The political process in the United States is in full swing. Actually, if there is a phrase that describes more than full swing, I would certainly welcome it to describe this particular election cycle. With my home base in Iowa, I think that Iowans experience both the initial excitement of each election cycle and the fatigue of each election cycle. Paul Ryan headlined a Lincoln Dinner in Cedar Rapids, IA, in April of 2014. That same night, Rand Paul held a rally in Dover, New Hampshire while Ted Cruz (who announced 596 days before Election Day) and Mike Huckabee spoke at a major conservative conference in Manchester. Much of this was due to the wide open GOP field but the consensus is that campaigns are now three to four years. We might be wise to reexamine this process and take note of our neighbors to the north (Canada just completed one of its longer campaign seasons of 11 weeks) and south (Mexico starts 90 days before election day). I doubt that this blog post will change the process in the United States but I believe that educators need to be well-informed on both parties’ educational priorities.
Since the Republicans are in the middle of their convention at the time of this writing, here is their full platform and below is Politico’s summary of their education priorities and agenda:
GOP PLATFORM UNVEILED: Delegates at the Republican National Convention on Monday evening approved a 58-page party platform that contains a range of education provisions. Here’s a rundown of the key K-12 and higher education issues:
- On campus sexual assault: The Obama administration’s crackdown on campus sexual assaults has distorted Title IX “to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse,” the platform says. Republicans said that sexual assault reports should be resolved only by law enforcement, rather than by university officials.
- On White House directive on transgender students’ rights: The platform says the guidance, which requires schools to allow transgender students to use the restroom or locker room that matches their gender identity, is “at once illegal, dangerous, and ignores privacy issues.” Republicans said they “salute the several states which have filed suit against it.”
- On student loans: Republicans called for ending the federal direct student loan program and restoring greater “private sector participation in student financing.”
- On college accreditation: The platform says that “accreditation should be decoupled from federal financing.” And it also echoes some of the accreditation overhaul ideas that lawmakers like Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have proposed. The document says, for example, that “states should be empowered to allow a wide array of accrediting and credentialing bodies to operate.” Such a model, the platform says, would “foster innovation, bring private industry into the credentialing market, and give students the ability to customize their college experience.”
- On for-profit education: “We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools,” the platform says. “Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector.”
- On recent campus protests and student activism: As it has in previous years, the platform laments “political indoctrination” on college campuses. This year, the document specifically criticizes “zones of intellectual intolerance or safe zones” – adopting the term that some student activists have used to describe spaces on campus where marginalized students feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues. Some conservatives have said such efforts keep out contrary viewpoints and infringe on students’ free speech rights. “Colleges, universities, and trade schools must not infringe on their freedom of speech and association in the name of political correctness,” the platform says.
- On school choice: Republicans are, unsurprisingly, very supportive of school choice, “especially … innovative financing mechanisms that make options available to all children: education savings accounts (ESAs), vouchers, and tuition tax credits.” The platform specifically cites the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program as “a model for the rest of the country” that should be expanded. “We deplore the efforts of Congressional Democrats and the current President to eliminate this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions,” the platform says.
- On testing and the Common Core: Republicans “congratulate” states that have “repealed” the academic standards. And on testing, they find some common ground with Democrats: The platform rejects “excessive testing and ‘teaching to the test’ and supports the need for strong assessments to serve as a tool so teachers can tailor teaching to meet student needs.” The platform also encourages “instruction in American history and civics by using the original documents of our founding fathers.”
- On the Bible and abstinence: “A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America’s high schools,” the platform says. Republicans say that “family planning” programs for teens should be replaced with abstinence education. And they oppose “school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception.”
- On teachers: The platform says teachers should be “protected against frivolous lawsuits and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom … Rigid tenure systems should be replaced with a merit-based approach in order to attract the best talent to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.”
- On K-12 spending: Republicans say the Education Department has spent more than $2 trillion dollars “with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates.” The platform supports the notion of Title I portability, which Republicans failed to include in a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind. “We propose that the bulk of federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for children with special needs should follow the child to whatever school the family thinks will work best for them,” the platform says.
- On changing the U.S. constitution: The platform calls for a constitutional amendment protecting the right of parents to direct their children’s education, care and upbringing “from interference by states, the federal government, or international bodies such as the United Nations.”
Dr. Tim Van Soelen serves as the Director of CACE. Tim is also a professor of education at Dordt University. He has served as a principal, assistant principal, and middle school math and computer teacher at schools in South Dakota and California. Tim has his undergraduate degree from Dordt and advanced degrees from Azusa Pacific University and the University of South Dakota.