Educa⁠t⁠⁠i⁠on Pol⁠i⁠⁠t⁠⁠i⁠cs: A H⁠i⁠s⁠t⁠ory

April 4, 2024

Kayla Maloney

CALN Project Manager

For many decades, the topic of education was one which could be discussed at the kitchen table. In fact, education was a key policy issue that politicians used to entice moderate voters. Republicans showed how they cared about personal responsibility while Democrats showed that they were in favor of equal opportunity. 

This was the case until the Obama years came into full swing, but the era of “sharing a common goal with different ways to get there” is effectively over. The resulting times of division and brawling are disconcerting, but, they also pose an opportunity for us to finally do something right – if we can get our priorities straight. 

The 1983 Report, A Nation at Risk, highlighted the dire straits we found ourselves in at that time. Effective education was a matter of national security, being that the report found American education, even at that point, was being outranked by competitors around the world. Today, American education is markedly inferior to that of our friends and foes alike. Why is it that our education system continued to decline even after the Report was released and the issue became a top priority? 

The short answer is, the past several administrations have not implemented the proper solutions. 

In the wake of the Report, President H. W. Bush put out the America 2000 Strategy, which paved the way for bipartisan K-12 reform. His efforts allowed governors to enact solutions in their respective states. The self-proclaimed “education president’s” strategy is widely hailed as successful. 

When Clinton came into office, he promised to expand opportunity for “those who work hard and play by the rules.” He prioritized solutions like charter schools rather than high spending. Filling Bush senior’s shoes, Clinton was provided the opportunity to carry on his strategy. 

Then, at the turn of the millennium, the Bush administration started ushering in education reform which, in the long term, had negative impacts. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), passed in 2002, failed to achieve its objective and instead ushered in blanket standardized testing. Teachers had to “teach to the tests,” and standards therefore were not met. Not to mention, it proliferated government influence in schooling. 

Obama’s education agenda was essentially an extension of Bush’s. NCLB was updated and converted into the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which grew government spending and indirectly ushered in Common Core learning. Common Core, like the failures of standardized testing, has arguably destroyed our education system. Even Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, despite its few highlights, did not bring us to any such destination. 

In fact, Common Core is really what drove a wedge between the left and the right when it came to education reform. Up until then, education was mostly a centrist issue. But, as time passed and Common Core’s true colors shone, its opposers were looked down upon as conspiracy theorists and know-nothings. For what it’s worth, they were right. 

These days, the rhetoric has degraded to accusations of bigotry and selfishness. The question of education reform revolves around the teachers’ unions and indoctrination. Today, Biden is increasing spending without increasing standards and tracking results. His administration has proliferated woke education and DEI, destroyed school discipline and merit-based reward, and focused on appeasing the teachers’ unions and liberal activist groups.  

On the right, school choice and fighting the left are taking precedence over fixing public schools. School choice is not by any means bad policy, but it leaves behind the 74 million kids left in public schools across the country.  

COVID has not helped with any of these issues. So, I say again that today we are in dire straits. The difference between then and now? Today, the veil has been lifted and though we are divided, we are fighting for more comprehensive solutions than Common Core and standardized testing. But, because of the passion on both sides, real solutions will undoubtedly be difficult to implement. 

One thing is certain, though. The left’s “solutions” of wokeness and DEI will certainly bring more harm than good. So will the right’s willingness to let public education succumb to the left’s antics. 

While it will not do us any better to revert back to the Bush-Obama era of “centricism,” we have no choice but to start finding common ground. Student achievement – profieiency in reading, writing, math, history, and science, ought to be prioritized, not social issues. We need to improve curriculums before we decide which teams transgenders get to play on. A poorly educated populace is the most harmful thing to a nation, and it is time both sides remember that. 

For more on this history, read the National Review’s article here