Education is, of course, a rather important subject for me. I have a degree and am pursuing further education. I frequently find myself advising veterans who are pursuing a course of study at their local university. Shoot, I even write articles for a certain conservative college student website.
It is, therefore, pretty redundant of me to state that I kept a sharp eye out on how all of the 2016 presidential candidates have addressed the subject of education in their campaign announcements. So far I’ve seen announcements from Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Although the amount of discussion on education they engaged in varied, all four did seem to agree that parents should have the ability to be selective about how and where their children are educated.
Clinton was the most oblique about this, letting some unnamed face in her Youtube (really) announcement be the one to mention it. This unknown woman, smiling at the camera as a child packs boxes, gleefully mentioned how she was choosing where said child would be educated. “My daughter is about to start kindergarten next year. And so we’re moving, just so she can belong to a better school.”
Color me unimpressed. Perhaps it is accidental, but the impression I am left with is that Clinton believes that school choice should be reserved for those with the money to choose to move. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of her interest in real estate.
Though his announcement took ten times as long, and only involved him speaking, Rand Paul didn’t really spend any more time on the topic than Clinton had. His statement on the topic was, however, unequivocal. “We need to stop limiting kids in poor neighborhoods to failing public schools and offer them school choice.”
This statement was short, to the point, and lacking any actual plan. It’s good that he recognizes that greater availability of quality education is a solution to solving some of the problems we face as a nation. But I would like to have seen him mention some sort of ideas of how he plans to accomplish this.
Ted Cruz did discuss this more deeply. This is not particularly surprising. Cruz made his announcement in front of a crowd of college students at Liberty University, and his speech directly addressed the concerns of university students everywhere. Referring to his own experiences with higher education and student debt, Cruz was quick to turn that into a discussion of the years leading up to college.
“Imagine embracing school choice as the civil rights issue of the next generation,” he stated. “That every single child, regardless of race, regardless of ethnicity, regardless of wealth or ZIP code, every child in America has a right to a quality education. And that’s true from all of the above, whether it is at public schools or charter schools or private schools or Christian schools or parochial schools or home schools — every child.”
This vision essentially makes the same promise as that of Paul, but with the virtue of also defining (and expanding) the scope of what it is intended to impact. Rather than requiring individuals move, or focusing on poor neighborhoods, Cruz intends to ensure that all children have the choice to attend all schools.
Marco Rubio, however, seemed to have the most interest in addressing the matter of improving education through school choice. Entire sections of his speech focused on the American entire education system, advocating an entire restructuring of how and why we educate.
“If we create a 21st century system of higher education that provides working Americans the chance to acquire the skills they need, that no longer graduates students with mountains of debt and degrees that do not lead to jobs, and that graduates more students from high school ready to work, then our people will be prepared to seize their opportunities in the new economy.”
And yes, this restructure includes the idea of school choice. “All parents deserve to choose the education that’s right for their children,” he stated. Again, though, he hasn’t said what he intends to do, only that he truly believes it needs to be done.
I realize that campaign announcements are intended to rally the troops with a feel good call to (political) war, and not an opportunity to spell out the nuts and bolts of policy. Never-the-less, I feel that, when it came to education, they all had the chance to actually stake out a position that set them apart from the other candidates, and flubbed it.
So, that being the case, I think I’m going to go ahead and engage in a little spelling.
If we want to create a 21st century education system built around school choice, the first place to look is 21st century tech. Instead of trying to determine ways to bring children to the schools of their choice, we should use modern computer mediated methods to bring the schools to the children through distance learning opportunities.
In a recent article on Edukwest, op-ed writer Edgar Wilson paired the concept of distance learning with school accessibility. “Virtual distance-learning models unpin education from time-based (and, for that matter, place-based) systems in favor of student-managed learning,” he wrote. “This makes ‘schools’ more accessible.”
He’s not the only one thinking in this fashion. The New York State Educational Department has been deeply invested in online and blended learning programs. Approximately $17 million was invested in a “blended learning” program known as the Virtual Advanced Placement® (VAP) Program. In a nutshell, the idea behind this approach is to bring students into a traditional brick-and-mortar school, but then allow them to enter classes tailored to their specific needs by enrolling in online classes. They can interact with teachers using online chat programs or virtual class rooms, turn in assignments via e-mail or forum-based software, and otherwise interact via computerized means.
The upshot is that schools that ordinarily might not be able to offer students the classes now can. A student at a traditionally disadvantaged school with a gift for STEM subjects might be able to pull in a distance-learning class on AP trigonometry from a highly rated teacher three cities over and another class on AP physics from a second teacher from across the state border, rather than have to hope that her family could afford to move to one of the two locations, while still attending normal English class with her local peers.
School choice using 21st technologies is not limited to child education. Increasingly, colleges and universities are moving in this direction as well. In the wake of significant issues with for-profit distance learning “colleges” scamming people who could not attend traditional colleges, numerous highly respected universities have moved to offer blended or fully online educational opportunities. Schools such as Ohio University, Rutgers University, and the University of Texas at El Paso have all moved significant amounts of their programs online in order to reach these previously vulnerable populations. The University of Florida has even gone so far as to offer their Doctor of Pharmacy program exclusively online.
All of the candidates who have announced at the time of this writing have expressed varying degrees of interest in providing students with options and choices. I’m pleased to hear it. But as a nuts and bolts proposal I’d like them to take a step further with it. Rather than simply offering the choice between one class and another, I’d like to see the candidates propose some real solutions through “Class Choice.” Democratize our education and let students and parents control their educations at the most local level possible by picking which classes and teachers they will invest their time (and school funds) in through online options.
It’s the only real choice.