Although the progressive education establishment (which includes Republicans such as Sen. Lamar Alexander) insists that the Common Core issue is fading and won’t affect the election, the question of the national standards — with all its ancillary issues — refuses to die.
For her part, Hillary Clinton continues to declare her fealty to the idea of uniform national standards. In an interview with Newsday, Clinton reiterated, “[W]hat I want to do, again, just like you were talking about Common Core and to set some standards, we need to have a common set of standards by which we judge all the schools, all the public schools, traditional, charter, magnet, whatever we call them.” Clinton also repeated the duplicitous talking points to the effect that Common Core was a state-led effort, that the standards are internationally benchmarked and will allow us to compare U.S. students’ performance to that of other nations’ students, etc.
Clinton’s bottom line seems to reflect the long-ago counsel of famous school-to-worknik Marc Tucker, who believed (and believes) that centralized power in the hands of education “experts” is the answer to all education and economic problems.
But perhaps in a nod to the fever-pitch opposition to Common Core in New York, Clinton did admit that the implementation of the standards left something to be desired. “I think the roll-out was disastrous. I think the way they rolled out the Common Core and the expectation you can turn on a dime… They didn’t even have, as I’m told, they didn’t even have the instructional materials ready. They didn’t have any kind of training programs. Remember a lot of states had developed their own standards and they’d been teaching to those standards. And they had a full industry that was training teachers to understand what was going to be tested. And then along comes Common Core and you’re expected to turn on a dime. It was very upsetting to everybody.”
Thus, like a good socialist who insists that socialism really, really, really would work if only if it were implemented properly, Clinton appears ready to double down on disaster by merely changing the implementation strategy.
On the other side of the aisle, and perhaps on a different planet, EdWeek analyzed Sen. Ted Cruz’s education policy. Cruz promises to abolish both Common Core and the U.S. Department of Education (USED). EdWeek scoffs at both promises but misses the big picture. The point isn’t whether the president would be able to snap his fingers and make Common Core disappear — he couldn’t, because Obama’s federal incentives and coercion have built such a structure that states hesitate to dislodge the standards for fear of losing federal money and perks. What Cruz is saying is that he will attempt to dismantle that structure, by increasing state control (via block grants, etc.) and abolishing USED. The latter is a tall order — ask Ronald Reagan — but at least Cruz recognizes the problem and promises to address it.
Cruz’s recognition of the structural problem is also illustrated by his opposition to the recently rammed-through Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), a statist monstrosity that, despite the propaganda, actually increases intrusive federal control over education.
Less praiseworthy is Cruz’s advocacy of school choice (through charters and vouchers) and “portability” of federal funding (mandating that the funding follow the child so that parents can use the allocated funds for other education options, such as private schooling). The fundamental problem with his pushing these policies is that the federal government has no legitimate authority to make, or to incentivize the states to make, such decisions.
If a state wants to allow charters or implement a voucher program or portability, it should be within the state’s purview to research the issue and adopt whatever strategy is right for that state. Arguments pro and con could be addressed to state and local decision-makers, and each state would truly become a “laboratory” that would serve as an example, either good or bad, to other states.
But just as the federal government under President Obama had no constitutional right to herd states into certain standards or certain teacher-evaluation systems or certain data-collection schemes, the federal government under President Cruz would have no constitutional right to coerce states in a different direction. On education policy, the federal government should remain neutral. The correct answer when a candidate is asked if he supports school choice or some other policy should be, “No one should pay any attention to my opinion on that, assuming I have one — it’s a state issue. I’m focusing on defending the country, executing laws duly passed by Congress, and carrying out any other responsibilities expressly given to me by the Constitution. That’s where my authority begins and ends.”
There is no perfect candidate this year from the perspective of a constitutionalist. Voters will have to choose the candidate who best understands the structural problems and can be educated about any flaws in his approach.
Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.