2016 dossier: Education

As I promised awhile back, now that my monoblogue Accountability Project is out of the way I can begin to focus on the 2016 presidential race. With the exception of governors John Kasich of Ohio and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, it looks like we have the initial field in place for the start of what should be a memorable campaign – if only for the sheer number of people seeking to clean up the mess Barack Obama has made.

As I have done before, I break my method of choosing a candidate to support down by issues, which I rank in importance as part of a 100-point scale. Education ranks at the bottom of my ten top issues, thus a perfect score in this category is five points.

So what would be the ideal course of action for our next President? There are a number of answers I’ve written about previously, but to boil it down to a few items:

  • The first step would be to eliminate Common Core as a federal incentive. It would be the icebreaker to a philosophy of restoring educational control to the states, with the eventual goal of maximizing local control.
  • This President should then do what Ronald Reagan promised to do but could not: abort the federal Department of Education.
  • He (or she) should then become the leading voice for real educational reform in two areas: maximizing school choice and establishing the standard that money follows the child.
  • The President should also be an advocate for alternate career paths such as vocational education and apprenticeships as well as ending the stranglehold the federal government has on financing college education.

For this exercise I am going to rank the fourteen current candidates from best to worst, assigning them a point value from zero to five.

Rand Paul would abolish Common Core – although since it’s actually owned by a private corporation he can’t exactly do that.

He also believes strongly in local control, quipping that “I don’t think you’ll notice” if the Department of Education were gone, and adding that local boards of education shouldn’t have to fight Washington over curriculum. But where he shines is his statement that money should follow the child.

As you’ll see below, some put qualifiers on their advocacy of that concept. “Let the taxes Americans pay for education follow every student to the school of his or her family’s choice,” he wrote in the Washington Times. That, friends, is the correct answer.

Total score for Paul – 4.4 of 5.

Ted Cruz has many of the same good ideas Paul does, vowing to end Common Core and scrap the Department of Education. He also proposed legislation designed to enhance school choice for children on the lower rungs of the economic ladder. While I haven’t heard or seen Cruz speak much to the other areas on my docket, I am giving him a little bit extra because he has shown a willingness to lead on issues.

The only faults I find with his Enhancing Educational Opportunities for All Act is that it only benefits lower-income children. If every child has a right to a quality education, every child should benefit, as Paul points out.

Some may ask why I feel that way, since wealthier students can likely afford private schools. However, the chances are good that they invest more in the system through paying higher property taxes, so they should be given the same opportunity. Remember, money is only following the child to the extent a state would support him or her, so any overage would be borne by the parents.

Total score for Cruz – 4.2 of 5.

Bobby Jindal was for Common Core for awhile, but now notes the more parents and teachers deal with it the more they dislike it – he also thinks it will “strip away state’s rights.”

Yet he’s definitely hurt in my process because, while he argues that federal control should revert back to the states, he only wants to return the Department of Education “to its original intended purpose.” There was no intended purpose for the Department of Education except to suck up to the teachers’ unions for backing Jimmy Carter. They just wanted a Cabinet-level department.

Bobby’s only reason for scoring as high as he does is that he has done the most to create a situation in Louisiana where money indeed follows the child regardless of school type – a roster which includes online schools. In doing so, he has also shown the true feelings of teachers’ unions, who claimed Jindal’s reforms “would destabilize the state’s public education system and reduce teachers’ job security. They also claimed parents are not mentally equipped to choose a good education for their children.” (Emphasis mine.)

Once he realizes that the federal government is infested with bureaucrats who think the same way, Jindal could do a lot of good.

Total score for Jindal – 4.0 of 5.

It dawned on me that the reason Rick Perry doesn’t speak out as forcefully against Common Core is that his state never adopted it. He also wasn’t as forceful about dismantling the Department of Education, although it was part of the gaffe that ended his 2012 campaign.

