The Irascible ProfessorSM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.... ...John F. Kennedy.

Commentary of the Day - August 25, 2000: Comparing the Republican and Democratic Party Education Platforms - Differences.

Although there are many similarities between the Republican and Democratic Party Platform education planks, there also are significant differences that reflect the philosophical differences that characterize Republicans and Democrats.  The most significant difference is in funding methods for federal aid to education.  Both parties recognize that in the United States public education has been primarily a state and local function.  The federal government supplies less than 10% of the funding for public K-12 education.

The Republican platform calls for the replacement of most current federal education programs with block grants that would go directly to states and/or school districts.  While the Democratic Party platform calls for some reform of existing federal programs, it generally would keep in place the current system of federal programmatic grants that provide funding for specific projects.  The Republican platform plank on education funding is essentially identical to the Bush campaign's position on the subject.  The platform plank links block grants to performance.  Presumably, states and school districts that underperform would risk losing their block grants.  Although the platform - and the Bush campaign - is short on the details it would seem that this approach could penalize states and school districts that need help the most.  Generally, it is the poor districts that are most likely to have student who perform poorly on standardized tests.

There are other differences as well.  The Republicans support merit pay for teachers as way of encouraging accountability in the profession.  Surprisingly, the Democratic Party platform is much more specific regarding the issue of teacher accountability.  It calls for rigorous testing before new teachers receive certification.  In addition, the Democratic Party platform calls for renewable teacher licensure in place of lifetime tenure.  Teachers would have to pass period tests before their licenses could be renewed.  The Democratic platform also calls for the removal of teachers who continually perform at substandard levels.  In this respect, the Democratic party platform appears more "conservative" than the Republican one.

National testing also is an issue where the two parties differ.  The Republican platform is in clear opposition to any form of national testing for fear that it would lead to a "national curriculum".  The Democratic party platform calls for a "voluntary" program of national testing.  Actually, such a "voluntary" program has been in existence for quite some time.  The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures student performance in a number of areas such as math and science.  In the Irascible Professor's view, the lack of a mandatory national testing program is a major shortcoming of the American education system.  Local control should not be an excuse for extreme variations in local performance.  Likewise, there should be national minimum standards for basic subjects such as English and mathematics.  Perhaps someday both parties will realize that we are no longer a rural agricultural economy.  In order to compete in a world economy that is increasingly knowledge based, we need an educational system that guarantees minimum levels of competency for all students no matter where they may live.

Finally, the Republican platform is silent on the issue of school construction, while the Democratic Party platform calls for programs to help rebuild the nation's aging public school plant.  This is an especially important issue in the IP's home state of California, where decades of neglect following the passage of Proposition 13 has left us with a crumbling public infrastructure.  Many of our public schools are in a sorry physical state owing to years of deferred maintenance.  Leaking roofs and lack of air conditioning are now becoming the norm rather than the exception.  Many classrooms lack even the most basic instrument of technology - the telephone.  Teachers often must pay for basic classroom supplies from their own meager salaries.  To be sure, the Republican platform call for a tax break for teachers who use their own funds to buy supplies; but, why not fund the schools adequately to begin with!

Return to main commentary.

© 2000 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.