imageI finally picked up former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s book, A Simple Government.  I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but when looking through the table of contents I saw there was a chapter on education.  Since that is an issue I’ve been working on and following closely it piqued my interest and I went there first.

I was encouraged by some of what I read, and disappointed by some other things.  First the good.

He understands the brokenness of our public educational system and his question, “Are the taxes you pay going to provide a high school education or a high school diploma?  In too many of our schools they are not the same thing,’” (pg. 91).  More kids are dropping out, and the ones who don’t are seeing a depreciation of their diploma evidenced by more and more youth not being adequately prepared to go the college.

He believes that while problem with our public schools is a national problem, it isn’t a problem that can be solved at the national level, (pg. 93).  He said, “I do not endorse letting the federal government take over education and would oppose having it set the curriculum, standards, class sizes, or teacher pay for public schools,” (pg. 94).

He recognizes one of the primary problems with public education is the pay structure – tenure and “step and level pay.”  He favors merit pay, as does Iowa’s new Department of Education Director, Jason Glass.  The documentary, Waiting For Superman, does an excellent job pointing out the problems inherent with how most districts currently pay their teachers and how hard it is to get rid of bad teachers mainly due to teachers’ unions.  It should be a given that the best teachers are rewarded, it should be easier to fire bad teachers and when layoffs come it shouldn’t be based on seniority, it should be based on performance.

I also like his idea of personalized learning, and I understand his position on art and music education.  The value of both would be determined on how they are implemented.  With parental guidance?  How do you pay for extracurricular activities like art and music education if you are facing a budget shortfall?  Also if this is a bully pulpit item or is he suggesting mandating it?  I’d be against mandating either, even at the state level.  He lays the ideas out there, but doesn’t really suggest how they be implemented.

And now the bad…

He embraces school choice on one hand, but then dismisses it with the other.  He said, “getting more children into private schools through vouchers and scholarships and supporting high-performing charter schools are good things.  But the truth is that the overwhelming majority of our children are going to go to their local public school.  We have to provide solutions for them,” (pg. 94-95).

Agreed we do need to provide solutions for them.  I think public school reform AND greater school choice is the answer – it isn’t an either/or proposition, it’s a both/and one.  He goes on to say, “As much as I support and appreciate Christian schools, homeschooling, private academies, and charter schools, I doubt they will be able to replace public schools for many of America’s students,” (pg. 95).

Well of course not, at present.  But that type of thinking will only perpetuate the status quo as far as choice for parents is concerned.  I recognize that many school choice options should be offered at the local and state levels, but as far as tax policy is concerned what can be done toward credits and deductions?  How will taxpayer money spent at the Federal level for education make it back to parents so they can make the best choice for their kids.  While taxpayer money is still being spent on education at the Federal level if he is going to run for President he’d better have a plan to advance school choice.

I am extremely disappointed by his support of Race to the Top.  He writes, “although I believe education should be left to the states, I fully endorse the new federal program Race to the Top, which has states compete for additional education funds, allowing them to decide what reforms to enact rather than having specific reforms imposed on them from above,” (pg. 100).

He goes on to say, “it’s a very clever way to prod states to embrace much needed reform just out of the hope of getting federal money, without actually promising any particular state anything.”

So this program is good because, it is a good idea.  Governor Huckabee would be all right if there were a Good Idea Clause in our Constitution, but there is not.  I’m going to assume that Governor Huckabee isn’t really aware of the details of this program.  If he were I would like to think he wouldn’t support it.

First this program is a scheme by the Obama administration to further entrench the Federal government in education.  There was little, if any, public feedback given for this program.  No opportunity to debate it.  It was made possible by a $4.35 billion increase in discretionary money, an “executive earmark” so to speak, in the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  You know the “stimulus” bill to create jobs.

So Race to the Top was designed as carrot and stick program, which Governor Huckabee thinks is a good thing, “a clever way to prod states to embrace much needed reform,” to use his words.  So this program gave directives to states who were strapped for cash to adopt the Common Core Standards (I thought he was against federal standards?) and make other education policy changes just so they can be competitive for these grants.

To be clear here, under this grant scheme, even if a state’s application was perfect, it would be uncompetitive to receive funds without the adoption of the standards.  No problem for Iowa, they already ramrodded through the Iowa Core Curriculum the previous year, and then they ramrodded through changes to the charter school law in Iowa with zero time for the public to give feedback.  The signing ceremony was already scheduled before the session started.

That type of thing is good?  I’ll turn to another Southern Governor who seems to have better instinct with matters such as this.  Texas Governor Rick Perry rejected the Race to the Top funds, in an op/ed in The Austin Statesman he wrote:

The problem with RTTT funding is clear: Under the program’s rules, Washington gives preference and dollars to states that agree to adopt national standards that haven’t even been written yet….

…Considering Texas is among the nation’s leaders in standards, I imagine whatever federal standards are eventually agreed upon will be weaker than the ones we have now.

Adding injury to insult, the price tag to change all our text books and instructional materials to comply with Washington’s vision for public education would be about $3 billion.

In return, Texas could expect to get back from Race To The Top as little as $75 a student, barely enough to fund our state’s educational system for two days.

So turning down the strings-attached stimulus money was an easy call — in terms of ensuring our children get the best education possible and in simple matters of dollars and cents.

So Governor Huckabee supports a program that is funded by a bill he has said numerous times that he disagrees with.  Can we see some inconsistency here?

He supports local control, but states are “dumbing” things down and so let’s get the Federal government involved.  That seems to be his mindset here.

He has said that he would abolish the Federal Department of Education if given the bill.  What he would do before then is what concerns me.

Photo by Dave Davidson

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