Yet the reason, Perry claims, why his state did not do any federal programs was that Texas had established higher standards. He had also called upon colleges in his state to create degree programs which could cost no more than $10,000, which several Texas universities have achieved. It’s a initiative Perry claims has spread to Florida and California.

Of course, the question isn’t whether these state initiatives can be done at the federal level but whether Rick can stand by as President and allow the laggards to fail. He seems to understand, though, that education is a local issue.

Total score for Perry – 3.8 of 5.

The one thing that sticks out about Lindsey Graham is his support for homeschooled kids, for whom he vows “you have no better friend. He also expresses his opposition to Common Core as a tool of coercion, which is good but maybe not quite as good as those above him.

However, he has previously worked to eliminate the Department of Education and supported tax measures aimed at assisting young educators with their student loans. It’s not a idea I could wholeheartedly back because I dislike pandering via tax code, but it will be interesting to see how Graham’s campaign develops on this front and hear some of his other thoughts.

Total score for Graham – 3.4 of 5.

Mike Huckabee was once for Common Core, believing it needed a “rebrand,” but now is against it saying “We must kill Common Core and restore common sense.” Whether that means some sort of standards just for public schools or not, his thinking has changed dramatically. But it could be better late than never, unlike Jeb Bush.

Mike is an advocate of school choice, claiming he was the first governor to place a homeschooling parent on his state board of education, and also noted that he increased teacher pay. He also thinks the federal Department of Education has “flunked” and needs to be “expelled.”

While he says the right things, I just don’t trust him to be a forceful advocate for sound educational policy. I just sense that Big Education will roll over him.

Total score for Huckabee – 2.8 of 5.

While he is new to the race, Chris Christie has a 15-point reform agenda which he believes “can and should be a model for reform for the nation.” It covers a number of subjects: teacher tenure and pay, school choice, charter schools, college affordability and accountability, and ideas for higher education.

Unfortunately, what it doesn’t tell me is what he would do to eliminate federal involvement; in fact, as this is written it sound to me like he would simply make New Jersey’s initiatives nationwide. Other states should succeed (or fail) on their own merits, but I would encourage them to adopt ideas like “stackable credentials,” apprenticeships, and credit for prior experience.

Total score for Christie – 2.6 of 5.

More than any other candidate, Marco Rubio talks about the federal role in college financing. But he also talks about alternatives such as vocational education and believes parents need to be empowered through the enhanced choice of educational scholarships that they can use anywhere. Local control also extends to curriculum, and Rubio suggested that the Department of Education may be eliminated.

But if the federal government is going to have a role in college financial aid, it’s likely that no federal agency will be eliminated. Rubio seems to be on a populist rather than conservative path, with the major difference being Uncle Sam’s role in financing school. Why should they have any role in something the private sector could easily do?

Total score for Rubio – 2.5 of 5.

Scott Walker has a mixed record on the important subject of Common Core. He will say he’s against it, but hasn’t gone out of his way to eliminate it in Wisconsin. And while his state has gone farther than most to install a measure of school choice, there are a number of restrictions and only certain families qualify, so it’s not always a case of money following the child.

Like Huckabee and Graham above him, Walker is a strong backer of homeschooling. He also has shown the teachers’ unions he’s the boss, but has been silent on what he would do with the Department of Education and doesn’t speak a great deal about local control. This puts him more squarely in the middle of the pack.

Total score for Walker – 2.5 of 5.

I don’t know if Rick Santorum intentionally stole the tagline of “common sense not Cfommon Core” from Mike Huckabee or vice-versa. But that’s about all he talks about, aside from a nod to local control which he doesn’t really come out and embrace.

One thing that I would expect Rick to talk more about is vocational education, considering he has supported the rebirth of manufacturing. But nothing has been said, at least that I’ve found.

Total score for Santorum – 2.4 of 5.

George Pataki was the governor of New York for 11 years, so a large portion of his agenda is an extension of his record there. So while he says that “Common Core should go” and that education should be local, he would not rid us of the Department of Education, but retain it in a “very limited role.”

