Romney Campaign: A Clear Contrast

This week surrogates from the Obama and Romney campaigns will discuss education policy issues here.  You can see the first post by the Obama campaign below. This is a post by Marty West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and advisor to the Romney campaign:

As we head into the closing weeks of the 2012 presidential election, there’s no issue more critical to our long-term success as a nation than the need for education reform.  So I’m grateful to Eduwonk for sharing his space this week with advisors to both candidates’ campaigns—and hopeful that our discussion will clarify the differences between Governor Romney and President Obama on the best way forward.

What differences, you say?  It is true that both candidates acknowledge the need for dramatic improvement to ensure economic strength and make good on our promise of equal opportunity.  President Obama has talked the talk on the value of creating more charter schools and developing new systems for teacher evaluation—policies Governor Romney and his fellow Republicans have long supported.  And his administration’s vaunted Race to the Top grant competition led several states to lift caps on charter enrollment and to dismantle data system firewalls preventing student test scores from being linked to their teachers.

To his credit, Governor Romney has consistently praised this aspect of the president’s record – while pointing out that it is just a small piece of a larger, more concerning picture.  Federal education policy under President Obama has been a tale of two administrations, one superficially reform-oriented and the other tightly wedded to an outdated status quo.  While the former has received the most attention, the latter has apparently controlled the budget process.

Race to the Top, for example, made up just four percent of the $100 Billion in (borrowed) funds spent on education under the president’s 2009 stimulus bill.  The rest, a rough doubling of annual federal education spending, went out to states and districts with no strings attached and did little to help advance reform or stimulate the economy.  More money for more of the same is not change, nor does it provide hope for America’s students.  In higher education, the Obama administration has increased federal aid for students but done nothing to rein in out-of-control tuition increases.  The cost of a college education has risen by 25 percent since he took office, more students are borrowing more money than ever before, and total student debt has reached a record $1 Trillion. As a result, we’re no closer to the president’s own goal of leading the world in college degree completion by 2020 than we were four years ago.

Even when it comes to Race to the Top, reality falls short of the rhetoric.  The application process all but required a union sign-off for states to be competitive, sharply curtailing their flexibility to experiment with new models of evaluation and compensation.  (The successor competition for districts has eliminated the “all but.”)  And even those watered-down applications are proving tough to implement.  Each winning state has amended its plans at least once—most of them have done so repeatedly.  Yet the Department has little recourse at this point to hold them accountable for their promises.  Meanwhile, the president has failed to work with Congress to address the single most pressing policy challenge in federal education policy: the long overdue and much-needed reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

President Obama and his surrogates now accuse his challenger of wanting to “gut education” spending.  The president’s decision to defend his record of “investment” in education is understandable (health care and green energy must not be faring well with focus groups).  But his attacks on Governor Romney are inconsistent with the facts.  As Governor Romney told voters during last week’s debate, “I don’t want to cut our commitment to education.”  Despite the president’s claims, Governor Romney has proposed no reductions in federal education spending.  And he and Paul Ryan know that controlling the rising costs of entitlements is in fact the only way to preserve the ability of state and local governments to support their schools in the future.  The president, in contrast, has no plan to address the $58 Billion budget shortfall facing the Pell Grant program or to pay for a permanent fix for student loan interest rates, scheduled to rise next year.

Importantly, Governor Romney went on to commit to making federal education spending “more effective and efficient.”  Over the course of the campaign, he has laid out an agenda that will not only accomplish this task, but drive much-needed improvement throughout the American education system.

The critical step is to refocus the federal government’s energies on the tasks it is best-positioned to accomplish.  In K-12, this means expanding parental choice over the school their child attends; providing parents and taxpayers with transparent information about school quality and school spending so that they can make sound decisions; and using existing funds nominally aimed at improving teacher quality to incentivize new approaches to recruit and retain effective teachers.  In higher education, it means strengthening and simplifying the federal financial aid system to ensure its sustainability; equipping prospective students with information about the completion and loan repayment rates of specific institutions; and eliminating regulations that constrain innovation, limit competition, and drive up costs.   Our next post will explain how this agenda will help restore the promise of American education.

10 Replies to “Romney Campaign: A Clear Contrast”

  1. The latest in the Seen But Not Heard series:

    From a press release from students and their allies at Walter L. Cohen High School:

    See below for the students’ demands.

    Students at Walter L. Cohen in New Orleans began a walk out/protest on October 4th, 2012 when their teachers and administrators were dismissed and the announcement was made that Future Is Now Charter (Steven Barr, formerly of Green Dot in California, and Gideon Stein) would be taking over the governance of the school. A press conference is to be held today, Monday, October 8, at 3:00pm.

    This is against the firing of Cohen teachers and administration and the take-over by Future is Now (FIN) charter. Decisions about the governance of the school, including New Orleans College Prep being housed in Cohen’s building, must be reversed and remade to include students and parents of Cohen. Cohen students and parents must be made a part of all decisions about Cohen.

