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One of the starkest differences between Republican and Democratic education platforms came to light in a series of panels that focused on two issues that presumably concern the millennial generation most: jobs and education.

role of government in education
From left to right: George P. Bush (Jeb Bush’s son), Representative Aaron Shock (R- Ill.), National Journal’s Jim Tankersley and NBC’s Chuck Todd – speaking at Conversations with the Next Generation. (Photo by Sarah Butrymowicz)

At “Conversations with the Next Generation,’’ Republican voices clamored for more local control of schools and less federal government mandates, while Democrats and former D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee argued the opposite. The event was sponsored by The Atlantic and National Journal, and underwritten by Microsoft.

Rhee said it’s impossible to really know how students are doing, with each state having different standards and tests.

“We have to have – I think – national standards, a national assessment, so we can have an apples-to-apples comparison,” Rhee said.

But before Rhee spoke, Josh Romney, one of Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s five sons, promised his dad would give “as much power as he can back to the states” while George P. Bush, the son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, noted that “education is best managed at the local level.”

Representative Aaron Shock (R- Ill.) also called for the federal government to stop increasing subsidies for higher education. He argued that when someone else is paying, , people are less likely to notice the cost. Shock said increasing the amount of Pell grants could not solve skyrocketing college tuition.

The rest of the event underwritten by Microsoft, revolved around education topics that often receive bipartisan support. Bush even said that he thinks current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan should be able to keep his position – regardless of who wins in November.

Many panelists found common ground on the idea that teachers must be paid more in order to attract the top college students into the profession.

“High achieving young people do not want to go into a profession where … their value doesn’t count,” Rhee said. She also spoke of the need to change laws to open up the teaching profession to those who have not gone through a traditional teacher training program, but have other experiences.

At the secondary and post secondary level, speakers generally agreed that school needs to be more relevant to students — and that there needs to be a stronger connection between degrees awarded and workforce needs.

Part of the responsibility lies on universities to improve the advice they give students, Shock said.

“A lot of young people lack the appropriate amount of counseling at the four-year university level,” he said. “It’s not in [the university’s] interest to counsel young people on return of investment.’’

Shock did not offer an easy solution.

“I’m not saying there’s a silver bullet,” he said. “If this was simply a bill that needs to be passed or a law that needs to be written it would have been taken care of long ago.”

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