The idea of tax credits that could apply in either a public or private system has a little bit of merit, though, and that’s what pushes him ahead of other contenders – that is, assuming he could use his office as a bully pulpit to get states to adopt this.

Total score for Pataki – 2.2 of 5.

In his educational platformBen Carson talks mainly about local control and that Common Core must be “overturned,” which is good. School choice is also a subject he has touched on.

But aside from the platitudes and buzzwords, I really don’t see a lot of depth in what Carson has to say. And, like Pataki, there’s one thing which definitely detracts from his overall score – he will not eliminate the Department of Education. While I don’t agree the Department should be an arbiter of speech, I really don’t agree that any government agency will accept a reduction in its role – it simply must be uprooted.

Short of some major pronouncements of policy regarding issues others above have touched on, this is not a strong category for Ben.

Total score for Carson – 2.0 of 5.

In several ways, Jeb Bush is like Rick Perry and others above. His state has been a leader in school choice, he advocates for digital schools conducted online (think of a high school version of the University of Phoenix, to use a familiar example) and he favors school choice.

But the issue I have is that he would prefer a top-down approach, and while he argues Common Core should not be construed as a federal creation of standards (which is true to an extent, as a private entity created and licenses it) he still encourages the federal government to have a role in education, to provide “carrots and sticks.” Those carrots and sticks should be created by the market, not the federal government.

Total score for Bush – 1.8 of 5.

For all I know, Donald Trump could be good on education – perhaps he could make it into one giant for-profit enterprise and eliminate the government altogether. But I doubt it.

And aside from thinking Common Core will “kill Bush” (he is against it, though) and believing education should be local, there’s not much on the Donald’s educational platform. I hate the lack of specifics, and if he was to run based solely on educational philosophy I would fire him.

Total score for Trump – 1.0 of 5.

Aside from a number of vague statements about school vouchers, the size of federal impact, and the thought that Common Core limits parents’ options, Carly Fiorina really hasn’t put together much of an educational platform. And some question her change of tune from her Senate run four years ago.

When others have an agenda that is well spelled out, the lack of specifics from Fiorina sticks out like a sore thumb.

Total score for Fiorina – 0.5 of 5.

Postscript 9/26: After hearing her “answers” on education, I have decided she should score 1.5 more points in the category, bringing her to 2 points.

Next up will be a category with considerably less nuance and a value of six points – the Second Amendment. And as a programming note, I think I will leave this up through Sunday night and otherwise leave the site dark for Independence Day.

2014 Maryland dossier: part 1 (education)

Last month, in the midst of ongoing controversy over the foibles of one particular Maryland campaign, I put up a post reminding people it’s about the issues. And while I have a favorite in the race just simply based on that which I’ve heard him say and the fact he’s a very convincing speaker, I thought the time had come to look at his and the other campaigns in a much more critical light. After all, our nation elected a guy who had a very positive message for hope and change – now many are hoping we survive as a nation to change things back.

As part of that I also resurrected a feature I used to determine my presidential picks over the last two cycles. Perhaps it’s the curse of an overly analytical mind, but I like to break things down into numbers so I devised a point system to rate individual candidates. Granted, this is still somewhat subjective and arbitrary but it’s the best I can do.

What I will do over the next few weeks is look at a number of issues I feel are the most important in the race. Some of them are covered well in-depth among the several sources I cite, and I may even expand this exercise as I find more information and the campaigns roll on. In terms of having a plethora of source material, I thought the subject of education would be a good place to begin. While it only ranks in the middle among my key issues, it’s much higher on the list for many so I thought it a good entree.

The first part is worth 9 points on my 100-point scale. I’ll begin with the source material, add some compare and contrast with Democratic opponents (who have written quite a bit on this subject) then wrap up with my thoughts. David Craig will be covered first, followed by Ron George and Charles Lollar on the GOP side.


