GOP Debate: What the Clown Car Gets Wrong about ESEA, Common Core, and Moms on the Ground

For us edu-centric folks,  the primary disappointment of the primetime FOX GOP debate last night was that education issues came up exactly once.   PoliticsK-12 describes how “moderator Bret Baier asked former Florida governor Jeb Bush whether he agreed with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that most of the criticism of common core is due to "a fringe group of critics,” and Bush gave, I think, a reasoned and articulate answer: "I'm for higher standards measured in an intellectually honest way with abundant school choice” but each state should set its own standards.

Then Marco Rubio jumped in:
Rubio: I too believe in curriculum reform. It's critically important in the 21st century. We do need curriculum reform and it should happen in the state and local level. That's where education policy belongs. Because if a parent isn't happy with what their child is being taught in school, they can go to that local school board, their state legislature, or their governor and get it changed. Here's the problem with the common core. The Department to 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 you do things the way we want you to do it." And they will use common core or any other requirement that exists nationally to force it down the throats of our people and our states.
Hang on a sec. If a parent “isn’t happy isn't happy with what their child is being taught in school, they can go to that local school board, their state legislature, or their governor and get it changed”? Really? On what planet?

Let’s say that you’re a mom with a kid assigned to a struggling school that gives short shrift to state core content standards. Your kid is really good at math and you know that he or she  needs to start algebra in 8th grade in order to progress to calculus by 12th grade in order to be ready for college math courses. But that’s a course sequence not available at your school because  ambitious math standards have not been “forced down" its "throat."

Let's take it a step further. You're a proactive, empowered mom with a math-whiz kid so  maybe you’ve written letter to the school board president or met with the superintendent or even wrangled some parents together for a petition drive.  During your research you found out that the school was written up during a state monitoring exercise for not offering pre-algebra in 7th grade in order to have math-oriented kids on track for college-level math courses.  Maybe the school even has a Corrective Action Plan and the state will check its progress in two years.

But that's too late for your kid.

Oh, hey, that’s no problem,  says Rubio (and just about everyone else during the debate carnival, although John Kasich gets points for supporting Common Core). Just  go knock on the Statehouse door to chat with your local legislator. Just pick up the phone and call the governor.

Oh, yeah, that’ll work.

(I already miss Jon Stewart.)

Now, the debate last night existed within a reality-free zone where a  celebrity clown attacked women and people cheered; where no candidate was pro-choice, immigrants were criminals, and only Kasich displayed a veneer of respect for the LGTBQ community;  where references to Jesus Christ were so frequent that anyone using that mention as a marker for a drinking game would have been blitzed. (Seriously, GOP, you think there are no Jews or Muslims or Buddhists watching the debate? How narrow is your world?)

So it may be a lost cause to suggest that Rubio’s blithe assumption of parental control is at best ignorant and at worse delusive.  The only bright spot is that this exchange between Bush and Rubio is that it provides a great example of why the U.S. Congress needs to approve an ESEA bill that, yes, forces college and career-aligned course standards – not federal ones, but state ones – down the throats of local districts and requires states to intervene in schools that disregard that mandate or fail to implement it properly.

That's this hypothetical mother's only shot.