Examining the Republican Platform Part VII: “Education Means a More Competitive America”

This is continued from Parts I-VI of my examination of the Republican Platform. If you saw Sports Watcher Friday after I reposted it, you know I made a big understatement there.

We move on to Part VII, “Education Means a More Competitive America”, and what funny buzzwords the Republicans have for bilingual students that can measure up to “English Language Learners”! “Maintaining America’s preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential. That requires considerable improvement over our current 70 percent high school graduation rate and six-year graduation rate of only 57 percent for colleges.” That certainly sounds bad and needing improvement. That’s a C (maybe D) and an F respectively. But as with the Democrats, let’s make sure we’re not using grade inflation to improve them.

Education is essential to competitiveness, but it is more than just training for the work force of the future. It is through education that we ensure the transmission of a culture, a set of values we hold in common. It has prepared generations for responsible citizenship in a free society, and it must continue to do so. Our party is committed to restoring the civic mission of schools envisioned by the founders of the American public school system. Civic education, both in the classroom and through service learning, should be a cornerstone of American public education and should be central to future school reform efforts.

This is almost a bizarre paragraph for the admissions it makes. Education is responsible for the transmission of “a set of values”? The family has nothing to do with it? The meat of the paragraph – about preparing people to be good citizens – is pretty much all stuff you can say “hear, hear!” to, it’s just, I don’t know what the stuff about “values” is about.

“Principles for Elementary and Secondary Education”:

All children should have access to an excellent education that empowers them to secure their own freedom and contribute to the betterment of our society. We reaffirm the principles that have been the foundation of the nation’s educational progress toward that goal: accountability for student academic achievement; periodic testing on the fundamentals of learning, especially math and reading, history and geography; transparency, so parents and the general public know which schools best serve their students; and flexibility and freedom to innovate so schools and districts can best meet the needs of their students.

Odd to see some of those things called the “foundation” of the education system, but okay. These things sound like good principles, but it’d be nice to see how they come forth in practice, especially the one about testing.

We advocate policies and methods that are proven and effective: building on the basics, especially phonics; ending social promotion; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals. We reject a one-size-fits-all approach and support parental options, including home schooling, and local innovations such as schools or classes for boys only or for girls only and alternative and innovative school schedules.

What the heck is “social promotion”? Most of these seem to be good approaches, pending whatever “social promotion” is. Do any of these give any unfair advantages to the rich over the poor? It sounds like home schooling does. One-gender education sounds risky. “[A]lternative and innovative school schedules” seem worth trying though. “We recognize and appreciate the importance of innovative education environments, particularly homeschooling, for stimulating academic achievement.” Wow, it seems so odd to see the Republicans so high on homeschooling, dropping it twice in as many sentences. It’s damn near impossible for the poor to implement, so do you have any help for them there? Would any help even be possible? “We oppose over-reaching judicial decisions which deny children access to such environments.” Well, that helps explain the emphasis on homeschooling. I’d like to know what these “over-reaching judicial decisions” were and what the grounds for them were.

“We support state efforts to build coordination between elementary and secondary education and higher education such as K-16 councils and dual credit programs.” Sounds good. “To ensure that all students will have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ future potential. All students must be literate in English, our common language, to participate in the promise of America.” The Democrats never directly say they would keep us from turning into Quebec, but at least nominally, their early-stage second language program is intended to raise students’ future potential and allow them to compete in the global economy. So Democrats support teaching kids second languages but neglect to reassure us sufficiently they will protect English as the primary language, while the Republicans reject such programs altogether as “divisive” (a valid point, maybe not necessarily sound, but valid) and don’t suggest they would do anything to help Americans compete in the global economy like kids in Europe learn English.

“Early Childhood Education”:

The family is the most powerful influence on a child’s ability to succeed. As such, parents are our children’s first and foremost teachers. We support family literacy, which improves the literacy, language, and life skills of both parents and children along with the continued improvement of early childhood programs, such as Head Start, from low-income families. We reaffirm our support for the child care tax credit that helps parents choose the care best for their family.

Not sure what “family literacy” means in this sense. Democrats proposed their “Children’s First Agenda” to boost Head Start and invest in Pre-K, among other things – it was short on specifics and long on buzzwords. Democrats want “quality, affordable early childhood care and education” but don’t say much about how, other than the above, and the Republicans back the existing “child care tax credit”. Neither party seems to make this much of a priority, to say the least.

“Giving Students the Best Teachers”:

For students to meet world class standards, they must have access to world class teachers, whether in person or through virtual public schools that can bring high-quality instruction into the classroom. School districts must have the authority to recruit, reward, and retain the best and brightest teachers, and principals must have the authority to select and assign teachers without regard to collective bargaining agreements.

