GOP Candidates: Where's the Education Beef?

Is it just me or does it seem that during this Republican Presidential Primary process there’s an astonishing lack of attention directed at education? When’s the last time you heard a question on this topic during the endless series of debates?

While the candidates are largely ignoring education issues, PoliticsK-12 has a quick overview of their respective views, noting that Ron Paul cast one of the few votes against the original No Child Left Behind legislation, Jon Huntsman made an effort to evade NCLB while governor of Utah, and Rick Santorum recently said that President Obama’s preoccupation with higher education is snobbish elitist malarkey because auto mechanics do just fine. For follow-up see The Quick and the Ed, which has a chart that shows that upgrades of automobile technology now require that mechanics possess sophisticated computer skills, usually acquired at post-secondary trade schools or colleges.

Meanwhile the Republican candidates rail against federal oversight and wax passionately for local control. If we extrapolate from that stance to the education arena, the GOP field is united in its disdain for ESEA/NCLB and Race to the Top and also shares a distaste for the Common Core Standards that are intended to ensure that kids in Mississippi have a similar course content to kids in Massachusetts.

(This animosity towards the Federal government fades away when the discussion veers towards red meat issues like abortion and gay marriage. Then it’s “Feds, come right in.”)

It’s Ron Paul’s isolationism brought home, a sort of Tea Party-tinged antagonism towards standardization, at least when the overseer is the Feds. While none on the GOP roster join Paul in his call for “Bring the troops home right now,” they’re united in a “bring the authority home right now” mentality, with home in this case being individual states. So one could assume that they’re all big supporters of Governor Rick Perry’s ability to choose Gail Lowe for Chair of the Texas State Board of Education, who is on record opposing medically accurate information about pregnancy in textbooks and favors “dumbing down the state’s public school science curriculum by voting to include unscientific, creationist criticisms of evolution in science textbooks and curriculum standards.”

Jon Huntsman, the most moderate of the candidates, published an editorial earlier this month in the Concord Monitor which sends the same message:
My administration will seek to transform and modernize our education system by ending the current one-size-fits-all approach and instead focusing our efforts on how best to serve individual communities, individual schools and individual students.

This means, first and foremost, restoring local control. States and local districts are laboratories of innovation, and Washington must empower them to meet the unique needs of their students.

I was the first governor to reject the unnecessary federal overreach of No Child Left Behind - which imposed a multitude of burdensome mandates and regulations on states - and as president I will seek its full repeal.
This is where I get stuck. We’re going to do major liposuction on the U.S. Department of Education (which all GOP candidates call for in a belated swoon towards Sarah Palin) and repeal NCLB and Race to the Top because Washington is broken and the Feds are losers. Instead, we’re going to depend on individual states to set their own set of educational priorities because state capitols are such bastions of oversight and local state legislators and officers are united in their fervor to do what’s best for schoolchildren.

In New Jersey, we're epicures of home rule, the "zip code is destiny" mantra that informs our public school infrastructure. Kids in Camden and Trenton and Paterson press their faces to the bakery window of high-performing neighboring school districts, and that's as they'll get. They might have a choice word or two to share with the tea-sipping pundits on the dais enraptured by the siren call of local control.