GOP Presidential Hopefuls Emphasize Choice Support at Education Summit

Published September 19, 2015

At a summit hosted by the nonprofit education news website The Seventy Four on August 19, presidential candidates New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina (R) discussed the importance of school choice, big government, and the future of American education.

Common Core, Federal Overreach

Bush and Kasich spoke in favor of Common Core standards, but the other four speakers said the standards are an example of burdensome and destructive federal overreach.

Fiorina said Common Core derails innovation and individualism in the classroom and is an example of crony socialism.

“A bureaucracy by nature will standardize and systematize,” Fiorina said. “They won’t standardize goals; they will standardize methods. … Common Core may have started out as a set of standards, but what it has turned into is a program that honestly is being overly influenced by companies that have something to gain—testing companies and textbook companies.”

Christie said offering funding to local governing bodies to close achievement gaps should be the federal government’s only role in education.

Initially, Louisiana adopted Common Core under Jindal’s governance. Jindal later changed his position on Common Core, filing a lawsuit against the federal standards.

“I want parents to be able to help their children with their homework,” Jindal said of the standards. “I don’t think it’s a good thing if parents are saying, ‘I have no idea what they’re learning, I can’t help them, I’m disconnected from what they’re learning.’

“We either think that parents and local communities are smart enough to adopt good standards for their kids and tough standards, or think this will only happen if people in [Washington, DC] force us to do this because they’re smarter than us and they know better than us,” said Jindal.

Pushing for Parental Choice

Candidates repeatedly spoke of the virtues of charter schools and voucher programs, with Bush, Kasich, and Walker pointing to voucher expansion in their respective states.

Choice programs not only accommodate different students but also increase competition between schools and put pressure on traditional public schools to improve, Walker said.

Bush lauded reform efforts that target underprivileged students and expand charter schools and voucher programs. Bush also noted the “extraordinary” potential of education savings accounts (ESA).

Fiorina mentioned Nevada’s expansive ESA option for parents as a transformational reform effort. Nevada’s ESA provides parents who opt their children into the program control how money allocated for their child’s education is spent.

Unions vs. Merit Pay

Walker led the discussion on collective bargaining. His battle against teachers unions in 2011 garnered national attention.

Teachers unions strongly oppose merit pay and support for exceptional teachers, Walker claimed.

In New Jersey, educators struggle to reduce large achievement gaps, and groundbreaking contracts negotiated with the American Federation of Teachers in some of the state’s lowest-achieving cities resulted in merit pay for teachers and a better atmosphere for improvement, Christie claimed.

Making Education Relevant, Modern

Several candidates said there is a need for more advanced technology in the classroom.

“We are in the 21st century; we need to keep changing and making education more and more exciting,” Kasich said. “We lose too many children because we don’t touch their passions.”

Jindal, in contrast, emphasized developing an education culture using more personalized methods of learning.

“We know children learn at a different pace,” Jindal said. “[We can] customize intervention to help them catch up or keep up with advanced learning pace … with the technology we have today.”

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.

Image by Michael Vadon.