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December 06, 2014

Saturday Politics Thread: Where Candidates Stand on the Size of Government [Y-not]

Remember this speech?

In America, the people are not subjects of government. The government is subject to the people. And it is up to us, to this present generation of Americans, to take a stand for freedom, to send a message to Washington that we're taking our future back from the grips of central planners who would control our healthcare, who would spend our treasure, who downgrade our future and micro-manage our lives.
It is time to limit and simplify the taxes in this country. We have to quit spending money we don't have. We need to get our fiscal house in order and restore our good credit. And we will repeal this President's misguided, one-size-fits-all government healthcare plan immediately.
We'll create jobs. We'll get America working again. We'll create jobs and we'll build wealth, we'll truly educate and innovate in science, and in technology, engineering and math. We'll create the jobs and the progress needed to get America working again.
And I'll promise you this: I'll work every day to make Washington, D.C. as inconsequential in your life as I can. And at the same time, we'll be freeing our families and small businesses and states from the burdensome and costly federal government so those groups can create, innovate and succeed.

(Emphasis mine.)

Makes you want to cry, doesn't it? Not only did we not get a rollback of the federal government's overreach in 2012 -- we've seen it continue to get worse and worse.

Although we disagree on the specifics, I think there is near uniform agreement amongst the horde that we'd like to see Washington, D.C. become less consequential in our lives. Today we'll start to examine the 2016 candidates on the size and scope of the federal government. Unsurprisingly, they are not all as committed to this idea:


Now, as many of the men seeking to be the next Republican standard-bearer prepare to announce their candidacies, they find themselves reconsidering issues that once inspired such agreement that candidates competed over how strongly to impose the party's beliefs, not what those beliefs should be.
The Common Core is one issue that once inspired broad agreement; now most prospective candidates are following Texas Gov. Rick Perry in moving in the other direction. Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich is a big supporter of the Medicaid expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act; but Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker argues it will simply make more people dependent on government. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is trying to roll back surveillance programs; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie warns that doing so could weaken national security.

So let's identify the Big Government issues that we think might be most important when considering prospective candidates. (This list of major federal agencies might help inspire you.)


I'll explore the candidates' positions on the top-polling ones in depth in subsequent weeks. In the meantime, let's knock off one that seems to be becoming somewhat of a litmus test issue: Common Core.

BACKGROUND ON COMMON CORE

According to the lib rag Newsweek, this is how it got started:

Although they only recently captured national attention, the Common Core standards -- which lay out what students should know and be able to do by each grade -- have been in the works since at least 2008. It all started with former Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano, who was the 2006-07 chair of the National Governors Association and now leads the University of California system, says Dane Linn, a vice president of the Business Roundtable who oversees its Education and Workforce Committee.
While serving as chair, Napolitano wrote an initiative for the year, as every past chair had done and as every chair has since. According to Linn, who at the time was serving as director of the NGA's Educational Policy Division, Napolitano's initiative had a strong focus on improving math and science education, as well as the workforce.

Not surprisingly, it's difficult to find objective descriptions of Common Core -- from its purpose and inception to its roll out. That's particularly troublesome for someone like me who had not tracked its emergence and only more recently started tuning in to this issue.

This so-called "crash course" is NPR's take on it:

With the Core, it's best to begin at the beginning. They are benchmarks in English language arts and math that clarify the skills each child should have at each grade level. From the Common Core's own website: "The standards were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live." If you have a few hours you're looking to fill, you can tuck into the standards one by one.
The standards have been adopted in 45 states and the District of Columbia. One good way to understand what they are is to know what they're replacing. States control their learning standards, and Common Core doesn't change that. But before the Core, state standards varied widely across the country and, in many cases, were weak and outdated. The Core standards are widely considered an upgrade.
The other problem the standards are meant to address is student mobility. Kids move around a lot. The 2000 census found that 18 percent of kids had moved in the last year. And, when they moved from school to school or state to state, many found themselves struggling to cope with very different standards.

What's helpful about this reference is that it gives a fairly concise overview of what the bones of contention are, even if the people at NPR are pretty clearly trying to minimize or dismiss them. It also provides some insights into the justification for Common Core from the perspective of a sympathetic group. In theory, this should represent the best argument for it. I'll leave you to decide how strong that argument is.

Here's just one example of a group (in this case the Cardinal Newman Society approaching the issue from the perspective of parochial schools) that objects to Common Core:

Although Catholic schools in the United States -- which have served students and the Church in an exemplary way for more than a century -- have avoided many of the pedagogical and curricular trends in public schools, some Catholic educators have recently advocated for Catholic schools to adopt or adapt the untested and increasingly controversial Common Core State Standards Initiative.
We have grave concerns. This school reform effort is nothing short of a revolution in how education is provided, relying on a technocratic, top-down approach to setting national standards that, despite claims to the contrary, will drive curricula, teaching texts, and the content of standardized tests. At its heart, the Common Core is a woefully inadequate set of standards in that it limits the understanding of education to a utilitarian "readiness for work" mentality.
Well-intentioned proponents of adopting the Common Core in Catholic schools have argued that Catholic identity can be "infused" into the Core. This approach misses the point that authentic Catholic identity is not something that can be added to education built around thoroughly secular standards, but that our faith must be the center of -- and fundamental to -- everything that a Catholic school does.
The Common Core revolution in American education was launched behind closed doors and rushed to implementation in public schools with the promise of tax dollars as an inducement -- even though all the Standards have not yet been completed, and those that have been released are controversial among many expert educators and parents. Catholic educators need not rush to follow this potentially dangerous path...
[snip]
Most troubling in the public debate about whether Catholic schools should adopt the Common Core is that parents, whom the Church recognizes are the primary educators of their children, have been largely absent from it.

