2008 Republican Party Platform Formally Addresses Education
Over the past week, the media focus regarding the Republican ticket has been entirely on the naming of John McCain’s vice presidential candidate. However, on Monday the Republican National Committee finally released the finished copy of its 2008 platform.
Defending Our Nation (PDF) lays out an agenda that does not necessarily match the viewpoint of its candidate, John McCain.
However, from, “Supporting Our Heroes, Securing the Peace” to “Reforming Government to Serve the People” to “Health Care Reform: Putting Patients First,” the platform reinforces the thoughts of recent Republican agendas. And for those who thought that the party would distance itself from the past eight years, one need only turn to the opening section to see that nothing could be further from the truth.
“With gratitude for eight years of honorable service from President George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the Republican Party now stands united behind new leadership, an American patriot, John McCain.”
A Look at the Education Planks
Subtitled Education Means a More Competitive America, the education section continues the Republican push for accountability and school choice yet the planks conspicuously make no mention of President Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act. In addition, while higher education continues to be addressed from a cost standpoint, there is little in the way for a call for educational improvements at either the undergraduate or graduate levels.
As with the Democratic platform, the Republican’s note a need for substantial improvement in public education:
“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.”
One noteworthy aspect is the call for greater attention to civics education and for passing our culture to our young:
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.”
The proponents of NCLB will note that the accountability set forth by the Bush legislation continues to be a focus of the current platform:
“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.”
But in stark contrast to the actual law the current platform later notes:
“We reject a one-size-fits-all approach.”
It is interesting to note that the platform offers the following statements:
“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.”
Yet later, the platform asserts:
“”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.”
While those words echo the views of the religious right, data on abstinence only education classes reveals that such instruction has no impact on teen sexual activity.
A call to give students the best teachers also matches a plank in the Democratic document. However, the Republican platform is clear that the process for increasing teacher talent is a local responsibility, not one for the federal government.
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. 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.”
Strong on Partnerships and Authentic Education
One real strength of the platform is the focus on reaching beyond the classroom for support and authentic learning experiences for kids:
“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.
“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.
“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.”
It is in this arena that the platform reaches its full push for “policies and methods that are proven and effective.”
Reading the higher education section creates the feeling that our colleges and universities are delivering a world class education, albeit one that is too expensive and all too often home to subversive elements.
“Our country’s system of higher education — public and private, secular and religious, large and small institutions — is unique for its excellence, its diversity, and its accessibility. Learning is a safeguard of liberty. 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.”
As for costs:
“Students and their parents face formidable challenges in planning for college as costs continue to outpace inflation. Higher education seems immune from market controls and the law of supply and demand. We commend those institutions which are directing a greater proportion of their endowment revenues toward tuition relief.”
Instead of governmental assistance or a service component as advocated by the Democrats, the Republicans focus on 529s for funding options:
“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.”
And as for the subversive aspects:
“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.”
Another strong component of the platform is a call for greater higher education portability and the corresponding need for enhanced distance learning options:
“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.”
Other Noteworthy Elements
There are many other educational planks within the document that reiterate long-standing Republican views. For people seeking greater insight into the planks related to higher education, InsideHigherEducation.com has a thorough review of those items.
For OpenEducation.net, the platform was a pleasant surprise and a stark contrast to a McCain campaign that has been devoid of extensive educational discussion and a Republican agenda that seldom strays beyond the concept of school choice. However, we still have major concerns with their improved and fleshed out agenda – we are particularly concerned with its lack of additional support for early childhood education despite its proven success in other countries and for its failure to realize that a federal investment component is necessary if we are to improve teacher quality in our country.
We also must reiterate our concern with the inconsistency of first touting accountability followed by seeking additional support for a specific program (abstinence education) that has been deemed ineffective. Such language appears to be nothing more than an attempt to pander to a single voting group.