David Craig: MDEd’s budget has increased from $265 million in 2007 to $307 million this year.  The state agency employs 1600 government workers.  That money would be better spent in Maryland classrooms where it would buy much-need (sic) supplies and enhance teacher salaries.


As Governor, I will reduce the administrative budget of the state education department and pass the cost-savings on to local schools. I will end common core, return the money to Washington and let teacher’s (sic) teach.  The sound budgeting practices I will apply to the K-12 system will be required of the University System of Maryland to make college tuition affordable.  I will support school choice, charter schools and other proven measures to increase competition to ensure no child is trapped in a school that does not work.  (campaign site)


Craig’s answer to the problem: “We don’t need statewide testing,” and as governor, he would advocate for their abolition. Instead, he said that tests should be developed at the school and classroom level, “That’s why we hire teachers.”

Dagger: Some states have delayed mandatory implementation of the Common Core. Should Maryland follow suit?

Craig: “The only reason Maryland [adopted the Common Core] was they saw they could get all this money. How much went to teachers? How much went to the classroom? None of it.”

As for a statewide delay in implementing the Common Core, put Craig down as a “definite yes.” (interview with The Dagger, June 25, 2013)


But there’s duplication, so much duplication, in government – county government and school board government. I have a capital projects committee, they have a capital projects committee – why do we need both? I have the same guys that do the investigations, the inspections and all that stuff, I have a procurement department. I don’t buy chalk and all that stuff, but they have a procurement department. That’s duplication. I have a lawyer, a law department, they have a law department – duplication. They have a human resource department, I have a human resource department, duplication. Now, do I get rid of all those employees? No, but at least get rid of the top person. The person who’s making $150,000, instead of having two of them, you only have one. And you can probably merge a lot of things together and only have office – and none of that takes place in the classroom. (monoblogue interview, June 11, 2013)

Ron George: Grading each school’s educational success only on outcome based measures, not on the amount of money spent on education and construction or pay.

Create a “scholarship” system where students that pass an entrance exam to a non-public school will receive money to attend without the state having to pay a penny more.  Currently it costs Maryland $13,900 each year to educate a student, the national average is $10,400.

By allowing a “scholarship” of up to one quarter that amount, our public school teachers will have smaller class sizes, better pay, more planning time, and the state saves some money while all students receive a more tailored education according to their abilities.

By creating a Baltimore Children’s Zone in the failing high crime areas modeled after the effective Harlem Children’s Zone where grades and attitudes have improved immensely.

By the creation of charter schools where immigration numbers are high and test scores are dropping such as in Montgomery County so that the immigrant population can receive education tailored to help them get acclimated into their new society, addressing language and other needs while other students can concentrate on their needs.

By promoting Government Civics Courses and Financial Literacy courses.  Students need to understand the form of government and the economic system they will be a part of, otherwise they will graduate unprepared. (campaign site)


“I have opposed Common Core from its onset,” said Delegate George. “Parents have the right to have their voices heard in all matters concerning the education of their children. This is a vast overreach by the federal government that should not even be considered until it has been thoroughly vetted by parents,” continued George.

“It is very clear to me that Common Core is nothing but an attempt by the federal government to take control over our children’s education and to force parents to sit on the sideline. It is outrageous and I intend to fight it with all of my energy,” said George. (press release, September 23, 2013)


As Common Core has been in the news, Ron weighed in on how Maryland adopted it. The package of bills was fourfold, he explained, with the first two not being too obnoxious – but once they passed the fix was in for the bad portions. Ron stated he was “very much against” the mandates in Common Core. It’s being forced on the counties, he later said, but was “totally dumbing down” students. (WCRC meeting, monoblogue, September 23, 2013)


George even floated the idea of $4,000 state-funded scholarships for students who pass private school entrance exams. He said the measure would reduce classroom sizes and save the state $6,000 off the nearly $13,900 price tag attached to each public school student, with the remaining $3,900 going toward pay raises for public school teachers. (SoMDNews, June 26, 2013)

