All Republicans who loathe the Common Core national standards know that some current or potential presidential candidates (Jeb Bush, John Kasich) are great proponents of this centralizing scheme. But Common Core is only one problematic education initiative supported by politicians who ought to know better. Why do Republicans who consider themselves conservative consistently promote education policies that endanger student privacy, increase federal government power, and cement an economic system more reflective of 1930s Europe than free-market America?
Consider the "Student Right to Know Before You Go Act," co-sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio. This legislation would expand statewide student data systems to track individual students through college and into the workforce. The behemoth data systems would "match individual-level transcript data to post graduation employment and earnings outcomes" – and share it with the U.S. Department of Education (USED). (The data would be "anonymized," of course, to which any IT expert can only chuckle, "Good luck with that.")
The excuse for this data-collection monstrosity – which would overturn a federal ban on such intrusive tracking -- is to hold colleges accountable for producing economic bang for the student's buck. But even if there were no other way to evaluate colleges (and there is), do we really want the government tracking American citizens as they graduate and move through the workforce, keeping tabs on their jobs and salaries? Liberal Arne Duncan wants this, but should conservative Marco Rubio help him achieve it?
This philosophy – that Americans can't possibly flounder through life unguided by government – also underlies an even more troubling statute called the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). WIOA is designed to align "workforce investment, education, and economic development systems in support of a comprehensive, accessible, and high-quality workforce development system in the United States." Yes, that's what Washington and Jefferson dreamed of in 1776 – a "comprehensive workforce development system" run by the government.
WIOA requires participating states to create "local workforce boards" (not to be confused with "soviets," though the mistake would be understandable) made up of "stakeholders" such as the heads of local politically connected industries and labor unions. These boards will assess the workforce needs of local industries – presumably not including the start-up developed by a lone genius that unfortunately doesn't play golf with the governor. The boards will then create a plan to dragoon the education system into training students, on the taxpayers' dime, to meet those needs. Of course, the plans must be approved by the U.S. Secretaries of Education and Labor to ensure quality control. Nothing says "quality" like federal bureaucracy. But the "control" part is valid.
If this blueprint for a managed crony economy weren't bad enough, the truly frightening aspect appears when WIOA is considered in conjunction with the proposed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind, called the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA). Co-sponsored by Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, ECAA requires that states align their curriculum standards for pre-K through grade 12 public schools to the career standards that emerge from WIOA's local workforce boards. So all of public education will be harnessed to achieve the goal not of truly educating children, but of creating workers for favored industry.
And parents, whose rights concerning their children's education should supersede all other claims, are reduced to just one of many categories of "stakeholders." Under WIOA, business has more clout than parents do.
"Conservative" Republicans in Congress voted for this. In fact, WIOA sailed through the Senate on a consent calendar – and any senator could have derailed the process by objecting. None did. Sen. Cruz? Sen. Paul? Sen. Rubio? Anyone?
What explains Republican collaboration in these educational travesties? One possibility is simple ignorance. The leftist education establishment, embodied by USED, is masterful at obfuscating what it's really doing. When everything is presented as "high quality" and "rigorous" and designed for "accountability," it's not surprising that clueless politicians fall for it.
Another reason is the outsized influence of big business in Republican circles. For an industry seeking to access a pipeline of already-trained workers, and to shut out the less politically connected competition, this quasi-fascist system is ideal. And it can be made very appealing to the "pragmatic" conservative politician who wants to bolster the economy and provide jobs.
But therein lies the problem. Too many of these Republican politicians have no real economic plan, and they seem to have lost faith in the marriage of liberal-arts education and free enterprise – a union that produced the greatest economy in the history of the world. Presented with a vision of cooperation of stakeholders/donors and education "experts," they acquiesce to schemes that are breathtakingly un-American. The first presidential candidate to figure this out – and to offer leadership out of this morass – will be the one to watch.
This column was co-authored by Emmett McGroarty, Director of Education at American Principles Project.