    Video here:

  2. “providing parents and taxpayers with transparent information about school quality and school spending so that they can make sound decisions;”

    Will a Romney Administration provide taxpayers with transparent information about Wall Street investment firms? What about Romney’s own tax payment record? If I’m going to pay his salary I’d like to know which offshore tax avoiding accounts my money is going to. What, Wall Street is about private firms? It’s still MY money, whether it goes to public or private coffers for redistribution. So, I can’t know about all my investments, just the ones I make with MY tax dollars?

    And you want ME to trust someone who lies before tens of millions of people, smiling and on camera? Sure, I’ll trust that lying piece of hair product to tell ME what the metrics are going to be to fairly assess teachers and schools.

    And for once, why don’t y’all just come out of the closet about your real school orientation. Stop hiding behind this faux campaign story about “choices” and “transparency” and how you’re just soooo looking out for children’s best interests. Just stop it, already, you’re not fooling anyone.

  3. Better information is needed for everyone considering education decisions. While much of the above sounds promising, specifics are needed, and the Romney campaign has not been successful at getting its specifics to the public through the media. As The Economist recently noted in its issue that had Governor Romney on its cover, inconsistent policy positions and lack of specifics force his supporters to vote for an unusually unknown candidate, and this is inconsistent with the above (correct) assertions about the public needing good information before making important decisions about their children’s futures.

  4. Regardless of who wins and want policies are adopted, good teachers will still find a way to be effective and increase student achievement. All teachers should have a mission statement with a failure is not an option clause and should lead by example to earn public respect and confidence in spite of what these politicians say and promote.

  5. I doubt it, LMC. Mission statements don’t mean anything. They are a contrivance of the 1990s business culture when various and sundry get rich gurus convinced a willing and gullible, paying audience that the formula for success began with a clear vision of what the business what all about. I’m sorry but a pianist doesn’t just sit down at the keyboard and explain how she will interpret Chopin within this or that interpretative structure. She simply plays the piece. The explanation comes in the program notes or in interviews after the fact.

    Failure is subjective. We all know this. So do our students. Our students may be immature, ignorant of the adult world, and selfish; but they are not stupid and they know when they are being played.

    Teachers will never win vs. politicians. NEVER. As in EVER. The unions are too weak to mount any kind of credible counter-reformation. American education is a complex system of players but the election process holds the trump card over science and empirical evidence.

  6. jeff miller:

    investment banks are private, public schools are public. big difference when it comes to transparency rights and the public. obviously we have a right to know about our public schools because we pay for them.

    how is that not obvious to you?

    public sector vs. private sector my friend. if you take the public dolla then you gotta give some transparency

  7. Tom, I find it interesting to note that the financial crisis of 2008 came about from private banks and investment firms imploding. Regulatory oversight of private enterprises is a vital feature of a mixed economy. In a nation where there exists a so-called private marketplace, there must be public transparency to protect the larger economy from reckless behavior in the private sector while protecting the competitive advantage that accrues from private initiative.

    It’s probably long past time we admit that the American economy is a complex and interdependent system of what used to be called private and public investments. A robust regulatory environment for private industry does not have to mean disclosing competitive advantages to the detriment of competition. Public projects do not depend entirely upon tax dollars given up by private individuals and corporations but often involve investment from and profit benefit flows to private firms.

    So, “providing parents and taxpayers with transparent information about school quality and school spending so that they can make sound decisions;” is much more nuanced a proscription for education than meets the eye. The provision of “information” is a meaningless phrase because it could mean any kind of data. The estimation of school “quality” is by no means an objective metric.

    The so-called private sector cannot be allowed to operate without transparency. The Gilded Age and the 1929 collapse put the lie to the supposed genius of an opaque marketplace. In the 21st Century, as in the 19th, public vs. private dollars exist as a kind of polite fiction promoted by those who think they have a stake in the promotion of a dualistic way of looking at the world. In my world, there is no bright line that defines any economic sector as exclusively private or public.

  8. Vouchers sound great, give me $12,000 then I can go wherever I want. There are three problems here.

    1) Vouchers never cover a full ride at private schools which means only the middle class students can use them. For the middle class students using the vouchers, they now face a cost for public education that never existed before. The poor students are get ultra concentrated in the same schools that are sure to be labled failing.

    2) If you live in a rural town or in the inner city (where student outcomes are the worst) How far do you have to travel to get to a school with great student outcomes? In both the South Bronx and the West Virginia foothills the answer could be a couple hours. Not sure how the transportation will work.

    3) If people act as the Romney administration expect and choose to attend the best schools, the best schools will be far over their enrollment capacity.

    I’m surprised the Harvard professor didn’t address these common voucher pitfalls.

  9. Vouchers sound great, give me $12,000 then I can go wherever I want. There are three problems here.

    1) Vouchers never cover a full ride at private schools
    It will cover Catholic parochial schools and fine high schools like St. Mary’s of Ryken, DeMatha Catholic, Elizabeth Seton, Bishop Ireton, and Bishop McNamara
    It will not cover schools like Stone Ridge, Connely School of the Holy Child, Georgetown Prep or Georgetown Visitiation.

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