Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

An educated choice? Obama vs. Romney

September 24, 2012 by Marc Brasof


Typically, national elections provide a choice between competing sides and ideas.  In terms of educational policy and this upcoming national election, there are more commonalities than differences.

One way to understand President Barack Obama's plan is to look at his predecessors.  Clinton's Goals 2000 established a framework for the development of national, standards-based learning.

Such principles were then put into place in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

NCLB, characterized by market reform and accountability initiatives, provided states' the policy mechanisms to implement high-stakes testing.  While this policy helped to illuminate the achievement gap, it has done very little to actually address it.

Meanwhile, a charter school movement gained real momentum, which redirected funds from public to privately operated schools.

NCLB and the charter school movement are coming under increasingly heavy criticism for their inabilities to improve educational outcomes, and more importantly, addressing the achievement gap.

Enter Obama.  President Obama added momentum to the national standards movement through his key initiative, Race To The Top, which provided states desperately needed education funding in exchange for compliance with a host of reforms.

In a competitive application process, states and school districts had to agree to adopt national standards; build data systems that measure student growth and success; inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction; and recruit, develop, reward, and retain effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most and turn around lowest-achieving schools.

Yet in practice, RTTT, seen as NCLB on steroids, proliferates federal and state education policy that is not making much headway in improving students' educational experience.

Romney was governor of Massachusetts when NCLB was in full swing and Massachusetts' education system performed very well on state test scores.  This is not a result of NCLB.

As governor, Romney also pushed hard for the expansion of charter schools.  Now as a presidential candidate, Romney would like to continue with his predecessors’ accountability measures--the impetus for charter school expansion--so that students can use public funding to attend private schools and/or schools outside their district.

While in theory this might sound ideal for some, in practice this policy would severely defund public schools, it is politically motivated (teachers' unions vote Democratic and private/charter schools are without unions at the moment), and like Obama’s education policy, it is not addressing the core challenges in education.

As a voter, selection of either candidate is considered an endorsement of charter school growth, national curriculum, and high-stakes testing that forms the basis of teacher evaluation.

Yet, scholars and educators across the country discuss why such policies have been, and will mostly likely continue to be, detrimental to schools and students.  There are better solutions out there, but our two candidates fundamentally agree on the direction of our education policy.   Thus, in terms of the education issue, what choice do voters truly have?

Marc Brasof is the education fellow at the National Constitution Center and serves on the Pennsylvania Council for Social Studies' Board of Directors.

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