Although they had prime speaking slots at the Republican National Convention here Tuesday, neither New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie nor Speaker of the House Paul Ryan mentioned education in their speeches. Instead, it was Donald Trump Jr., the son of the GOP presidential nominee who devoted a part of his remarks to education, delivering a fiery denunciation of teacher tenure while giving a shout-out to school choice.
Trump Jr. blasted schools for failing American students and serving other interests.
“Our schools used to be an elevator to the middle class. Now they’re stalled on the ground floor,” he said of schools. “They’re like Soviet-era department stores that are run for the benefit of the clerks and not the customers.”
And the nominee’s son said that the reason that other countries are besting the U.S. in education is that in other nations, “They let parents choose where they send their own children to school. It’s called competition. It’s called the free market.”
Plenty of states have various forms of school choice, however. There are 21 voucher programs in 18 states, along with 16 tax-credit scholarship programs, for example, according to voucher advocates. And states like Arizona, Florida, and Nevada recently approved different kinds of education savings account programs.
In a critique of Democratic policy, Trump Jr. said, “They’re more concerned about the jobs of tenured teachers than serving the students in desperate need of a good education.”
The other notable education-mention of the night came from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. In a speech before Trump Jr.'s, he noted that Congress passed a major education bill recently and added, “We ended common core.”
But McConnell wasn’t entirely accurate. Congress did pass the Every Student Succeeds Act last year, and the law returns more policy power to states and districts. But it does not end the Common Core State Standards—roughly 40 states still officially use the common core.
It’s not clear, however, if Trump Jr.'s mentions of education gave any solace or illumination to RNC delegates who say they’re totally in the dark about what Trump stands for when it comes to K-12 policy.