What does it mean to be conservative about education? What ed policy will get voters excited? Today at 8:50 (Eastern Time, USA), you can watch live as a handful of Republican presidential candidates talk education.
The discussion will be hosted by The Seventy-Four. It will include Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, and Scott Walker.
As Carolyn Phenicie points out, these six candidates have very different interpretations of good ed policy. Jeb Bush supports the Common Core standards; Bobby Jindal has sued the federal government over them. There are some common themes that unite them. All of the candidates, for example, support greater privatization of public schooling. All of them would like to water down the power of teachers’ unions.
As I argued in my recent book, it has never been simple to define what it has meant to be “conservative” about education. It has never been easy for conservative politicians to figure out how to mobilize voters about schools. (If you don’t have time for the whole book, you can get a taste of the argument in this Time op-ed.)
In the early twentieth century, for example, most self-styled conservatives had absolutely no problem with an increased federal role in education. Back then, conservatives hoped the federal government could use its influence to make public schools more traditional, more Protestant.
What points will this year’s candidates make? They will likely emphasize their loathing for federal dictation of local school policy. They will likely point to their credentials as education leaders. Yet none of them will be likely to argue that as president they will not implement any education policy. None of them will make the point that federal officials should not have education policies.
As it has been for the last fifty years, conservative politicians these days are in the tricky position of insisting on a leadership position in education, even though they also insist that education should be in the hands of state and local officials.