored by the American Federation for Children, a school choice advocacy organization. Candidates were asked about relevant education issues, such as the Common Core State Standards, universal pre-K, and higher education reform.
As you might expect, forty-five minutes of talk gave us a goldmine in understanding where candidates stand on certain issues. In this two-part series, we will show you the parts of the summits that homeschoolers should keep an eye on regarding education policy.
You can follow along with the videos of the summits here. We’ve also included timestamps so you can track along. Not all of the candidates attended the New Hampshire summit, but here’s a list of the attendees, and the videos from their segments:
Jeb Bush: Video
Carly Fiorina: Video
John Kasich: Video
Scott Walker: Video
Bobby Jindal: Video
Chris Chistie: Video
HSLDA believes that education should be left to parents and state and local governments that are attuned to the needs of their students. Centralized federal standards, such as the Common Core, try to impose a one-size-fits-all approach on education. For more information about the Common Core, check out HSLDA’s Common Core Microsite >>
“We put in the budget language that removes the requirement for any school district in the state of Wisconsin to have to abide by or live under Common Core Standards. And we took away the funding for what’s called the Smarter Balance test, so it that it wasn’t directly tied to something dictated by Common Core Standards, and said it’s up to local school districts … I want high standards, I just want them set by people at the local level by people who have to be accountable: school board members that have to be accountable to parents, and teachers, and citizens right back in their own communities.” (23:05)
“Higher standards, along with real accountability and school choice and ending social promotion, and teacher effectiveness plans, and rewarding teachers for continuous improvement in student learning—all of that together yields rising student achievement. And the whole objective needs to be about rising student achievement to deal with the skills gap and the challenge that we face, where a third of our kids, after we spend more per student than three countries, ends up not being college- or career-ready. In my mind, the debate needs to be broader; it needs to be about real accountability, school choice, high standards. If people don’t like Common Core, fine. Just make sure your standards are much higher than the ones you had before.” (16:33)
“Look, I liked the concept of what I thought Common Core was going to be. We were told voluntary, locally controlled, high standards. Now who’s against that? … This is what Common Core has become instead. I have two main objections to Common Core. The first is that philosophically, I’ve never believed in a federal government role in making curricula or other decisions that should be done at the local and at the state level. So now you have the government using No Child Left Behind waivers (over 40 states have waivers, by the way) or funding our own tax dollars to tell states, ‘You’ve got to adopt these standards or you don’t get your own dollars.’” (18:12)
“Common Core was like Obamacare—you had to pass the bill before you knew what was in it.” (19:25)
“If you want to send your place to a school that teaches Common Core, I’m not saying you shouldn’t have the right to do it. I’m saying the federal government shouldn’t force it in our classrooms. That’s the premise of choice and competition. If you want to send your child to that school, fine. But don’t send my child to it.” (23:57)
“Governor of Georgia Sonny Perdue (and by the way, you don’t get elected Governor of Georgia if you’re a liberal) got together with another governor before I became governor, and they said that students across the country ought to have the same opportunities at a high education with high standards. They brought in school officials, state of education officials, and education experts, and they created a set of standards. In my state, we had lower standards. Massachusetts, our neighbor here, they pushed very high standards. Their students are doing very well in Massachusetts. So I look at this, and if you have a low bar, everybody gets to jump over. You have a Lake Woebegone—everybody’s getting an A. And then we get to graduation, and 40% aren’t ready for college.
“What I believe in Ohio is that we should have high standards, and the curriculum to meet high standards needs to be developed by local school boards, with parental advisors. I don’t write the standards, President Obama doesn’t write the standards or curriculum. We have the high standards as established where we should go, and we do it only in math and in English. And the bottom line is that we have high standards with school boards writing the curriculum to meet the higher standards with parental advisory.
“I think that’s pretty good, because I don’t support Washington. I have a whole lot of thoughts about Washington. I was there in the 90’s, when we tried to eliminate the Department of Education. I was the chairman of the budget committee. There is no substitute for higher standards and a way to make sure local school boards are involved, that parents are involved, and at the end of the day we have some testing to figure out how kids are doing. If other states don’t want to do that, that’s fine. But if I were president, I would want to travel across the country to state legislatures, telling them about the laboratories of change in each of the states.” (21:00)
“A bureaucracy, by nature, will standardize and systematize. They won’t standardize goals; they will standardize methods. Common Core may have started out as a set of standards, but what it’s turned into is a program that is being overly-influenced by companies that have something to gain—testing companies and text books companies. It’s becoming a set of standards not on what a kid has to learn, but how a teacher has to teach, and how students should learn. That kind of standardization is always going to drive achievement down, and not up.” … (8:00)
“We started with something that made sense and it has turned into a complex, bureaucratic program, with money attached, that has gone far beyond the original objectives.” (13:20)
[Asked about why he’s backed away from his previous support on Common Core]
“I did back away [from Common Core]. It doesn’t work. I tried four years of Common Core in New Jersey. It was being implemented when I became governor by Governor Corzine. I felt like this started with the nations’ governors, it’s a good idea, let’s have high standards, let’s have some commonality. This makes some sense, let’s try it. Well, then Race to the Top came and required certain things. The federal government required more things. And what happened was three constituencies in my state hate Common Core: teachers, parents, students. Well, you know, after a while, I mean, I stuck with it, I fought for a while against those constituencies, and said you know what, give it time let’s give it time to see if it works, let’s not jump to conclusions. I did it for four years.” (24:39)
“I’ve learned as Governor, that leadership is just as much about listening as about talking. And I listened over four years, at a hundred and thirty- plus town hall meetings to complaints about Common Core, and they finally got my attention. That’s why I changed.” (29:39)
Except for Ohio Governor John Kasich, all the other candidates shied away from talking about early education programs—but that does not mean it will not turn into a central issue as the 2016 campaign cycle rolls on.
Federal involvement in early education ignores the fact that parents are best equipped to educate their children when they are kept free from burdensome regulations. By incentivizing states to adopt early education programs, parents will be pressured to turn over the education of their youngest children to expansive federal pre-kindergarten programs. This pressure to increase enrollment in early education programs will spill over into homeschool rights, and will make it harder for parents to teach their kids at home without government interference.
We have early childhood education—it’s very expensive. I think you all probably know that in New Hampshire. It’s expensive, but it’s vital, because those brains are fertile and we can’t let them shut down. So we are expanding early childhood education, and we’re bringing the standards up in Ohio so that the early childhood education, more or less, is going to be equal on a higher and higher standard.” (18:13)
Candidate statements signal changing winds in education politics
Each of the presidential candidates interviewed in the New Hampshire Summit touted their plans to make education local. That’s big news, considering that Common Core and local education was hardly even mentioned during the 2012 election cycle.
As federal involvement in education continues to grow at a breakneck pace, it will continue to be important for our elected leaders to give the power of educational decision-making back to parents and state and local governments. This type of dialogue on changing the current negative status quo of centralized educational overreach is an important first step in the job of empowering parents to decide what is best for educating their kids.
Admittedly, not all of the statements on Common Core were perfect. But as this dialogue over the future of our country continues, it is crucial that homeschoolers and other concerned citizens continue to advocate for ideas that will help protect their educational freedom and cut back on the dangerous, top-down attitude that federal involvement in education has taken.
— Andrew Mullins
Photo Credit: Graphic design by Andrew Mullins.