The first presidential debate has passed with no questions about nor mention of education. Neal McCluskey of Cato Institute was bummed out and tweeted


The absence of education policy in the debate was actually a good sign. Education isn’t a federal matter and certainly not a presidential responsibility. Too bad Obama didn’t get that memo. It seems, however, that the two major parties did.

DNC leaked emails make clear that the Democrats consider Common Core the third rail for this election cycle. MEW wrote about it here and here E-News Now wrote,

Highlighted among the emails divulged by WikiLeaks is one communication written by DNC Deputy Communications Director Eric Walker, where he is seen chastising his colleagues for creating a video that consists of quotes from GOP candidates who condemn the Common Core and its nationwide implementation.

[The Common Core is] a political third rail that we should not be touching at all,” Walker admonished fellow Democrats. “[I request you to] get rid of [references to local control of education, because] most people want local control of education.”

HSLDA said that, “the only champions of the Common Core is the federal government and others under its payroll who personally benefit from its implementation.”

Early on Clinton had made statements in support of Common Core. But “rigorous education standards”, “strict accountability measures” (i.e. testing) and “21st century skills” never entered Clinton’s script writer’s basket of talking points. It’s just too unpopular now for this populist.

Trump also stayed away from education on Monday. Behind the scenes, however, he has chosen his education advisors well.  He has tapped William Evers, advisor to George W Bush’s Secretary of Education and a research fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Gerard Robinson, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, to be on his presidential transition team for education.

Evers has long been an opponent of Common Core. He came to Missouri in 2014 to testify in favor of HB1490 which sought to get rid of Common Core in our state. His testimony was vital to the passage of that bill since then Senate Education Chairman David Pearce did not let other national expert witnesses, which the Missouri Coalition Against Common Core brought in specifically for that hearing, testify on that bill.

Common Core isn’t the only issue the federal government is working on in education, nor is it only the Department of Education trying to direct our schools. Everyone is familiar the with USED/DOJ Guidance Document on transgendered bathrooms that caused such a stir this spring. Using the familiar tactic developed to get Common Core into the states, the guidance document circumvented the state legislatures, went straight to the school districts and attempted to bully them into compliance with DOJ/USED policy.

Nor was that the only attempt by the DOJ to direct our schools. The latest announcement from them references a $63 million grant program “to investigate school safety programs and to reward districts for implementing restorative justice and other related school discipline programs. According to a statement from Attorney General Eric Holder, “This funding is being awarded as part of the Comprehensive School Safety Initiative – a large-scale, multi-agency research effort to build practical, and scientifically-sound, knowledge about effective ways to increase school safety nationwide.”

This topic was part of a special session put on by the Missouri School Board Association this week at their annual school board member Conference in Osage Beach.

Unfortunately implementing restorative justice the way the USED wants requires districts to change the way discipline is handled. EAG wrote,

“Just prior to the launching of the current $63 million DOJ initiative, the US Department of Education published a Resource Guide for Improving School Climate and Discipline, recommending “alternative disciplinary approaches such as restorative justice” to counter the “racial and gender disproportionality in school punishment.” Resources on “ending the school-to-prison pipeline” are referenced in the footnotes.

The Department of Ed resource also recommends the use of school-based psychologists, behavioral interventionists, school social workers, and mental health providers, all of whom, in addition to other school and district staff, should be trained in cultural competence, “to enhance staff awareness of their implicit or unconscious biases and the harms associated with using or failing to counter racial and ethnic stereotypes.”

These restorative justice plans have been an utter failure in California and Minnesota where they have been in place for several years. The incidence of violence against teachers and staff have skyrocketed in these and other urban schools according to a National Center For Education Statistics Report.

So the initial attempt to meddle in how schools deal with discipline problems has created even more discipline problems that the DOJ wants to remedy by paying for more of the same programs that aggravated the discipline problems in the first place. And don’t worry, they also will pay for more collection of data on student behavior which will conveniently fit into the interoperative state databases which were created with ARRA money in 2009. EAG reported that that data will be shared widely among DC departments.

DOJ’s National Institute of Justice says that of the $63 million allotted, $3.5 million is being spent to enhance school safety data collection. Specifically, NIJ says it is partnering with the Department of Justice, Department of Education, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services, and the Secret Service Division of the Treasury Department to share “knowledge, research efforts, data collection activities and strategies, and programs supported by each agency.

As many who have opposed Common Core have been warning, that simple student academic record which was just supposed to prove to the feds that states have been working hard to educate all students, will soon contain many additional data points. From EAG,

At the local level, districts receiving restorative justice grants, like Rhode Island’s Central Falls School District, for example, are working with their state departments of children and youth services to integrate all family court juvenile justice data with education, health, and other relevant data on students.

They didn’t get to education in this debate, but maybe one of the other three moderators in the next two debates could ask the candidates their views on all these Federal departments having access to such sensitive information like student discipline, juvenile records and mental health counseling sessions. That would be an answer I would really like to hear.

Anne Gassel

Anne has been writing on MEW since 2012 and has been a citizen lobbyist on Common Core since 2013. Some day she would like to see a national Hippocratic oath for educators “I will remember that there is an art to teaching as well as science, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding are sometimes more important than policy or what the data say. My first priority is to do no harm to the children entrusted to my temporary care.”

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