These are all valid points. We need to be able to keep the best teachers and not keep bad ones just because the union would complain. The Democrats also recognized this need, but would fix it by providing more support and training, and even where there are lost causes “find a quick and fair way—consistent with due process—to put another teacher in that classroom.”

“Because qualified teachers are often not available through traditional routes, we support local efforts to create an adjunct teacher corps of experts from higher education, business, and the military to fill in when needed.” Well, that’s a bizarre idea. “Kids, we couldn’t find enough teachers to staff the school today. Here’s a college professor who knows so much he’d probably die if he had to bring himself to your level! Or, here’s a businessperson who wants to get back to the office and has no teaching experience whatsoever! Or, here’s a soldier! Don’t you love getting the same educational experience as a third world country?” Wouldn’t encouraging more people to become teachers like the Democrats propose be a better approach in the long term? (Although that might create a bunch of crap teachers… and the Democrats did want to “streamline the certification process for those with valuable skills who want to shift careers and teach”, which I was concerned about causing more wannabe teachers slipping through the cracks and coming out crap.)

BAM BAM BAM! You know what that sound means! Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiit’s Take A Shot At Trial Lawyers Time! “Teachers must be protected against frivolous litigation and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom.” As always, what about legit lawsuits? “We encourage the private-public partnerships and mentoring that can make classroom time more meaningful to students by integrating it with learning beyond school walls. These efforts are crucial to lowering the drop-out rate and helping at-risk students realize their potential.” Privatize! Privatize! Privatize! Actually this is all pretty much agreeable and arguably important, and the Democrats want to “address the dropout crisis by investing in intervention strategies in middle schools and high schools”, once again ignoring the line about how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. (I don’t see the word “tutor” in either party’s discussion of education.)

“We encourage state efforts to ensure that personnel who interact with children pass thorough background checks and are held to the highest standards of conduct.” Well, that’s just common sense.

Partnerships between schools and businesses can be especially important in STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and math. The need to improve secondary education in those fields can be measured by the number of remedial courses now offered at the college level. Our country’s reliance upon foreign talent in those areas begins with insufficient emphasis upon them in the high school years. We applaud those who are changing that situation by giving young people real-world experience in the private sector and by providing students with rigorous technical and academic courses that give students the skills and knowledge necessary to be productive members in a competitive American workforce.

The first half of this paragraph makes some very good points and pretty much convinces me of more investment here. Not sure if we need to go all the way to “real-world experience in the private sector” and other things that seem to have college more in mind, especially when you consider the “remedial” courses which suggests bringing our secondary-school courses back to “normal” would be a more important first step. Does someone who’s going to become a journalist need to go through “rigorous technical and academic courses” in high school? Or are you only addressing ways to fix the problem in college? Because it seems like from your own assessment of the problem, let’s see what happens when we fix secondary teaching of these subjects first. Unfortunately, the Democrats don’t really touch on this at all. The Democrats don’t touch on most of these things, in fact. On the other hand, the Republicans aren’t as concerned at creating more “best and brightest” teachers, or about making sure the poor have the best teachers they can. Bringing up the poor, after all, is part of the point of the public school system.

“Asserting Family Rights in Schooling”: “Parents should be able to decide the learning environment that is best for their child. We support choice in education for all families, especially those with children trapped in dangerous and failing schools, whether through charter schools, vouchers or tax credits for attending faith-based or other non-public schools, or the option of home schooling.” Harping on home schooling again. It certainly sounds like a worthy goal to get kids out of “dangerous and failing schools” whenever possible, even though it sounds like you would abandon them instead of trying to reform them; I said in my Democratic platform examination (Part II) that “[p]unishing a school for failure only perpetuates and deepens the divide between rich and poor schools”, but it sounds like you may have something in mind to get around that problem. But I’ve heard there’s some debate on the topic of vouchers, and you’re getting into dodgy territory if you’re helping people get into “faith-based” schools, both on First Amendment grounds and on whether “faith-based” schools are really the best education. But charter schools sound good – and were proposed by the Democrats as well.

“We call for the vigilant enforcement of laws designed to protect family rights and privacy in education.” Sounds good; if you’re not going to enforce them, change them. “We will energetically assert the right of students to engage in voluntary prayer in schools and to have equal access to school facilities for religious purposes.” As long as that prayer is voluntary and respected yet not overly supported, and as long as it respects Muslim prayer to the same extent as Christian prayer (to the same extent as atheist non-prayer).

We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with increased funding for abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and expected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception.

