Republican & Democratic Beliefs on Education in the United States: Similarities & Differences

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  • 0:01 Dueling Ideologies
  • 0:48 Conservative Ideology
  • 2:08 Conservative Policies
  • 4:41 Progressive Ideology
  • 6:34 Progressive Policies
  • 9:13 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley

Shawn has a masters of public administration, JD, and a BA in political science.

Democrats and Republicans agree that the future success of the United States lies in an effective education system. However, while they agree on the overall goal, the two parties disagree about the best policies to accomplish it. In this lesson, we'll look at some of the education policy perspectives of each party.

Dueling Ideologies

Ralph, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, is debating Dennis, the Democratic candidate for the same seat. The topic of the live television debate is education policy. Generally speaking, Ralph, as a Republican, holds a conservative political ideology when it comes to policy. A political ideology is a system of beliefs and values that is used to justify political actions. Dennis, on the other hand, holds a liberal, or progressive, ideology when it comes to policy. Let's take a closer look at how each views education policy.

Conservative Ideology

Ralph's policy proposals are based upon his conservative ideology. Conservatives generally value individual freedom and individual responsibility. Ralph believes that individual effort through fair competition justifies socio-economic inequality in society. Winners deserve to win because they work hard and play by the rules society sets. Losers deserve to lose because they did not put forth sufficient effort and may have even broken the rules, such as social, moral or legal rules.

Another important part of the conservative ideology regarding education is the role of government. Conservatives tend to want a limited government, where most government action is undertaken at the state and local levels. This is especially true with education, where conservatives, like Ralph, pretty much want to extremely limit, if not eliminate, the role of the federal government in education policy. Let's look at some conservative education policy proposals offered by Ralph.

Conservative Policies

In the debate, Ralph argues that the local communities should be in control of their schools and their policies. States, and better yet, local school boards, should make most education policy decisions, including curriculum and academic standards students are required to achieve. The idea is that the citizens and local officials know what's best for them, not a faraway place like Washington, D.C. Ralph also believes that the power of teacher unions should be reduced, so individual teachers are subject to more local control and are held more accountable for their individual efforts.

Ralph also advocates for more parent choice in elementary and secondary education. For example, Ralph is a big supporter of home schooling. He also supports school vouchers. School vouchers are either a cash grant or a tax credit that parents can use to select a private elementary or secondary school of their choice for their kids as an alternative to the public school system.

Ralph also has policy proposals for the increasing costs of higher education. Conservatives, like Ralph, are firm believers that the free market is better suited for serving the needs of the public compared to the government. Consequently, Ralph believes that the federal government should get out of the student-loan business because he believes that the subsidized loans are too easy to get and provide an incentive to educational institutions to constantly increase their tuition and fees.

Ralph also opposes affirmative action in higher education. Affirmative action is a policy that seeks to provide equal opportunities in education and employment to people that are members of a historically discriminated class, such as racial minorities and women. For example, a person's race or gender may be considered a factor in making an admissions decision in certain affirmative action programs. Instead, he believes that students should be admitted solely upon the efforts they individually put forth in their education.

Progressive Ideology

The policy proposals offered by Dennis are based upon his progressive ideology. Progressives believe that a significant amount of inequality today is a result of socioeconomic conditions that are out of the control of individuals, such as privilege and discrimination. According to Progressives, winners and losers are not always determined by individual effort and choices. For example, it's a lot easier for the white son of a millionaire to succeed than it is for the black daughter of a single mom living in the inner city of a large urban area with poor schools and a high crime rate. Progressives argue that the respective resources and environments of these two kids gives an advantage to the white boy and a disadvantage to the black girl. These circumstances, of which neither child has much, if any, control over, creates an uneven playing field where success is not based solely on individual effort.

While conservatives want to see a limited role of government in education, Dennis and other Progressives believe in an expansive role of government in education. According to Progressives, the government serves an important role in ensuring equality of opportunity by leveling the playing field through eliminating unfair advantages due to privilege or discrimination. Progressives believe the federal government's role is important to ensure equality for all citizens regardless of their state of residence. Let's look at some Progressive education policy proposals offered by Dennis.

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