Let’s take the major parts quickly. The emphasis on school choice is politically smart but unlikely to have a big impact given how much it is fundamentally a state by state issue. Mostly, this will help Romney draw contrasts with the President, which will help at the margins with independents and certainly help with his base. In the early 1980s when Nation At Risk was being published someone told President Reagan that the report would outrage the teachers union and other vested interests. Another presidential aide apparently responded something to the effect of ‘that’s fine, the Democrats can have them, we’ll take the parents.’ This is an extension of the logic of those politics, leave Democrats with the stakeholder adults, take everyone else.
The higher education ideas are more risky. Pell Grants are certainly due for an overhaul both because the costs are becoming unsustainable and also because structural reforms could improve the effectiveness of the program. I’m going to write about that for TIME tomorrow. But while there are problems with the “Gainful Employment” rule intended to improve the regulation of for-profit higher education (in short, there is a potential for perverse consequences because this is a complicated area to regulate and at the same time accountability for poor outcomes should apply more broadly because for-profits are not the only bad actors in higher education) politically it seems unwise for Romney to stand with the for-profits, the lenders and banks, or even the higher education institutions themselves given both the substance of the argument and also the political mood right now.
In other words, on higher education the reverse of the K-12 political logic is true – Obama is getting the students and the parents, Romney is getting the institutions. This year – given how higher education seems like a more salient issue than K-12 – that looks like a much better deal for the President.
Update: Fritz Edelstein found an interesting tidbit in the Romney paper on this.