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Anyone notice education got short shrift in GOP debate. Why?


What do you make of the absence of any real discussion of education at the Republican debate last night?

With the exception of a Common Core question to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush on his support of Common Core, which he deftly deflected into a general call for higher standards, and a response from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, education was lost to all the rhetoric over immigration, economics and abortion.

Bush said:

I'm for higher standards...measured in an intellectually honest way, with abundant school choice, ending social promotion. And I know how to do this because as governor of the state of Florida I created the first statewide voucher program in the country, the second statewide voucher program, in the country and the third statewide voucher program in the country. And we had rising student achievement across the board, because high standards, robust accountability, ending social promotion in third grade, real school choice across the board, challenging the teachers union and beating them is the way to go. And Florida's low-income kids had the greatest gains inside the country. Our graduation rate improved by 50 percent. That's what I'm for.

Rubio said:

Well, first off, I, too, believe in curriculum reform. It is critically important in the 21st Century. We do need curriculum reform. And it should happen at the state and local level. That is where educational policy belongs, because if a parent is unhappy with what their child is being taught in school, they can go to that local school board or their state legislature, or their governor and get it changed.

Here's the problem with Common Core. The Department of Education, like every federal agency, will never be satisfied. They will not stop with it being a suggestion. They will turn it into a mandate. In fact, what they will begin to say to local communities is, you will not get federal money unless do you things the way we want you to do it. And they will use Common Core or any other requirements that exists nationally to force it down the throats of our people in our states.

The complexity of school reform makes it a difficult fit for a debate where answers must be concise and compelling.

But clearly candidates need an education position given schools are  a major concern for millennials and Gen Xers.

I went to a variety of think tanks this morning that normally comment on education issues, but hardly any referenced the lack of education discussion in the debate. That may come later. Most of the country is still in vacation mode, unlike Georgia where school has either started or will start Monday.

Here are reactions of two education groups that did comment:

Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress Action Fund:

Tonight, the GOP presidential contenders offered zero ideas and no proposals to improve our education system or make college more affordable. Instead of ideas to increase access to a quality education for all children—no matter their ZIP code, background, or income level—we heard more of the same conservative talking points to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education and lip service about the need to provide education from governors that have cut education funding in their own states. Providing a high-quality education for all of our students from cradle to career should be a top priority for any leader of this country.

Collaborative for Student Success:

Tonight two candidates engaged in a discussion over Common Core, and even while debates are created for the purpose of identifying differences, neither candidate fundamentally disagreed with the other. In the end, one candidate defended the Common Core State Standards by name and the other candidate disparaged the brand, but both strongly supported the underlying fundamental principles of the Common Core: higher standards and local control. Governor Bush did so when he said, “I'm for higher standards, measured in an intellectually honest way,” while Senator Rubio agreed on the need for education reform, calling it “critically important.” Additionally, both agreed on the necessity of local control. Governor Bush said that “states ought to create the standards,” while Senator Rubio asserted “education policy belongs [at the state and local level] because if a parent is unhappy with what their child is being taught in school, they can go to the local school board or the governor and get it changed.” In the end, Governor Bush closed with a vociferous defense of higher standards: “Make sure your standards are high, because today in America, a third of our kids, after we spend more per student than any other country in the world other than a couple rounding errors, to be honest, 30 percent are college or career ready. If we are going to compete in this world today, there is no possible way we can do it with lowering expectations and dumbing down everything. Children will suffer and families' hearts will be broken that their kids won't be able to get a job in the 21st century.”


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.