Indiana

Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

What A Mitt Romney Candidacy Means For Indiana Education

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Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has repeatedly complimented President Obama on several education initiatives put forward in recent years.

According to political monitoring website, Real Clear Politics, Mitt Romney currently leads in all of the most recent Republican presidential primary polls by a margin of as much as 15 percent. With this in mind, StateImpact Indiana has decided to take a closer look at Romney’s education platform.

Official Platform

Romney’s official campaign website only once indirectly touches on the issue of education under a subheading of Romney’s jobs platform.

Retraining Workers

Mitt Romney will approach retraining policy with a conservative mindset that recognizes it as an area where the federal government is particularly ill-equipped to succeed. Retraining efforts must be founded upon a partnership that brings together the states and the private sector.

Other than this minor mention, there are no plans or details offered.

A few publications have attempted to dig into the specifics of Romney’s positions on a variety of education issues ranging from the DREAM Act (which he promises to strike down if given the chance) to teacher performance pay (which he supports) to charter schools (which he also supports).

On the higher education front, Romney has pushed for the expansion of so called for profit colleges like the University of Phoenix and ITT Technical Institute.

However, there is a certain lack of detail when it comes to the specifics of any education plan coming out of the Romney camp. For example, a widely cited Washington Post profile of Mitt Romney relies on an interview conducted during the 2008 primary and even quotes from Romney’s 2010 book “No Apologies: The Case For American Greatness.” What’s missing are references to stump speeches, comments from debates or even press release statements.

This is not a comment on the Washington Post. There is a wide dearth of direct Romney quotations on education in dozens of articles and profiles written by everyone from Education Week to the New York Times.

Romney’s Political Misstep

Romney has been widely quoted as saying the following to Politico about the education policies of current U.S. President Barack Obama.

Some of his education initiatives—merit pay for the best teachers and school choice—have been positive.

References to the quote can be found in nearly every education article or profile of Romney written in recent months and are often taken out of context. According to the original article, printed in December, the question was asked in the spirit of finding common ground during the holiday season.

However, it’s not the first time that Romney has touted President Obama’s education initiatives and Obama is already stumping heavily on the issue of education. As early as February of last year, President Obama was already making speeches tying education reform to job creation and touting efforts like Race To The Top. Politico.com reported on one such speech from earlier this year.

“If we want to win the global competition for new jobs and industries, we’ve got to win the global competition to educate our people,” Obama said. “We’ve got to have the best-trained, best-skilled workforce in the world. That’s how we’ll ensure that the next Intel, the next Google, or the next Microsoft is created in America, and hires American workers.”

If anything, President Obama’s education platform may hold more appeal to Republican voters than it does to Democrats. He has specifically come out in favor of efforts to tie teacher compensation to student performance. This move has brought him into conflict with traditional Democratic backers like the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers union. The New York Times reported earlier this year on efforts to mend some of the fences broken during tussles over questions of teacher compensation, but wide gaps still exist between the two positions.

In passing the new policy at its assembly here, the 3.2 million-member union, the National Education Association, hopes to take a leadership role in the growing national movement to hold teachers accountable for what students learn — an effort from which it has so far conspicuously stood apart.

But blunting the policy’s potential impact, the union also made clear that it continued to oppose the use of existing standardized test scores to judge teachers, a core part of the federally backed teacher evaluation overhauls already under way in at least 15 states.

Randi Wiengarten, president of the nation’s second largest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, has been much less conciliatory towards the president- calling the president’s insistence on linking teacher pay to standardized test scores “ridiculous“. She went on to tell reporters at a conference in Connecticut that standardized test were never designed to evaluate teachers and should not be used that way.

“Every teacher I know creates tests to figure out where their kids are. But this is about student improvement. Most tests were never created as a teacher evaluation document,” she told the workshop at Central Connecticut State University.

The president has also been a vocal advocate of expanding charter schools into new markets, and he has been proactive in working with state education officials, including many Republicans like Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, on ways to avoid the more stringent penalties laid out under No Child Left Behind.

The Differences

In spite of these similarities, there are some substantial differences between the two players.

Several sources, including the Washington Post and Education Week have reported that Romney supports school vouchers.

On the other hand, President Obama struck down attempts to offer school vouchers to students in the Washington D.C area.  According to a CBS News report, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said in a press conference about the decision that vouchers take resources away from pubic schools where the money is needed.

“The president doesn’t believe that vouchers are a long-term answer to our educational problems and the challenges that face our public school system, where the vast majority of — of students are educated in this country.”

President Obama’s Department of Education published a series of reports earlier this year claiming that for-profit-colleges are among the biggest drivers of rising tuition. The USDOE has also accused for-profit-colleges of exploiting veterans returning from overseas.

Romney, on the other hand, has called for-profit-colleges a boon for nontraditional students looking for an alternative to a pricey traditional 4-year college degree. He has argued repeatedly that for-profit-colleges drive competition and therefor lower tuition at all universities. A number of his remarks on the issue have focused on a Florida based institution called Full Sail University.

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