Blog: The Educated Reporter

Romney at Education Nation

Gov. Mitt Romney’s Education Nation appearance and interview

Republican nominee for president Mitt Romney started off with a speech before sitting down for an interview with NBC’s Brian Williams. 

In his remarks, the former Massachusetts governor briefly laid out his policy vision for a stronger education waterfront in the U.S. He cited Finland as a working model, noting the country’s emphasis on strong educators. Romney praised Finland for selecting teacher candidates from the top tier of educated persons in the country, something he stressed the U.S. should mimic: 

Education Week last year reported on a study that compared U.S. education policy and teacher training to other countries. While the report took issue with America’s slow embrace of proven reforms abroad, it also highlighted the significant role teachers unions in Canada and Finland play in shaping education policy

Romney also advocated for school choice, an umbrella term that can mean increased support for charter schools, vouchers that use public dollars to send students to private schools, and other education delivery practices that go beyond the traditional brick and mortar arrangement. In previous campaign statements and appearances, he argued in favor of shifting federal formula funds like Title I and IDEA away from targeted demographics and to students who would like to attend a school of their choice, including private schools:

The New York Times reports some $25 billion would be freed up under such a policy change, though it would be a dramatic overhaul of how the federal government funds public education today.

Nor is there a guarantee schools will admit the under-served populations Gov. Romney states he would help by reforming Title I and IDEA, reports The Hechinger Report.

But Romney didn’t explain a hole many have identified: the program would only offer families about $3,000 per child, but private school tuition costs well over $7,000 on average — a cost that would continue to price out extremely poor families.” (The Huffington Post)

Interestingly, Romney did not make reference to vouchers in his initial remarks, instead focusing on tutoring and cyber learning lessons for students as an example of choice. No Child Left Behind, the current education law of the land, has provisions allowing students to seek tutors and attend different schools if their schools under perform, as noted in EWA’s Story Starters. Cyber technology and computer-based learning have also taken off in recent years, though there are many models of implementation and too few studies have effectively assessed such programs’ merits. 

On higher education, Romney did not outline any policy specifics; instead, he urged policy makers to stymie the rise in college costs. As he has done in the past, Romney argued the best solution for abating the economic malaise college graduates are feeling today (roughly half are under employed or seeking jobs today, he said) is to boost the economy so those young adults can be hired quickly. His running mate, congressman Paul Ryan, has proposed cuts to popular aid programs for the economically disadvantaged: 

Ryan, the Wisconsin Republican who is chairman of the House Budget Committee, wrote a House-approved 2013 budget that would let the American Opportunity tax credit expire in January. It would freeze the maximum Pell grant at $5,500 for the next decade and it suggests rolling back some subsidies for student borrowers and recent provisions making the grants more widely available.” (USA Today)

Romney also stated he helped enshrine a scholarship in Massachusetts that rolled back the cost of tuition for students, but he noted fees outweighed tuition. The Huffington Post notes many families were angry to learn the scholarships shaved only a few hundred dollars off the price of college. As governor, Romney supported cost increases and more aid, according to the Boston Globe:

Another of Romney’s 2003 proposals raised eyebrows statewide. Romney wanted to charge students 15 to 28 percent more to attend four-year public campuses. His corresponding plan to boost financial aid by $44 million got less attention.”

Despite the difficulty many recent graduates face in entering the lukewarm economy, there is relief. A bipartisan act that was recently expanded by president Obama–Income Based Repayment (IBR)–caps student loan payments to a percentage of their current income. In many cases, recent graduates don’t pay at all because their incomes are so low. The debts, if the individual qualifies, are also excused after 20 years. 

Once Romney sat down for his interview, he impugned Obama’s commitment to education reform by connecting him to teachers unions. When asked about the nine day strike in Chicago, he said there is a conflict of interest between resolving the strike and being forceful with unions when they contribute millions to his campaign:

Democrats’ views on vouchers are more diverse and nuanced than what is suggested by the party’s national platform” (Education Week)

What do the American Ireland Fund, the Rev. Al Sharpton and the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network have in common? All have received some of the more than $330 million that America’s two largest teachers unions spent in the past five years on outside causes, political campaigns, lobbying and issue education.” (The Wall Street Journal)

Romney also extolled the influence good teachers have on students and talked up the merits of value-added measures to gauge teacher performance. In NCLB waivers and Race to the Top grants, the Obama administration has also championed tying student test scores to teacher assessments:

According to a prominent study by three economists, for example, teacher quality directly accounts for nearly 7.5 percent of the variation in achievement among individual students, and that number actually might range as high as 20 percent.” (EWA Story Starter)

On teacher training and leadership, he recommended pursuing programs that reward top teachers for assisting others in structured professional development settings. President Obama had recently pushed for an initiative that would pick and reward top STEM teachers who help lead their peers and improve their teaching effectiveness. 

Supercharging the teaching profession has been a top education policy initiative for the last few presidents:  There already are roughly 80 different teacher improvement programs within the federal government.” (EdMedia Commons) 

Brian Williams asked Romney if he has particular policy proposals for addressing the relative dearth of early education programs in the U.S. The former governor instead urged parents to be involved in their students’ academic lives. Referring to a conversation he had with teachers as governor, he said if parents of students do not show up on parent-teacher night, those students will likely not succeed. 

Recent studies suggest the U.S. needs to play catch-up with other countries in the field of early education:

On average, across the countries that are compared in the OECD report, 84 percent of early-childhood students were enrolled in public programs or in private settings that receive major government resources in 2010. In this country, just 55 percent of early-childhood students were enrolled in publicly supported programs in 2010.” (Education Week) 

The economics of early education funding (EdMedia Commons) 

Investing in early childhood education can yield impressive economic benefits — both for children and taxpayers, according to a National Institutes of Health study that followed participants until age 26.” (USA Today) 

Pushing the parent involvement theme, Romney talked up Harlem’s Children Zone (HCZ), a multi-block effort to provide students with adequate healthcare, nutrition, after-school support, and sound schools. Its success has been scrutinized by analysts, but under President Obama federal funds were apportioned to communities that would pursue programs like HCZ through the Promise Neighborhoods program.

What’s less clear, the researchers say, is whether the improved student performance can be explained by the quality of the schools alone, or by the combination of the schooling with the web of community supports, such as early-childhood programs, parenting workshops, and asthma and anti-obesity initiatives.” (Education Week) 

The limits to Obama’s vision are interesting in their own right. But perhaps a better question is this: why are so many cities waiting on federal funds to give this program a try? The Harlem Children’s Zone is widely heralded as one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the county, an honor it managed to achieve without the help of federal money.” (Atlantic Cities) 

Romney would not take Williams’ bait and announce a list of candidates for education secretary, though he had nice words for the current secretary, Arne Duncan. The republican presidential candidate said he supports the Race to the Top initiatives Duncan’s team has presided over, an odd remark since it indirectly praises the president, as well.

With the Republican National Convention about to kick off, it’s officially time to start speculating about who could be presumptive GOP Mitt Romney’s education secretary if he wins the presidential election.” (Education Week) 

Gov. Romney waded into some controversy by alluding to the Common Core standards as a national curriculum, a characterization leading state-level Republicans and the White House reject. Romney accused the Obama administration of tying state NCLB waivers to whether they adopt the Common Core. Later, during a question and answer session with the audience, Romney appeared to have backpedaled, agreeing with a teacher that the 46 states that adopted at least one of the Common Core standards did so on their own volition. Still, he would not commit to any specific support to help pay for the standards, saying the federal government should not support all good ideas.    

Our Story Starter on Common Core

Common Core State Standards Dividing GOP