Grassroots vs. Establishment Battle Evident in GOP Education Platform

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

Although present in many other areas of the Republican Party Platform, the struggle between parents/grassroots activists and corporate education reform/data overlords is no more evident than in education. That fight is between parents who are demanding their inherent right to control the educational destinies of their children and the corporate titans, politicians of both parties, and bureaucrats that have imposed Common Core, invasive testing, psychological profiling, and data mining.

Grassroots Wins

Jane Robbins has already done an excellent job noting many of the same grassroots and parental wins. I heartily agree with her list of wins for our side (a complete list of my points and quotes is available here):

  • Affirming the need to eliminate or greatly reduce the unconstitutional, expensive, and ineffective federal role in education
  • Rejecting the view of students as products or “human capital”
  • Affirming the primacy of the parental role in education
  • Protecting data and psychological privacy and rejection of social emotional profiling and mental screening
  • Opposition to national standards and test based accountability
  • Supporting local control
  • Rejection of the Title IX bathroom edict and contraceptive based sex education as dangers to privacy, safety, and health
  • Affirming academic basics like phonics and other important foundations like history from original documents and the Bible as literature

One other significant piece the RNC should be commended for adding in the overall section on families is the plank acknowledging the incredibly important role of two-parent families that is foundational to education and to preventing so many social ills that plague our nation. Some of this research by Dr. William Jeynes was highlighted in our recent discussion of failed preschool and home visiting programs. Hopefully making this statement will inspire elected officials to work to support the family instead of expanding government:

It is also why everyone should be concerned about the state of the American family today, not because of ideology or doctrine, but because of the overwhelming evidence of experience, social science, and common sense. All of which give us these truths about traditional marriage: Children raised in a two-parent household tend to be physically and emotionally healthier, more likely to do well in school, less likely to use drugs and alcohol, engage in crime or become pregnant outside of marriage. We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation. [Emphasis added]

Although we are disappointed that the initial reports of the platform rejecting Hillary-“It takes a village”-style universal preschool as harmful to parental autonomy were not true, we are also encouraged that the Chamber/Business Roundtable-type corporate Republican wing did not make an effort to glorify failed government pre-K or brag about the ridiculous $250 million preschool boondoggle added to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in the platform.

It is also notable that the grassroots backlash against the statist and tyrannical ESSA has been so furious that there was no mention of it or the alleged congressional success at ending Common Core in the platform. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to take credit for that was met with stone cold silence by the delegates during his convention floor speech on July 19th.

We are grateful to those on the Platform Committee that fought so hard for all of these important statements and to the RNC as a whole for passing this document. We are also grateful to you fellow parents for taking the time and making the effort of educating your members of Congress know about the dangers of Fed Ed and data mining and for expressing your “Mama and Papa Bear” fury on some of these issues. It is making a huge difference.

Establishment Wins

All of the above is not to say that the Jeb Bush/Bill Gates/foundations/corporate/big government overlords did not have any successes in this platform. They did, and these will need to be carefully watched and vigorously opposed.  Jane Robbins and I agree that the following are the most concerning examples:

  • Portability and universal school choice: I completely agree with Jane on the dangers of Title I and IDEA portability. I believe that it will clearly bring federal mandates, regulations, national standards like Common Core that were so sadly cemented into place by the passage of the ESSA, tests, and data collection into the private schools. That is what is happened with the voucher bill in Indiana under Governor Mike Pence. That danger is also ever present to home schooling autonomy under the guise of “universal school choice options,” so in favor with Jeb Bush and his foundation. When government school mandates are imposed on home and private schools, these will be eliminated as real alternatives to the Fed Ed leviathan. It is also inconsistent with the other plank in the platform of reducing or eliminating the unconstitutional federal role in education.
  • Republican Congressional Fed Ed Workforce Central Planning: Jane’s discussion is completely on point and needs no further comment:

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.

To Jane’s important concerns, I would add a few others:

  • Misuse of test scores for every kind of accountability: The platform mentions a concept very near and dear to the Jeb Bush faction of the GOP — “ending social promotions.” However, much research shows that third grade retention is not helpful and in many cases harmful. Even worse, numerous Florida school districts are using this ineffective practice to punish parents that opt their children out of the validity-challenged tests and are retaining the students with no documented reading deficiency just because they have no test score. Parents are readying a lawsuit.
  • No acknowledgement of state Common Core rebrands: Despite the language congratulating “the states which have successfully repealed it,” thanks to the efforts of Common Core proponent organizations, no state has successfully repealed and replaced the Common Core with any standards that are not just deceptive rebrands. This includes Indiana under Mike Pence, Florida under Rick Scott with guidance from Jeb Bush, and the Bill Gates-funded legal effort to block the Massachusetts ballot initiative.
  • Emphasis on technology in education: The platform’s support for technology-based education, saying that it “must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity,” is disappointing. This is another paean to the competency-based education initiative pushed by Jeb Bush, Bill Gates and the other corporate and foundation types that seek to profit off the replacement of teachers, constant testing and data mining, and psychological profiling of our children.

While these last few issues raise concern, and while Mike Pence will need to be closely monitored to make sure his efforts so harmful to private school autonomy and getting rid of Common Core will not be expanded at the federal level in the event of a Trump victory, there is still much for grassroots parent activists to be hopeful about in this platform. Let us continue this fight to protect the hearts and minds of our children by making sure these are not just empty words. Our children’s and the nation’s future depend on it.

Dr. Karen Effrem is trained as a pediatrician and serves as president of Education Liberty Watch and the executive director of the Florida Stop Common Core Coalition.