Condoleezza Rice Pushes GOP Message for Choice, Against Unions
The pointed, education-themed remarks to delegates by former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the second night of the Republican convention reinforced the GOP platform's position on school choice—and took yet another Republican stab at teachers. (Rice hit those themes again at a panel discussion sponsored by Bloomberg media here Thursday, saying that if she had one stab at changing education, she'd seriously scale up school choice.)
Her Wednesday speech to the delegates may not have been as sharp as that of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's on the first night of the convention. And she was reiterating points she's made about education in the past. But they likely struck a chord, based on the enthusiastic response.
Rice expressed support for school choice—without explicitly naming charter schools, vouchers, or anything else as the vehicle. The Republican platform approved this week spends a lot of time on choice.
She framed the issue as necessary now, saying that education, once considered an equalizing force in the United States, no longer holds the power it did for her growing up.
Describing herself, Rice spoke of "a little girl who grows up in Jim Crow Birmingham, the segregated city of the south, where her parents can't take her to a movie theater or to a restaurant.
"But they have her absolutely convinced that even if she can't have a hamburger at the Woolworth's lunch counter, she could be president of the United States if she wanted to be, and she becomes the secretary of state," Rice said, to a roar from the crowd.
But, in her view, that time may have passed.
"Americans have believed you might not be able to control your circumstances but you can control your response to your circumstances, and your greatest ally in controlling your response to your circumstances has been a quality education. When I can look at your ZIP code and I can tell whether you're going to get a good education, can I honestly say it doesn't matter where you came from, it matters where you're going? And we need to give parents greater choice, particularly ... poor parents whose kids, very often minorities, are trapped in failing neighborhood schools."
"This is the civil rights issue of our day," she continued.
She also reiterated the theme of a report to which she contributed earlier this year about the declining quality of American education system being a threat to national security.
Unaddressed, she said, changes to the education system could have dire consequences.
"If we do anything less, we condemn generations to joblessness and hopelessness and life on the government dole. If we do anything less we will endanger our global imperatives for competitiveness. And if we do anything less we will tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement the turn toward entitlement and grievance," she said.
Her remarks on teachers were far more brief and not the kind of vitriol offered by Christie, but they hinted at what some perceive as the current war against teachers unions being waged all over the country.
"My mom was a teacher," Rice said. "I respect the profession. We need great teachers—not poor ones and not mediocre ones."
At the panel Thursday, which also included former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor she expanded on her views on the teaching profession.
"Teachers colleges have to rethink how they're preparing teachers," she said, and she praised Teach for America.
Alyson Klein contributed to this post.
Photo: Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. J. Scott Applewhite/AP