Who knows where President Obama and Mitt Romney stand on education? Hard to say, since the topic has not been taken center stage in election coverage so far. In case you’re wondering, here’s a primer on some of their most important positions on educational policy.
Obama’s policies haven’t been uniformly praised by the teachers’ unions, but he knows he needs to work with them to forward education reform. That’s why he is receiving substantial support from the unions in his campaign. Obama has used competitive funding and other incentives to encourage states and school districts to reform their teacher evaluations and reward teachers for increasing their students’ achievement, measured in part by standardized test gains. This summer he proposed a $1 billion plan to launch a master teacher corps specializing in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).
Romney’s education white paper entitled “A Chance for Every Child: Mitt Romney’s Plan for Restoring the Promise of American Education” decries teachers unions for “opposing innovation that might disrupt the status quo while insulating even the least effective teachers from accountability.” According to this plan, Romney wants more federal money to reward states for “eliminating or reforming teacher tenure and establishing systems that focus on effectiveness in advancing student achievement.” In other words, Romney is willing to hand out money to states if they eliminate due process rights for teachers and if they pay more to teachers whose students get higher scores on standardized tests and get rid of teachers whose students do not.
Romney also wants to remove “highly qualified” teacher certification requirements from No Child Left Behind because he says it prevents too many people in other career fields from becoming teachers. Romney takes a strong stand against certification of teachers, the minimal state-level requirement that future teachers must pass either state or national tests to demonstrate their knowledge and skill, which he considers an unnecessary hurdle.
2. School Choice And Vouchers
It has been difficult to pin down President Obama on the issue of school choice and vouchers. He has been more supportive of charter schools than many other Democrats, and in order to win part of the $4 billion Race to the Top competition, states had to have charter laws, and they also could not limit the number of charter schools that could open. Obama has also included support for charter schools in his budget proposals.
He has not, however, openly supported school vouchers, and in his 2013 budget proposal President Obama requested no funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program, a voucher system in Washington that allows about 1,600 students to attend private schools.
By contrast, Romney says he’ll expand the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, and in his plan he comes out solidly in favor of diminishing public education and promoting the privatization of schools. Romney would subsidize parents who want to sent their child to a private or religious school. He offers complete support for using taxpayer money to pay for private school vouchers, privately managed charters, for-profit online schools, and almost every other alternative to public schools.
Romney’s major policy proposal is to enable low-income and disabled students to bring their federal funding with them to the school of their choice. This would require an overhaul of Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (special education funds). This is unlikely to happen.
3. K-12 Spending
Obama’s stimulus package included $100 billion for education, which he claims saved about 300,000 jobs. It also funded his Race to the Top grants for states, which have received praise even from some Republicans for promoting school turnarounds, better teacher evaluations, and charter schools. Education is also a central theme in Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, which requested $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the US Department of Education, a 2.5 percent increase.
In his white paper on education, Romney said the stimulus funding “served to delay the difficult budgetary decisions facing states” and that “more funding for the status quo will not deliver the results that our students deserve … and our taxpayers expect.” Spending proposals on the Romney campaign website include an immediate cut of 5 percent of all nonsecurity discretionary spending, and an eventual reduction of federal spending to below 20 percent of gross domestic product
4. No Child Left Behind
Obama has proposed revisions to the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which became law in 2002, and is now long overdue for a rewrite. He wants to focus more resources on turning around the lowest-performing schools and emphasize standards that prepare students for college and careers. Obama has also granted NCLB waivers to 33 states, allowing them to create their own accountability plans – as long as they meet criteria such as focusing on students’ preparation for college and narrowing achievement gaps. These waivers, however, still leave standardized tests still firmly in place as the main tool for meauring student achievement.
“Romney wants to dial it back further and really gut the provisions of NCLB … make it more of an information mandate rather than a school intervention/turnaround kind of mandate,” says Patrick McGuinn, a political science and education professor at Drew University in Madison, N.J. Romney proposes to replace school-intervention aspects of NCLB, such as offering tutoring or replacing the staff at chronically failing schools, with a requirement that states provide more transparency about school results. He would also require detailed public information on school and district spending.
5. Higher Education
President Obama has made several moves to help students afford college and feel less burdened by loans: he has created a tax credit for college students worth up to $10,000 over four years; pushed for a law that will enable some students to cap their loan payments at 10 percent of their disposable income, and have the remainder of their loans forgiven after 10 to 20 years of reliable repayment; changed the loan system so that all federal loans originate directly with the federal government, rather than through private banks. Obama also wants to continue to channel much of those savings into Pell Grants for low- to middle-income college students.
Romney’s position on higher education stands in stark contrast: he is against increasing Pell Grants, stating that they are an example of how “flooding colleges with federal dollars only serves to drive tuition higher.” Romney says the government should no longer “write a blank check to universities” but support “institutions that are pursuing innovative operating models to drive down costs.” Romney proposes to undo Obama’s “nationalizing” of student loans, and to “embrace a private-sector role in providing information, financing, and education itself.” Romney also wants to roll back Obama’s “gainful employment” rule, which ties tying federal aid eligibility to an institution’s ability to show that its graduates can earn sufficient income to repay loans.
As you can read, there are some enormous differences between these two. What do you think of them?
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