What Would a Romney White House Mean for Education?

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Last night, Governor Mitt Romney accepted the GOP nomination, and now the Democrats head to Charlotte for their own convention. With convention season underway and the first debates just around the corner, the conversation is finally focusing on the nuts and bolts of the candidates’ policies.  The last four years of federal education reform are a likely indication of what we should expect should President Obama be re-elected—and we’ll expect to learn more about his education plan at the convention next week. But what would a Romney White House mean for education? Most of what we know about Romney’s education platform so far comes from “A Chance for Every Child,” a white paper that the campaign released in May.

In the paper, Governor Romney lays out his central philosophical disagreement with the current approach to improving American K-12 education: “Overtly prescriptive federal policy mandates have a chilling effect on state and local efforts to improve schools by diverting resources toward compliance with the letter of the law, not its underlying intent.”

The plan proposes federal policies that emphasize consumer choice and increased transparency:

  • Allow all low-income and special needs students to choose which school to attend
  • Provide incentives for states to increase choices for parents
  • Build on the success of effective charter and digital schools by amending the federal Charter School Program so that successful school management organizations can receive funding to replicate their efforts, serve more students, and take their programs to scale.
  • Expand the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program to serve as a model for the country. 
  • Reform No Child Left Behind emphasizing transparency and responsibility for results by replacing federally-mandated school interventions with a requirement that states create straightforward public report cards that evaluate each school on its contribution to student learning.
  • Award block grants to states rewarding teachers on a performance basis.
  • Eliminate unnecessary certification requirements—like the “highly qualified teacher” provision in NCLB--that discourages new teachers. 

With a clear focus on limited federal prescriptions, increased state responsibility and expanded parental choice, the Romney plan takes steps toward deregulating and decentralizing public education.  So what does all this add up to for private sector companies? 

The most important element in the Romney plan for the private sector is a significant change in the culture of reform. Fewer decisions would be made in Washington and policies might be paired back in order to create room for new, innovative providers to enter the market.  Less red tape suggests a more  friendly environment for entrepreneurship. By choosing to support innovation over compliance, the Romney plan opens the door to non-traditional providers and experiments. 

This change in climate might encourage states, school districts, and schools to experiment with private/public partnerships as well as alternative forms of delivering instruction and staffing schools.  For private sector partners, this could mean new market opportunities, and less political and public relations battles to fight.

As the debates unfold, we can expect Democrats to attack the Romney plan on the grounds that it is anti-public school as much of the plan focuses on creating new alternatives in the school system and speaks little of the role of equity that public education can play.  However, the Romney/Ryan ticket might counter that their plan is indeed about equal opportunity for all children and that less federal control means better schools.

In the paper, Governor Romney favorably quotes current U.S. Senator and former US Secretary of Education Lamar Alexander, “…there is a difference between a national concern, which education is, and a federal government solution driven from Washington.”  Parsing the difference between concern and control will be featured in the run up to Election Day as the two parties attempt to distinguish their policies for public education.

 

Peter Cookson is a Senior Advisor to Whiteboard Advisors. He also serves as the President of Ideas without Borders and is an adjunct professor at Teacher's College at Columbia University. 

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