Presidential Candidates Talk Education in New Hampshire

Today, six of the Republican candidates for president met in New Hampshire for an in depth discussion of K-12 education policy. Jeb Bush, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, and Scott Walker each took the stage to talk in depth about their views on the government’s role in education.

It was refreshing to see a forum where each candidate was given forty-five minutes to discuss their platform, contrasted with the debate format that rewarded one-liners and combativeness more than policy solutions. Education is certainly one of the most important issues facing our country, so it’s good to see the bulk of an entire day devoted to it.

That being said, the candidates on display all have less than stellar records on the issue. Three of the candidates formerly supported Common Core, two still support it, and one has done a complete reversal of her (oops, I gave it away) previous positions.

Still, a lot of the talk centered around the right ideas, even if it is likely disingenuous. Local control was heavily stressed, as was school choice, and the concepts of overtesting and “teaching to the test” were addressed as well.

Fiorina, to her credit, made the often-ignored point that the Chinese model of education is not one we should be striving to imitate. The Chinese system stresses uniformity and testing to the exclusion of all else, and does little to encourage ingenuity and innovation, fundamental features of the American system.

While Jeb Bush and John Kasich continue to support Common Core standards against the will of the grassroots who have actually experienced its effects, Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker both appear to have gotten the message, and have taken steps to fight back against the standards in their states. Walker’s latest budget defunds Common Core aligned tests, and Jindal tried to remove the standards unilaterally before his efforts were halted by a court decision.

Sadly, too little was said about removing federal involvement in education completely. The U.S. Constitution does not mention education as one of the enumerated powers of the federal government, and the Tenth Amendment specifies that anything not mentioned should be left for the states to manage. Yet, the federal Department of Education has been meddling in state and local policies for decades, spending more and more money, with no measurable improvements to show for it. Programs like Race to the Top, Head Start, and No Child Left Behind have all failed to deliver the promised results, while costing taxpayers big bucks at the same time.

The proper conservative solution is to dissolve the Department of Education entirely and return control to the states. This would mean an end to federal testing requirements, and the push for common national standards like the Common Core. It would also eliminate the federal government’s ability to coerce states into adopting the president’s preferred policies by threatening to withhold funding or flexibility waivers for other programs.

I would hope that the remaining 11 Republican presidential contenders who did not attend the summit will also take the time to lay out their views on education reform at similar length. It is certainly not an issue we as a nation can afford to ignore.