Charles Lollar: What we should try to do is reward teachers whose students comprehend the subject matter. We should give more local control to teachers and parents, while taking it away from the educational bureaucracy. We should allow parents to choose the schools they want to send their children to and not punish them for doing so. We should allow a stronger voucher program offering them the chance to compete with public institutions. We conservatives want what’s best for all of our children and have learned from experience what we shouldn’t do. Having blanket standards in a “one-size-fits-all” approach is NOT what we should do. (release quoted on monoblogue, July 1, 2013)


He is committed to joining with leaders and law enforcement officials to create more community centers for at-risk youth that will help them learn the life and business skills necessary for healthy lives and careers. (campaign website, “Platform“)


As Governor, Charles Lollar will fight for children’s education with a suite of policies – more economic opportunity offering the hope of more jobs, more resources in the classroom instead of in the administration building, innovative ideas that will engage student, parent and teacher in a rising tide of educational achievement.

He will fight to remove obstacles to learning.  He is pro-innovation, pro-school choice, and pro-educator.  With their parents and teachers, he will fight to remove obstacles that deny children the opportunity to achieve and be valued.

Charles Lollar will strengthen the weakened charter school system and promote the successful methodologies in education.

Charles Lollar will strongly advocate to the State Board of Education, County BOEs and individual districts to embrace charter schools, private schools, and home-schooling as excellent and alternative paths for the children of our state to learn and achieve to the benefit of all Marylanders.

Charles Lollar will work with local school boards to reward dedicated teachers in ways that encourage and inspire them to continue working in Maryland school systems.


(W)e know that Common Core will not work.

We know from experience and repeated tries that “one-size-fits-all” government does not work. We tried No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, but have you visited the schools in Baltimore City or Prince George’s County lately? How are these programs working out for those precious children and their hard working parents? We shouldn’t continue down a road of failure.

As Governor I will give more local control to teachers and parents, and reduce the role and size of educational bureaucracy. I will institute a strong voucher program. We will work to allow parents to choose the schools they want to send their children to and not be punished for doing so. And we will reward teachers whose students comprehend the subject matter. (campaign website, “Education“)


“If we’re spending $6 billion a year on education, why in the world can we not provide pens, paper, and pencils for our students in the classroom?” (blogger interview accessed via Red Maryland, June 24, 2013)


Lollar would pave the way for school choice by allowing tax dollars to follow the child, and do more to ensure that taxpayer dollars are aimed at teachers rather than administrators. “We have to demand academic excellence,” Lollar told me. (Real Clear Markets, September 3, 2013)


On the Democratic side, all three candidates (Anthony Brown, Doug Gansler, and Heather Mizeur) have focused on education as well, with the key issue uniting them all being an expansion of public education to the pre-kindergarten level. Gansler, however, would include “targeted achievement grants” to schools serving immigrant families, more data collection, mentoring programs, and “learning bridge” programs to address after-school and summer breaks. Meanwhile, Mizeur would match Gansler in “investing” in after-school and summer programs, but also greatly expand the child care subsidy plan and revise the funding formula she complains is “out of date.”


There’s no doubt we have a difference in philosophy here between Republicans and Democrats, but it also helps in this cause to explain my own.

It’s been a little over a year since I completed my book, and tucked within is a chapter on education. I’ll not blockquote the entire chapter, but the main thrusts of my argument fell into two categories:

  • financial issues, where I advocate an approach of “money follows the child,” the idea of for-profit schools, and the insistence that Uncle Sam “butt out” of the education business so more local control can be established, and;
  • curriculum issues, such as the lack of focus on basic subjects and critical thinking in the rush to score well on standardized tests, as well as the fading focus on vocational education

But I will steal one sentence from Chapter 11:

As it stands in America today, those environments for learning which tend to show the most success (namely, private schools and homeschooling) generally have the least to do with government regulation and the most to do with educating children through more rigid discipline, a course of study emphasizing classical subjects, and a greater sense of morality through faith-based studies.

