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.
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