If only abstinence education, you know, worked. Turns out teens don’t stop being horny just because they’re told not to. It’s understandable that you would oppose offering abortion services, but at least tell kids “if you do give in to temptation, at least have a condom handy”. “Schools should not ask children to answer offensive or intrusive personal non-academic questionnaires without parental consent.” Sounds like a good stance to take, but what are these “offensive or intrusive…questionnaires” actually asking? “It is not the role of the teacher or school administration to recommend or require the use of psychotropic medications that must be prescribed by a physician.” Again, sounds reasonable.

“Reviewing the Federal Role in Primary and Secondary Education”:

Although the Constitution assigns the federal government no role in local education, Washington’s authority over the nation’s schools has increased dramatically. In less than a decade, annual federal funding has shot up 41 percent to almost $25 billion, while the regulatory burden on state and local governments has risen by about 6.7 million hours – and added $141 million in costs – during that time. We call for a review of Department of Education programs and administration to identify and eliminate ineffective programs, to respect the role of states, and to better meet state needs. To get our schools back to the basics of learning, we support initiatives to block-grant more Department of Education funding to the states, with requirements for state-level standards, assessments, and public reporting to ensure transparency.

This goes along with all the Republicans’ emphasis on curbing government waste. Also pushing a “states’ rights” tack. This all seems reasonable as stated, although “block-grant”? And more pushing for “standards” and “assessments” that have been pushed for years. “Local educators must be free to end ineffective programs and reallocate resources where they are most needed.” Hopefully they would also be free to fix those ineffective programs if they’re fixable.

“Maintaining Our Commitment to IDEA”: “Because a federal mandate on the states must include the promised federal funding, we will fulfill the promise of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to cover 40 percent of the costs incurred because of that legislation. We urge preventive efforts in early childhood, especially assistance in gaining pre-reading skills, to help many youngsters move beyond the need for IDEA’s protections.” The Democrats also “support full funding of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” and I’m not sure the Republicans are pushing “full funding” here. So either the Republicans aren’t giving enough support to “individuals with disabilities” or the Democrats are throwing more money away. I hope the Republicans aren’t brushing off learning disabilities in that last sentence.

And why are Republicans seemingly completely unconcerned about bridging the gap for minority and poor students? The Democrats also gave more emphasis to special education (beyond IDEA) and those “English Language Learners” – other than that bit of “learn English” at the start, which was aimed for native-born Americans, the Republicans never mentioned bilingual students at all. On the flip side, the GOP vowed to allow teachers to maintain order without threat of frivolous lawsuit, help students see the things they’re learning in action, make sure we’re not hiring sex offenders as teachers, and make us more competitive in our math and science education. The Democrats also don’t address prayer in schools, sex education, or (so far) cutting Department of Education waste. Republicans also refrain from trying to “hold [parents] accountable”, as the Democrats did, but other than their fixation on home schooling, neither do they take the opposite tack and say what would have been an easy line: “we do not believe government should tell parents how to raise their kids” or “government should not interfere in parenting”.

Had I included this section in Part VI it would have been around 6,000 words.

“Higher Education”: The GOP praises higher education of all stripes “for its excellence, its diversity, and its accessibility. …Post-secondary education not only increases the earnings of individuals but advances economic development. Our colleges and universities drive much of the research that keeps America competitive. We must ensure that our higher education system meet the needs of the 21st century student and economy and remain innovative and accessible.” Certainly important points and good sentiments.

“Meeting College Costs”: College costs are outpacing inflation, and seem immune to normal market forces (something I’d like to see explored further if true). “We commend those institutions which are directing a greater proportion of their endowment revenues toward tuition relief.”

The Republican vision for expanding access to higher education has led to two major advances, Education Savings Accounts and Section 529 accounts, by which millions of families now save for college. While federal student loans and grants have opened doors to learning for untold numbers of low- and middle-income students, the overall financial aid system, with its daunting forms and confused rationales, is nothing less than Byzantine. It must be simplified. We call for a presidential commission to undertake that task and to review the role of government regulations and policies in the tuition spiral. We affirm our support for the public-private partnership that now offers students and their families a vibrant marketplace in selecting their student loan provider.

Here’s an idea for a drinking game. Start from Part I of this examination and continue going through part by part, or just read the platform itself. Drink once every time the Republicans take a shot at trial lawyers and “frivolous lawsuits”, once every time the Republicans propose privatizing something, and twice for any permutation of the exact phrase “public-private partnership” (or “private-public partnership”). You’ll be stoned in no time. Throw in a drink for any permutation of the phrase “___ Savings Accounts” for good measure. Throw in a drink for any time the Republicans complain something has gotten too complex and wasteful and must be “simplified” or otherwise reformed.

