New GOP Platform: The Good, the Bad, and the Very Concerning

Photo credit: Erik Drost via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
Photo credit: Erik Drost via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The Republican Platform was released on Monday, the first day of the convention. Much of the K-12 education plank is good; parts are concerning. Here are a few initial impressions.

The platform begins with a strong statement of the purpose of education — that true education goes beyond transmission of “knowledge and skills” and encompasses “handing over of a cultural identity.” The platform observes, correctly, that “centralizing forces outside the family and community . . . have done immense damage,” and it states flatly that the strongest centralizing force — the federal government — “should not be a partner in [the educational] effort, as the Constitution gives it no role in education.”

Citing the celebration of human dignity in the Declaration of Independence, the platform states: “That truth [of the Declaration] rejects the dark view of the individual as human capital – a possession for the creation of another’s wealth.” In so doing, the platform dismisses the foundational principle of Common Core and other education-as-workforce-development schemes. This statement is a welcome indication that at least some of the people who worked on this language actually understand — and reject — the Chamber of Commerce view of education.

Turning to parental rights, the platform also acknowledges that parents “have a right to direct their children’s education, care, and upbringing” and even supports a constitutional amendment to protect that right from “interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.” It strongly endorses local control in education, opposes all national standards (specifically Common Core) and assessments and, while it endorses tests that “serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs,” rejects “excessive testing.” (There is no mention of parental rights to opt out of the testing.)

The platform also recognizes that more spending isn’t the solution to our education problems, noting the singular lack of effectiveness of the $2 trillion of federal money spent on education over the last 50 years.

As for student privacy, the platform doesn’t go into great detail but does indicate an understanding that the data-collection being incentivized by the federal government is out of control:

The federal government has pushed states to collect and share vast amounts of personal student and family data, including the collection of social and emotional data. Much of this data is collected without parental consent or notice. This is wholly incompatible with the American Experiment and our inalienable rights.

This welcome denunciation of collecting social and emotional data shows that grassroots objections to the Orwellian direction of K-12 education are paying off. This language, along with the proclamation that “federal funds should not be used in mandatory or universal health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs,” perhaps will get the attention of Republican members of Congress who heretofore have ignored this serious and growing problem of government-as-shrink, children-as-research-subjects.

The platform also rejects the Obama administration’s misuse of Title IX to force schools to open up restrooms, locker rooms, overnight sleeping quarters, and probably sports teams to both sexes. The platform correctly observes:

Their agenda has nothing to do with individual rights; it has everything to do with power. They are determined to reshape our schools – and our entire society – to fit the mold of an ideology alien to America’s history and traditions. . . . We salute the several states which have filed suit against it.

Other welcome statements in the platform include replacing family-planning programs with abstinence education, and endorsement of Bible-as-literature courses and study of original founding documents in history and civics classes. Unfortunately, although early reports indicated that the platform would reject government preschool as intruding on parental rights and influence, that language didn’t make it into the final draft.

Now for the troubling parts. The platform focuses a great deal on choice in education and endorses the concept of “portability” of education funding to be used for many different types of schooling (private or parochial schools, homeschooling, etc.) and with many different funding mechanisms (tax credits, vouchers, etc.). While efforts to shatter the government monopoly on education are laudable, extreme caution must be exercised to ensure — if this is even possible — that when government money follows the child, government regulations don’t follow as well. For example, a state that grants vouchers (such as Indiana) may require the private schools that accept voucher students to give the state Common Core-aligned test, which means the private schools will pretty much have to teach Common Core.

“Choice” that results in all schools’, whether public or private, having to teach the same thing is no choice at all. The platform would have done well to acknowledge this danger.

Another concern is the language praising Republican education efforts in Congress. Perhaps it was too much to hope that Republican congressmen would be taken to task for their monumental failures in this area — for example, passing the enormously statist Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — but one would hope they wouldn’t be commended for them.

The platform doesn’t mention ESSA, but it does praise congressional Republicans for the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), a Soviet-style monstrosity that divides states into regions and sets up crony-populated labor boards to control training and workforce-development for politically connected industries. This concept is not just anti-conservative; it’s anti-American. Republican members of Congress should be begging forgiveness, not blowing their horns. That WIOA is considered something to brag about demonstrates that the mentality of the Chamber of Commerce (motto: Sure it’s bad for the country, but in the meantime, there’s money to be made!), though it took a few jabs, is still on its feet.

In its entirety, the platform shows how far the grassroots researchers and activists have come in sounding the alarm about what’s really going on in public education — and how far we still have to go.

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.