(Emphasis mine.)

SHOULD IT BE A LITMUS TEST ISSUE FOR CONSERVATIVE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES?

Not having school-aged kids, I have not been following Common Core closely. I know it has become a real hot-button issue for many people. And I can say that I have never heard a single favorable opinion of it, including amongst the educators in my community. In addition, as a conservative, I think that school issues are best handled on a local level, although I do think our society has a broad interest in ensuring all of our kids have access to primary and secondary education.

That said, I confess that some of the objections to Common Core that have circulated within the conservosphere don't alarm me that much -- primarily because they are no worse than the sorts of things I was exposed to in public schools in Maryland four decades ago. I know from experience that children raised by parents who are active in their kids' schools can navigate through the latest educational fads and emerge with both a good education and their values intact. I don't care how good (or bad) your schools are -- your kids' educational success largely rests with you as parents anyway.

In addition, having taught hundreds of undergraduates a required sophomore-level science course at a major university, I know first-hand how poorly prepared many students are. It's even worse at our local university, which is mandated by our state to be open enrollment. I've heard that roughly 40% of entering freshman require remedial courses in math and/or English. (I've seen similar numbers from other states, by the way.) So something is dreadfully wrong that might be properly addressed through some sort of educational standards.

Ultimately, I'm not sure I will use a politician's position (past or current) on Common Core as a litmus test for my own voting decisions. It looks to me as if some politicians may have been suckered by the promise of practical education reform aimed at job-preparation. (See bolded section above.) That's certainly been a pet issue amongst many conservatives these days. So politicians may have naively signed on board to Common Core without fully appreciating what it really was.

In addition, I find it difficult to use as a litmus test an issue that is fundamentally not the President's responsibility. My dream candidate would be reducing the Department of Education's reach anyway, so Common Core itself does not rise to the same level of litmus test issue that securing our borders does, for example. YMMV.

WHERE DO PROSPECTIVE 2016 CANDIDATES STAND ON COMMON CORE?

Gov. Scott Walker: Wisconsin adopted Common Core standards in 2010. Last year conservatives began pressuring Governor Walker to reject them and he responded by asking the legislature to do so. Apparently, they did not, but last month Walker renewed his commitment to repealing Common Core, as well as to expanding school vouchers in Wisconsin.

Sen. Ted Cruz: As a member of Harry Reid's Senate, there isn't much Cruz can do with respect to Common Core, but he has called for its repeal (link to video). Last year, Cruz and several other senators expressed their displeasure with Common Core in a letter to Arne Duncan.

Gov. Rick Perry: Way back in 2010, Rick Perry and the State of Texas rejected Common Core. Here is what he said at the time:

"I will not commit Texas taxpayers to unfunded federal obligations or to the adoption of unproven, cost-prohibitive national standards and tests," Gov. Rick Perry (R) wrote in a January 13 letter to U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Perry had made his intentions clear in November when he directed state Education Commissioner Robert Scott not to commit to adopting national standards in the state's Race to the Top grant application.

Gov. Bobby Jindal: Jindal has reversed his position on Common Core -- he now rejects it. Louisiana accepted the standards in 2010 (with bi-partisan support), but last year critics became more vocal. I'll leave it to you to decide whether Jindal reconsidered his position based on input from his constituents or simply because he has presidential aspirations. (I'm not sure the reason matters to me.)

Gov. Nikki Haley: Early this year, Governor Haley called for repeal of Common Core in South Carolina. Her legislature passed a bill to that effect which she signed this summer.

Gov. Susana Martinez: From what I have gleaned, Governor Martinez supports Common Core in New Mexico.

Gov. Mike Pence: Although Indiana withdrew from Common Core in March of this year, critics claim that this move was more show than substance:

After dramatically withdrawing Indiana from participation in Common Core, Pence was poised to become a hero to the grassroots movement resisting this egregious bid for federal control of America's traditionally independent and locally run education system. Instead, Pence has created the illusion of quality and independence, while installing second-rate standards that are little more than Common Core rebranded.

Pence seems to be trying to walk a political tightrope to keep federal dollars flowing to his state. I'm not sure how many conservatives are buying it.

In summary, it appears that Rick Perry was an early leader in rejecting Common Core. Many of the other prospective candidates have lined up in opposition since then. One candidate (Martinez) actually supports it. And still another (Pence) seems to be trying to split the middle -- formally rejecting it while keeping the federal dollars flowing.

Is a candidate's position on Common Core a litmus test issue for you?

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posted by Open Blogger at 09:15 AM

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