Clearly, federal education policy is a presidential election issue. As the candidates make their pitches to citizens in the coming months, we’ll see where they stand on the particulars. But we already have a sense as to where things are headed.
This past weekend, Mike Huckabee appeared at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Summit, and came out strongly in favor of ending the Department of Education, stating:
Do you think they honestly can make a better decision about what happens in the classrooms in your community than the people who were elected as your local school board can? Ultimately the best decisions on education and the most important ones are made by mom and dad, so we ought to empower mothers and fathers to make decisions. But we certainly shouldn’t give the government the power to do it at the federal level. We should end the Department of Education at the federal level.
Even Jeb Bush has walked back his support for a federal role in education. While speaking to a crowd in New Hampshire, Bush stated:
Here’s what we don’t need: we don’t need the federal government involved in this at all. We don’t need—Lamar Alexander and his counterpart actually, a Democrat, have just passed out of committee the reauthorization of the K-12 law, and in that provision, with my total support and encouragement, they have provisions that say that the federal government should not be involved indirectly or directly in the creation of standards, of curriculum, and of content. And that’s exactly the proper place for the federal government: to stay completely out of this. But that means that states and local communities have an obligation to raise the bar up.
But what are their views on the far-reaching No Child Left Behind reauthorization bill, co-sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander and Patty Murray, that made its way through the Senate education committee? After all, NCLB is the font of the Common Core controversy, the Opt-Out movement, and the growing citizen and state pushback against the federal government.
The Senate education committee unanimously passed the Alexander-Murray bill, and it now goes before the full Senate. The bill continues the federal dictate that states test children once a year in math and English in grades 3-8 and at least once in high school. And it would require that at various times children take standardized tests in science as well.
So do the GOP and Democratic presidential candidates believe that the federal government should be in the business of telling the states how often and in what subjects children should be tested? Or do they think that such decisions should be made by the people of the states? Perhaps, for example, the people of a particular state want to dial back the teach-to-the-test pressures of the federal dictates and instead spend more time on actual instruction.
For that matter, do the candidates believe that states should be able to opt-out of participation in the federal Department in return for, say, their share of Department funding?
Now is the time for the candidates to start expressing the particulars and, as for those who are in the Senate, now is the time for them to start working on floor amendments to the NCLB reauthorization bill.
Emmett McGroarty is the executive director of APIA Education.