Six Republican presidential candidates advocated raising standards for students at an education summit hosted by Campbell Brown in New Hampshire on Wednesday.
At Brown's "The Seventy Four" summit, all six candidates also expressed support for local control of curricula.
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Bush discussed the value of vouchers and charter schools. "The net result of a system where a parent has total choice of where to go, is that every school is going to have to get better, or they’re going to lose their students," Bush said.
When asked about his support for the Common Core, Bush put some distance between himself and the controversial policy, emphasizing the necessity of high standards and core content that are state-driven. "The commonality [of standards] is not as relevant as the highness of them," he said.
Bush said that the federal government could act as a partner in reform, providing schools with funding if they showed results. "The federal government’s biggest contribution would be [acting as] a catalyst for meaningful reform, and the requirements for receiving this money should be outcomes, not inputs," said Bush.
He also supported third-grade literacy testing. "If you don’t measure, you basically don’t care. We should make sure that there is at least some basis of measuring student progress," he said.
Carly Fiorina emphasized innovation and diversity, which she said could only be maintained at a local level. She said that as president she would "devolve as much money, and as much responsibility, and as much accountability into the states’ and into communities’ and parents’ hands as possible."
Fiorina criticized federal programs such as Race to the Top that dictate standards on the state level through funding. "A bureaucracy by nature will standardize and systematize. They won't standardize goals, they will standardize methods," she said. Fiorina supported the version of the No Child Left Behind Act revised in the Republican House, which would push money out to the local level.
She advocated zero-based budgeting and a "top-to-bottom audit" of the federal government. "We better understand every single dollar the Department of Education is spending, and they’re going to have to justify every dollar, and if they can’t, they don’t get the money," Fiorina said.
Kasich supported a strong school choice program that included charter schools and vouchers and committees that would help failing schools.
"We have to break the agrarian model: we stick everybody in a classroom and we try to teach everybody in the same way, and as we all know, children learn in different ways," he said.
Kasich, like Bush, distanced himself from Common Core. "We had a big war here in the country over this thing called Common Core. Did you hear anything out of me that didn’t represent local control? So we have to sometimes get beyond the headlines and the politics, and look underneath to figure out what the reality is," he said.
Kasich said that teachers were vital to student success and individualized education. "How do we pay a college football couch four million dollars a year and we pay our teachers peanuts?" he asked. "If they’re not teaching very well, we need to either help them get better, or they shouldn’t be teaching."
Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin said that teacher’s union contracts were a barrier for "rewarding the good teachers and challenging those that aren’t so good." He made a case for performance-based pay for teachers and criticized seniority and tenure.
Walker said that standards set on a local level would assure accountability. Accordingly, he advocated for returning funding to the local level. "I would like to take the money and the power from Washington and send it back to the states, which ultimately get back to the schools," he said.
Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana spoke about the virtues of vouchers and charter schools. He cited his experience overhauling the education system in New Orleans. "Let the dollars follow the students," Jindal said.
Jindal spoke out against Common Core. "I don’t think the federal government should be adopting one-size-fits-all standards," he said, adding that teachers should be rewarded based on the basis of student achievement and that teacher tenure should be given selectively.
Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey said that unions stand in the way of reforming education policy. "I have no problem saying that the teacher’s unions deserve a political punch in the face," he said.
He condemned federal control for education policy. "I don’t see the federal Department of Education deciding curriculum, dictating choices to local folks, it doesn’t make any sense," he said, adding that programs like Race to the Top take control from localities, which "frustrates teachers and infuriates parents."
Christie wants teachers to be paid on the basis of achievement, and said, "We shouldn’t have a tenure system that doesn’t take into account your performance."