Fred Thompson on education policy

One of the good things about campaign season is that, if you look hard enough, you can uncover substantive debate on issues you care about.

Presidential candidate Fred Thompson's white paper on education caught my eye. It sums up several points of the conservative position on education reform.

The Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution leaves education to the states, but thanks to President Lyndon Johnson's Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the establishment of the federal Department of Education by President Jimmy Carter, and of course the Sen. Edward Kennedy/George W. Bush No Child Left Behind Act, federal bureaucrats have reduced local school boards to choosing colors for the carpet and conducting excess levy referenda to fund teacher contracts and federal mandates.

Fred Thompson would change the course of federal intervention in education. It would be like turning an ocean liner to be sure, but as presidents Johnson, Carter, and Geroge W. Bush have shown, the White House can have a profound effect on the schoolhouse for decades. Thompson's position recognizes practical and political realities of today's federal education system by not proposing an immediate abolition of the U.S. Department of Education (although we favor it), instead proposing a course correction in the form of block grants with accountability to replace today's increasingly onerous federal micromanagement of education.

From Thompson's education white paper:
State and local governments are closest to the parents, the kids, and the schools. They are best situated to implement changes and innovations that result in better educated children. A new, simplified, federal education block grant program with objective testing standards would bring us closer to reaching the shared goal of improving our schools, while preserving local control. We must begin by returning to our core principles of more parental control and choice, higher standards, and greater accountability as described below:

Empowering Parents, Teachers, and Local School Boards

  • Give parents the ability to choose the best setting situation to meet the needs of their children--whether in a public, private, religious, home or charter school setting.

  • Empower parents and provide choices through vouchers and tax credits.

  • Help educators and school boards by removing federal bureaucratic red-tape and paperwork.

Promoting Higher Standards for Academic Excellence

  • Give states greater flexibility to better measure individual student progress by encouraging the development of individualized state education plans.

  • Remove federal mandates that penalize states for adhering to higher academic standards.

  • Condition education funding on states setting objective, measurable test standards.

  • Encourage students to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

Ensuring Accountability within America's Education System

  • Measure individual student progress and provide assistance to those who need it.

  • Challenge America's children to succeed in the competitive global economy by offering advanced course-work and more focused educational opportunities.

  • Incentivize teachers who help close the achievement gap by rewarding them for serving in the most challenging schools.

  • Promote transparency to assess academic performance and share innovations in education.