School climate commentary

McLean Bennett:

Gun policy has become an increasingly debated topic following a deadly mass shooting this year at a school in South Florida. But a question about the senator’s views on firearms took on particular poignancy in Kiel, where police in March evacuated schools following a report of gunfire heard near the high school’s front entrance. (Nobody was injured in the incident and police later reported finding no evidence of gunfire.)

Johnson touched on a broad range of subjects led by students’ and teachers’ questioning on Tuesday, though issues surrounding school safety and education policy featured prominently early in the roughly 45-minute discussion.

Responding to one person’s question about standardized testing — the questioner pointed out that students in Kiel had recently endured a battery of exams over the previous few days — Johnson said the tests were aimed at holding the “teaching profession and schools accountable.”

Still, he said he’d prefer to reduce the government’s involvement to simply funding schools and ensuring students aren’t “left behind.” Otherwise, he said, he’d rather schools operated in the sorts of open markets that his past businesses worked in.

“Take a look at the rest of our economy,” he said. “Whether it’s cellphones or just about anything else, the free market competitive system, by and large, guarantees the best possible quality, the best level of customer service and the lowest possible price.

“The marketplace is a brutal dictator — evaluator — of how you perform,” he said, before opining that America’s outdated educational system — “we still are operating pretty much on a 19th-century model” — was leaving U.S. students ill-prepared for the modern economy.