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In Backing Common Core, Bush, Kasich 'On An Island' Among GOP Contenders

NHPR staff photos

Six Republican presidential hopefuls are taking part in an education summit at Londonderry High School on Wednesday.

The summit is being put on by American Federation for Children, a conservative school choice advocacy group.

Lauren Camera, a reporter for Education Week, joined NHPR’s Morning Edition to help sort out where the candidates stand on K-12 education policy.

Of the six Republicans taking part in today’s summit, five are current or former governors. They’ve all backed school choice through charter schools and vouchers. So how do they make themselves stand out?

The key is really going to be is how these candidates are able to distinguish themselves, but I do think each has a unique thread to pull from in their experience.

Jeb Bush, for example, has the longest education record of all the candidates. While governor in Florida, he’s implemented a new accountability system using A-F letter grades. That’s something that a lot of states followed him on. He also established a new series of standardized tests. He instituted a new voucher program.

Then you have a candidate like Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, who’s really best known for turning Wisconsin into a right-to-work state. So in addition to things like rolling back bargaining rights of teachers, he’s also been able to lead the state into ditching teacher tenure and instituting a new teacher compensation system that pays teachers based on performance.

And then of course we have Chris Christie, the governor New Jersey, who recently got in some hot water with teachers when he said teachers unions deserve a “punch in the face” and are destructive. Overall, he’s tried to weaken teacher tenure in his state, making it harder to obtain. He’s also attracted a lot of attention for efforts to try to turn around the Newark school system, which has proven incredibly difficult.

Are we expected to hear a lot about the Common Core at the forum?

Credit Allegra Boverman for NHPR
John Kasich

Yes, I would absolutely expect Common Core to be a highlight of this forum. You have Bush and John Kasich on an island of their own, being the only two Republican candidates who have dug in their heels in support of the standards. I think you see them shifting their talking points a little bit to be less about the Common Core and more about high standards. But Bush in particular has taken a lot of flak from his Republican contenders for staying in support of the standards, whereas the rest of the field has really fiercely opposed them.

What are we hearing from Democrats?

Right now, the Democratic candidates are really focusing a lot on higher education, but on K-12, they have some things to say, as well. Hillary Clinton, like Bush, has this long education resume. That actually started in her 20s when she worked for what is now the Childrens Defense Fund. During the Bill Clinton administration, she helped to push early Head Start programs for foster children. And she is really a big proponent of early pre-K. That’s one of her biggest stances.

Credit Kate Harper for NHPR
Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders is a really interesting case on K-12. He’s a self-described socialist and has been an outspoken critic of much of the Obama administration’s K-12 agenda, particularly its signature competitive grants, like Race to the Top. He argues they shortchange rural schools without sophisticated grant writers. It will be really interesting to watch him on K-12.

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