Therein lies the rub. I understand there are only limited resources in a campaign and candidates can’t address every concern, so I can definitively say none of these guys is my perfect candidate insofar as education is concerned. But which ones are better?

Obviously the Democrats are in a headlong rush to put the government in control of your children – particularly those of the poorest among us who qualify for all the subsidies – at an earlier and earlier age, even collecting data on them from birth! Some might say this is to condition them for government control throughout their lives, fostering a sense of dependence. As is often the case, government seems to be the sole answer for the Democratic candidates; regardless of the question, I hope Marylanders are smarter than that.

Many will argue, though, that a child is not a commodity, and education is not a business. Yet there are inefficiencies in the system, and David Craig has the advantage of knowing the system as an educator himself. He also notes he will eliminate Common Core and refuse the federal money for that, which is a good start from weaning ourselves from the federal teat. He also advocated an end to statewide testing, vowed to enhance school choice, and suggested money should indeed follow the child (in another quote I now cannot source), all of which suggests a good beginning. The next steps, though, are to convince a skeptical public.

And this is key with what he says: he will create the budget. Yet there are some gaps in this financial approach: what about maintenance of effort? Will the counties be forced to account for any state shortfall, or will be give fiscal control back to the counties? One start would be sending up a repeal of the bill forcing counties into ever-increasing maintenance of effort despite locally-enacted revenue caps.

Based on the experience and the promising start, I give David 6.5 points of 9.

On the other hand, Ron George seems to view a larger state influence in several respects, although he joins his fellows in opposing Common Core. I interpret his call for “outcome based” measures as some sort of testing mechanism; unfortunately, we already suffer from overly “teaching to the test.” I will say, though, properly taught civics and financial literacy courses would be a plus. Just strike the environmental education requirement and substitute these classes.

Yet he advocates a limited dose of “money follows the child” with his scholarship program, with the savings going to teacher raises. The devil’s advocate in me asks, though: why give raises to the teachers who are already failing children enough to drive them to private schools?

Ron also advocates a program for inner-city Baltimore based on the Harlem Children’s Zone. In doing a little bit of research on the initiative, though, I came up with two questions: one is of leadership, since the HCZ notes a program takes 10-15 years to develop, so it will require leadership spanning gubernatorial administrations. The other is the 2:1 mix of private to public funds it had in 2008, when the white paper was developed. At the time the HCZ budget was $67 million, so presumably the state would need $20 to $30 million annually to run this program.

So I have to ask: if it was such a good idea, why isn’t it already in effect? Why wait for a particular governor?

Meanwhile, while Ron is for charter schools, the emphasis he has is on immersing those who aren’t native English speakers.

What I sense with Ron George is the willingness to try new things, but not those which step far outside the Big Education comfort zone we have now. I don’t get the sense of demanding parental and local control I get with Craig and (as you’ll see) Charles Lollar. Ron receives 4 of 9 points.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, Charles Lollar is an advocate for local control and money following the child. We get it, and I like the idea. In many respects, he and David Craig walk the same ground. And as I noted with David, he will have the bully pulpit of creating the budget to enact his wishes.

In fact, Charles seems to be a very strong advocate for charter schools, which is a good beginning to opening up the educational market. But the question is what strings will be placed on a “strong voucher program”?

I also have to ask: why is it the school’s responsibility to provide pens, paper, and pencils for students? If parents can make a school choice, don’t they also have the charge to send their child to school prepared?

Of the three candidates, Charles seems to have the most fleshing out of his policy to do. It’s something where I can give him 6 of 9 points but he can help his score out (or hurt it) depending on how he follows through. The mantras of school choice and local control are great, but more specifics would help voters understand how we get from point A to point B.

Because it’s early in the process and we have one more potential major candidate, I’ll hold off on the running total for now. I think my next subjects to tackle will be the first two I listed: election/campaign finance reform and illegal immigration.