Obama vs. Romney: 5 Ways They Differ On Education

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.

1.  Teachers

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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Photo Credit: E.T.C. NEWS


Duane B.
.4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Michael G.
Michael T5 years ago

How do you know it is a liberal bias?

Karla H.
Karla H.5 years ago

I am very disturbed by the liberal bias that I find when ever I use any sites or services to support and/or enhance the students in my class. I would like to clearly say that I have been offended by the assumption that everyone in the education field agrees with teachers unions. It is time to respect diversity and the freedom of choice. Both of which liberals loudly proclaim until someone like me challenges their point of view and say yes pro-choice should apply to school vouchers and to leaving schools in the hands of the ones who have the highest stake in them. Local communities, teachers and most of all families.

Susan D.
Susan D.5 years ago

hey idiots,
this is not scholastic. it is a separate website. scholastic simply provided you the ability to read it. They give no opinion either way. this newsletter was sent to teachers who should be able to read and think for themselves or are the bad teachers the article talks about.

Van C.
Van C.5 years ago

It is inapropriate to make these political statements. I doubt I open anything from Scholastic again. How ironic that the bottom of the page has a large Staples ad. I guess taking money from a Romney company is good Scholastic business.

Kevin Brown
Kevin B5 years ago

Well Kathy, some of us are not foolish enough to blame the union for the problems in the education system and do not celebrate the government destroying unions. We see it as what it is, an attack on American workers.

Barbara B.
Barbara B.5 years ago

I, too, am very disappointed that Scholastic politicizes Obama's agenda, and denigrates Romney. I am hoping with all my heart and soul that Mitt Romney has the opportunity to bring America back from the dependent, biased, weak place it has become. Otherwise, we and generations to come have have seen the last of proud, strong America, the land of the free.

Kathy B.
Kathy B.5 years ago

Shouldn't surprise me that Scholastic would pander to the teachers and their unions. After all, that's their main source of revenue. The good news is that the unions and their sub-par teachers are on their way out. Since Gov. Walker pushed through legislation last year making public-sector union membership voluntary, WEAC has lost a fifth of its members. Last year the union laid off 40 percent of its staff as it dealt with budget cuts and engaged in what executive director Dan Burkhalter called a “membership continuation” campaign. Meanwhile, since the law also made union membership voluntary for state workers, thousands of them, including teachers, stopped paying dues. In the time between Walker’s signing of the union reform bill and his recall election, WEAC lost 20,000 of its 90,000 members. The Wisconsin chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, a WEAC rival, lost 6,000 of 17,000.

In other states are losing members in droves as various states end the forced unionization of certain government employees.

That's the hope and change America needs. It isn't coming from Obama. It's coming from voters that are sick and tired of having the union agenda shoved down their throats. COME ON, NOVEMBER!

Anne G.
Anne G.5 years ago

DIsappointed also that Scholastic would post propaganda such as this. Although I applaud good teachers, my many kids have more than the share of bad teachers. Some people shouldn't teach. Some police shouldn't have a badge, some doctors should flip burgers. Yes, I am a civil servant. Obama hasn't helped the school system or Good Teachers who make learning possible. I wish Unions couldn't control the voice of public policy, Teamsters & Afscme are as bad as other Capital Hill lobbyists. Unions can hinder getting rid of bad people and have good people take their place. I know. I have worked with unions for >3 decades. I have a child with physical limitations, but brillant, another with significant dyslexia, one with milder issues with spacial relations, a couple good students & a jock with anxiety. I worked fulltime and did the best getting activities & volunteering in. If I hadn't pushed both the school system and my children I believe at least 2 would have failed. Teachers told me my now engineer son was "unable to learn" and needed to go into the special needs class, allowed a daughter to be stalked and harrassed by another student who later is in prison for sexual assault. I spent hours campaigning for school levies, I vote. My kids were blessed to have some top notch teachers touch their lives. SUmmary: Given the chance & means-Heck yeah I would have had all of them in charter or private schools.

Paul P.
Paul P.5 years ago

I am extremely disappointed that Scholastic would post such a politically divisive "comparison." It should be considered an embarresment for the company and from now on they should stick to publishing and selling books not promotoing one politician or one party over another.