Romney’s Anti-Bush Education Policies
Convention requires presidential candidates to issue policy statements on all major policy areas. So while Mitt Romney’s election strategy centers on exploiting the weak economy, on Wednesday he checked the “education” box. But while the candidate’s mind may be focused on other things, Romney’s speech, and the corresponding white paper, deserve attention.
Romney chose to frame his education agenda as a critique of President Obama and teachers unions, but it’s actually something much more interesting: an extended argument with George W. Bush. More than anything, Romney’s education platform is a sign of how swiftly the consensus Republican position on education has been overwhelmed by Tea Party anti-federalism and the economic interests of big business.
The most concrete proposal in the Romney education plan is to gut President Bush’s signature domestic policy initiative, No Child Left Behind. Provisions requiring states to hold schools accountable for student test scores would be eliminated. Instead, states would simply be required to administer tests and make results available to parents via school “scorecards.” (NCLB already has a scorecard provision and it’s unclear how Romney’s proposal would improve on it.) School choice is the other part of the equation: Armed with the scorecards, parents would be permitted to choose among different school options. The theory is that the discipline of market competition would replace NCLB-style government regulation as the force that will help “millions of kids” who are, in Romney’s words, “getting a third-world education.”
Unfortunately, the policies that Romney proposes to empower parents are in no way plausible alternatives to NCLB. First, Romney calls for expanding the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program as a “model for parental choice programs across the nation.” It is hard to imagine a more purely symbolic, un-scalable program than the D.C. scholarships, a federally-funded and Congressionally-imposed program that provides $8,000 to $12,000 awards to 1,600 low-income students in the District of Columbia (or about two percent of all the district’s regular public and charter school population) so that they can attend private schools. Studies have found that D.C. scholarship recipients are more likely to graduate from high school than similar students who stayed in D.C.’s oft-criticized public school system, but don’t seem to score better on standardized tests.