The only policy position listed is this “presidential commission” to review the financial aid process; the rest is affirming policies and practices that already exist. The Democrats wanted to create a gimmicky “American Opportunity Tax Credit” of $4,000, with the “expectation” of community service attached (Republicans may have taken a shot at this requirement much earlier in the platform, and they see the GOP’s “presidential commission” and raise them a checkbox on the tax form. I had doubts about the checkbox at the time, but now it just sounds like actually doing something about a problem instead of talking about it like the GOP wants to do. Think about that as you look back on previous parts and previous “studies” and “commissions”.

“Innovation Will Lead to Lifelong Learning”:

The challenge to American higher education is to make sure students can access education in whatever forms they want. As mobility increases in all aspects of American life, student mobility, from school to school and from campus to campus, will require new approaches to admissions, evaluations, and credentialing. Distance learning propelled by an expanding telecommunications sector and especially broadband, is certain to grow in importance – whether through public or private institutions – and federal law should not discriminate against the latter. Lifelong learning will continue to transform the demographics of higher education, bringing older students and real-world experience to campus.

To truly assess any of this we need to compare it to Democratic positions. The Democrats “support education delivery that makes it possible for non-traditional students to receive support and encouragement to obtain a college education, including Internet, distance education, and night and weekend programs.” The Republicans don’t really mention the first and last on that list. The Democrats don’t address student mobility, though, and sort of talk around the idea of “lifelong learning” in two sentences: “we will invest in short-term accelerated training and technical certifications for the unemployed and under-employed to speed their transition to careers in high-demand occupations and emerging industries” and a call to “invest in training and education to prepare incumbent job-holders with skills to meet the rigors of the new economic environment and provide them access to the broad knowledge and concrete tools offered by apprenticeships, internships, and postsecondary education.”

“Community Colleges Continue to Play a Crucial Role”: (Who says political parties are shy to adopt literary conventions like alliteration?) This is really just a shout-out to community colleges, not stipulating any policy positions whatsoever. The Republicans praise community colleges’ role as a “bridge[] between the world of work and the classroom”, a place for veterans to gain needed skills to transition to civilian life, and in a weird analogy (especially considering the relatively recent vintage of the key phrase), “[a]s the first responders to economic development and retraining of workers”. But unlike the Democrats, they don’t “reward successful community colleges with grants so they can continue their good work”. Of course, that might be considered throwing money away.

“Special Challenges in Higher Education”: “Free speech on college campuses is to be celebrated, but there should be no place in academia for anti-Semitism or racism of any kind.” What “anti-Semitism” is this referring to? Are Republicans concerned about professors being critical of Israel? Is “racism” referring to affirmative action, or “whitey sucks”? Do Republicans want institutions of higher education to say Israel and white people can do no wrong, or do they just want to kick out the “death to Israel” and “whitey sucks” people?

We oppose the hiring, firing, tenure, and promotion practices at universities that discriminate on the basis of political or ideological belief. When federal taxes are used to support such practices, it is inexcusable. We affirm the right of students and faculty to express their views in the face of the leftist dogmatism that dominates many institutions. To preserve the integrity and independence of the nation’s colleges, we will continue to ensure alternatives to ideological accrediting systems.

This certainly sounds like a good idea, but what about universities that kick out any professors who espouse any “political or ideological belief”, on the grounds that they’re “indoctrinating their students”? The “affirm[ation]” of “the right of students and faculty to express their views” suggests the Republicans would indeed protect those people, at least if they’re on the right. What “alternatives to ideological accrediting systems” do you propose/want to sustain? Regardless, the Democrats haven’t touched on this issue at all.

Because some of the nation’s leading universities create or tolerate a hostile atmosphere toward the ROTC, we will rigorously enforce the provision of law, unanimously upheld by the Supreme Court, which denies those institutions federal research grants unless their military students have the full rights and privileges of other students. That must include the right to engage in ROTC activities on their own campus, rather than being segregated elsewhere.

For the most part, this sounds good, but what are “ROTC activities”, trying to recruit other students? The Republicans didn’t really pledge their support for colleges’ and universities’ research role here either.

This is another short part, but because of going longer than anticipated. The discussion of education passed 3,000 words all on its own, and I made special emphasis to look at the Democratic plan in order to stretch it out, which was good for making it longer than the last part on health care. This last paragraph is carrying us past 4,000. We keep pressing on towards the end of the Republican platform – only two more parts to go! (A note on the Democratic platform series: I may wait to post the last two parts until I have both done…)

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