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Obama and Romney Square Off on Education

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By Marcus A. Hennessy

empty high school hallwayWith the presidential election now just two weeks away, and with two stirring debates under their belts, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney face crunch time in their respective campaign stumps.

One topic the candidates continue to spar over is the future of K-12 and higher education in America, especially in light of the country’s dismal ranking in recent global assessment tests: 25th in overall performance according to 2009 PISA scores (17th in reading, 31st in mathematics, and 23rd in science).

Bloggers David Halperin, Wesley Stewart and Robert Holland have helped readers clarify the candidates’ positions on topics like teacher evaluations, Common Core Standards, and for-profit universities, while Obama and Romney continue to elaborate on their educational mandates in numerous TV interviews, ads, and campaign events.

Standing on Common Ground

Surprisingly, Romney’s plans for education reform jibe with some of the President’s new initiatives. For example, the Obama administration’s proposed RESPECT (Recognizing Educational Success, Professional Excellence and Collaborative Teaching) Project would provide salary and career incentives for teachers based on performance and evaluations rather than tenure.

Romney has stated on his official campaign website that he wants to reward great teachers through block grants and increased flexibility, and he believes that states must implement teacher evaluations to meet educational benchmarks while phasing out tenure as a measure of competency.

President Obama is also on record as a strong supporter of merit pay based on performance, not tenure, where a teacher’s effectiveness would be measured against student test results.

Moreover, both Obama and Romney support the expansion of charter and digital schools.

Where They Differ

Not surprisingly, the candidates’ visions for educational reform diverge in many areas. Romney’s specific education agenda includes:

  • Drastically reducing the size and influence of the Department of Education, using a portion of its budget to create an information outlet that provides “public report cards” to hold school districts and states accountable for results. Parents would also be informed of private, religious, and charter school education options at the K-12 level.
  • Diverting funding from Title I and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) programs to create vouchers for special needs students with the goal of giving them more choice in schools.
  • Eliminating the federally-mandated Common Core Standards and allowing states to develop their own educational benchmarks.
  • Providing more financial aid resources to for-profit colleges such as Full Sail University and the University of Phoenix while reducing federal aid and assistance to more established university programs.
  • Promoting private-sector funding of student loans without government assistance and sharply reducing Pell Grants.
  • Expanding the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, which provides federal vouchers for low-income children attending private schools in the nation’s capitol and was greatly reduced under the Obama administration.
  • Eliminating some certification requirements that may discourage new teachers.

President Obama’s plans for improving the performance of America’s schools and students includes one new strategy but mostly continues the many programs already initiated over the past three-and-a-half years, including:

  • Obtaining from Congress the requested $5 billion in funding for the RESPECT Project.
  • Implementing the Common Core Standards already accepted by 46 states, which Romney actively opposes.
  • Continuing to fund Race to the Top grants to states which meet the following criteria:
    • more rigorous academic standards;
    • better data systems to measure and track school/teacher effectiveness;
    • additional charter schools;
    • teacher staffing based on merit;
    • improving the performance of “the bottom five percent.”
  • Continuing to fund STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs and grants as sponsored by the Department of Education and the National Science Foundation.
  • Recruiting 100,000 new math and science teachers with federally funded incentives.
  • Doubling the funding for Pell Grants.
  • Providing federal money for community colleges to implement and improve career training programs.

A Return to Prominence

Millions of people are already in the process of casting their absentee ballots while the general election is slated for Tuesday, November 6. One thing is certain; regardless of the outcome, our students’ competency must improve dramatically in the next four years if the United States hopes to regain its dominance in a challenging global economy.

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Romney and Obama Education Policies  [DOWNLOAD]