EdMedia Commons Archive

Romney and Obama Differences on Education

No Child Left Behind: During a debate between the candidates’ education advisers several Romney positions were clarified. Confirming what several conservative education analysts have been writing in recent weeks, the Romney adviser hinted at rescinding the waivers should the former governor win the White House.A Romney presidency would push for a reauthorization of No Child Left Behind; in the interim, the federal education law would be reverted to its pre-waiver form.  Phil Handy, the Romney adviser,  also expressed concern states are setting different proficiency standards for different demographic groups—a major flashpoint in policy circles and state legislatures. Earlier in the campaign season, Romney stated he would defang some of the law’s least popular aspects like school turnaround, instead creating a system thatranks schools on their quality. Such a system would be pegged in part to NAEP, those familiar with the plan say. The Obama administration has appealed to Congress to reauthorize NCLB, though numerous articles have depicted the president’s waivers as a de-facto replacement of the moldering legislation.

Early learning: Handy cast a pall over the fate of popular early education programs like Head Start, saying it has “been allowed to go on for decades … much more as a social experience, not preparing children for school.” As governor, Romney created an office for early childhood education but pared down early education funding while vetoing a bill that would have allocated $10 million for kindergarten expansion. The Obama administration has launched two rounds of Race to the Top for early learning and has promised to redouble its commitment to education before kindergarten. At a marquee education event held by Washington, D.C. think-tank Brookings, Sec. of Education Arne Duncan told the audience a second administration would focus more on higher education and early learning.

Vouchers: Despite some state-level Democrats supporting the of using public dollars to cover the cost of private school attendance, the trend is slow to catch on among Democrats in Washington. President Obama has not endorsed the wide use of the practice. In his FY13 budget the president zeroed out new funding for the D.C. Parental Choice program but later reversed course and promised to support new enrollment. Romney, meanwhile, supports using low-income and special education grant aid to fund student enrollment in private schools. Handy suggested yesterday a Romney administration would reroute billions of dollars in formula grants to sends needy students to private schools; he added the administration would encourage states to back the effort with matching dollars. Previously, the Romney campaign has voiced support using Title I and IDEA funds to cover supplemental learning opportunities and online courses, as well. NCLB forced participating districts with poor achievement levels to put aside a portion of their federal grant dollars for outside tutoring for students.

Charters: In the past, Romney has encouraged states to lift caps on the number of charter schools that are given permits to operate. The Obama administration has encouraged states to greenlight charter expansion, using carrots like waivers and Race to the Top in the process.

K-12 Funding: Though Romney has pledged support for his running mate’s 20 percent cut to federal spending, the Ryan Plan would have to leave education spending unscathed. During the first presidential debate and through his adviser yesterday, Romney has stated his presidency would not make cuts to federal education spending. However, Handy stated yesterday additional funding is likely out of the question. Romney has argued for a thorough review of federal spending initiatives to learn which programs can be merged, phased-out, or refined. In recent months, Republican lawmakers have quibbled with the Obama administration over a perceived surfeit of teacher development programs. In July Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, stated while he supports the president’s $1 billion spending program to train new STEM teachers, the federal government already operates over 80 teacher development programs. Obama has hinted at additional spending initiatives that mimic Race to the Top. The president also has a stalled stimulus bill in Congress that would shuffle $65 billion toward school construction projects, additional teachers, and first responders.

Higher-Ed Funding: Despite their public sniping, the candidates’ stated views on higher education spending share many commonalities. Obama at his 2012 State of the Union address put universities on alert by saying, “If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.” But the tough talk confounded many schools, in part over what the ultimatum would look like and also over confusion on how to deliver low-cost courses that have the blessing of regulators. In recent months, the Obama administration has tried to provide more clarity by allowing schools to experiment with alternate forms of giving students credit for what they have learned. A university in New Hampshire applied recently for the first-ever request to base student learning on direct assessments, rather than credit hours. If the Dept. of Education approves the application, analysts predict many universities will follow, potentially driving down cost to the schools and the price students pay to earn their degrees.

 Romney too has called for universities to reverse the decades-long rise in tuition prices. He backs for-profit colleges and has chastised the Obama administration for its “gainful employment” rules that sanction proprietary colleges for graduating students with high debt levels. While Obama has criticized the Romney campaign for suggesting rules for Pell grant eligibility should be tightened, the president has also limited the number of students who can receive the maximum reward. Still, under Obama, funding for Pell grants has surged, with a growing chorus of analysts saying the expansion is untenable. During the second presidential debate, Romney stated he would keep Pell grants “growing.” In the past, his running mate–Paul Ryan– has indicated he would preserve funding for Pell grants but make 19 percent cuts to the category of discretionary funding that includes Pell grants.

Also at stake is reversing the money-saving moves the Obama administration made to help finance its expansion of college aid programs. The administration ended its relationship with private financial institutions that took fees from students and the government to administer federal loans, choosing to handle the aid packages itself. Romney says that move was a “nationalization” of student loans. He intends to return to the former model.

Teachers: Both candidates support merit pay, though evidence exists that such programs improve student learning is hard to find. Romney and Obama support tying teacher performance to student scores and are fans of organizations that create non-traditional pathways into the teaching profession. Romney, however, has been more bullish about reforming or doing away with teacher tenure rules; Obama backed tenure reform in his FY2013 budget by asking Congress to approve $5 billion in programs that would help districts tie pay and retention to performance rather than seniority. The former governor has riled labor leaders with his sharp criticism of teachers unions, going so far as to say they should be barred from donating to political campaigns. While frustrating labor with his support for merit pay, value-added, and charter schools, Obama has retained political and financial support from teachers unions.

Common Core: On paper, both candidates support the set of standards 46 states have signed off on in part or in full. But Romney is eager to paint Common Core as a federal initiative, citing the $360 million in federal grants two testing consortia received to design the assessments for the standards. Many state Republican state leaders have balked at that characterization, saying that casting the standards as a federal program undercuts the bipartisan progress they’ve made winning support for the Common Core. 

This post originally appeared on EWA’s now-defunct online community, EdMedia Commons. Old content from EMC will appear in the Ed Beat archives.