Republican Party Platform Addresses Education, Nods to Edtech

Republican Party Platform Addresses Education, Nods to Edtech

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The Republican Party has released its official party platform in full. The 58-page document outlines issues the party will focus on during the home stretch to the election and after, though nominee Donald Trump has not officially endorsed it.

The platform claims that, "After years of trial and error, we know the policies and methods that have actually made a difference in student advancement." Those things are school choice, STEM education, phonics, career/technical education, merit pay for teachers, parental involvement, "ending social promotions" and strong administrative leadership. Here is what the party had to say about edtech: "Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, it must be a key element in our efforts to provide every child equal access and opportunity." 

In the platform, Republicans praise the value of STEM education and the transformative effects of the "digital revolution" on everything from malls to schools. "Innovation" is high on conservative policymakers' minds—the word appears 22 times throughout the document. Rather than encouraging schools to look to the federal government for STEM education and innovation, the party urges them to make use of the expertise in their communities: "teaching talent in the business community, STEM fields, and the military, especially among our returning veterans."

In line with the spirit behind the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the party "recognizes the wisdom of local control of our schools and it wisely sees consumer rights in education — choice — as the most important driving force for renewing education." ESSA is widely seen as returning power over education to states in reaction to Arne Duncan's efforts to centralize power in the federal Department of Education. Republican leaders have repeatedly criticized Duncan for overreaching, and in the 2016 platform they decry Democrats' spending of "over $2 trillion dollars...with little substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates." Alongside this call for a smaller Department of Education is the rejection of Common Core and "excessive testing." 

Teachers and their disciplinary measures should be protected from "frivolous lawsuits," according to the platform, but teachers should not be working within "rigid tenure systems." The party instead argues for a merit-based approach to evaluation and retention.

Within the platform are also several recommendations for the content of curricula. The GOP writes, "A good understanding of the Bible being indispensable for the development of an educated citizenry, we encourage state legislatures to offer the Bible in a literature curriculum as an elective in America's high schools." In addition, the platform argues for what many see as biblical sexual mores: the replacement of "family planning" programs with abstinence-only sex education and the abolishment of "school-based clinics that provide referral or counseling for abortion and contraception."

On the higher education front, the platform never explicitly praises the Educational Quality through Innovation Partnerships (EQUIP) pilot, but it does say, "We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools: Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work- based learning in the private sector. Public policy should advance their affordability, innovation, and transparency and should recognize that a four-year degree from a brick-and-mortar institution is not the only path toward a prosperous and fulfilling career." EQUIP opens federal financial aid to coding bootcamps and other nontraditional providers of higher education. The party does argue for an end to federal student loan programs in favor of loans from the private sector, so it is unlikely it will come around to supporting EQUIP.

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