A thoughtful analysis of the Romney education plan

If you’re interested in learning more about Governor Romney’s education proposals, take a look at this thoughtful analysis by Michael Petrilli, the director of the Fordham Institute.

Romney Speaks in DetroitHere are the opening paragraphs:

Governor Mitt Romney’s long-awaited education address happened on Wednesday, but the most telling news broke Tuesday, when we learned that Margaret Spellings is no longer one of his education advisors. She quit on principle, I assume, because Romney decided to turn the page on No Child Left Behind. As his campaign’s education “talking points” read, “Governor Romney’s plan reforms [NCLB] by emphasizing transparency and responsibility for results. Rather than federally-mandated school interventions, states would have incentives to create straightforward public report cards that evaluate each school on its contribution to student learning.” (Read his thirty-four-page education policy white paper here.)

Today, there’s not a single Republican in the House of Representatives, in the Senate, or running for president willing to defend federal accountability mandates. The GOP conversation has shifted to transparency, in line with what we’ve called Reform Realism. What a difference a decade makes.

The thrust of Romney’s speech, however, wasn’t his fresh view of accountability, but a major proposal on school choice. Romney wants to make Title I and IDEA dollars portable—a form of “backpack funding” from the federal level. (This one’s very much in line with what the Hoover Institution’s K-12 Education Task Force proposed in February. It’s also close kin to what Ronald Reagan and Bill Bennett proposed for Title I back in the late 1980s.)



  1. Fred 44

    Every time I see the term “accountability” when discussing education, it only seems to refer to one part of tripod necessary for a students education. No accountability for parents and students in this proposal as usual.

    This proposal is really nothing new and really does nothing to solve the problems of education. As long as traditional public schools are forced to take all students and private and charter schools are not, private and charter schools should perform at a much higher level. As long as private and charter schools are allowed to create a learning environment where discipline is allowed, expectations are put in place and must be met, then private and charter schools should outperform traditional public schools.

    Lawmakers have done everything they can to handicap traditional public education, and then have complained about their lack of performance. If we are going to create a system of competition then lets allow everyone to compete, not just the private and charter schools. If we are going to allow the money to follow students, then lets allow traditional public schools to create rules that when students choose not follow them they are not allowed to attend school at the traditional public school. I teach in a traditional public high school, I have 15-20 kids that if they were placed in a charter school they would either change their ways or would be kicked out of the school. We don’t have that ability in traditional schools, often times a judge will force the neighborhood school to take back students. That doesn’t happen in private or charter schools.

    Please don’t tell me it doesn’t happen because it does. In our school of over 1300 students we will have at least 50 students a year who are there under court order, and a 100 students a year who have been kicked out of private or charter schools for violations that wouldn’t even get them suspended in a traditional public high school.

    Competition implies a level playing field. In the world of education the playing field is not level, traditional public schools play at a disadvantage. Many will say they are not at a disadvantage because they have so much more money. If you look at where the largest sums of money is spent, it is spent on students who would not typically even get into a private or charter school. It is spent on the most incorrigible students, and the most severe special needs students. If you looked at the money a school district spends on the “good” kids who come to school work hard and try to learn, the actual money spent in their behalf is very low.

    There is another article running in the Deseret News today asking if we could learn anything about what other countries do that could be applied in America. That would be better reading for Candidate Romney than his own plan if he truly desires to create a change in the American education system. If he simply wants to play to his base, then his plan is spot on.

  2. howard beale

    The bigger question for Romney or Obama is what will be DONE to help struggling schools. Local control is the conservative mantra but all too often in inner-city schools it means dilapidated facilities with struggling young teachers looking for the quickest way out. It’s great to have “transparency” and “report cards” but threatening schools with sanctions and withholding money seems to be a backward approach on many levels. These schools often need better and safer facilities, technology and better trained teachers and unfortunately with local and state shoe-string budgets, the only hope for these schools is some federal commitment of dollars. Vouchers and charters may seem like the answer but private schools will always remain exclusionary for all too many and charters, with their lotteries, will always have losers and many charters don’t perform that well.

    There are good things going on in many of our schools across the nation, however, there are many schools, usually in the tougher socio-economic locales, that are struggling. Also many of our higher end students are not getting challenged enough and perhaps we are falling behind in areas of math and science especially.

    I think the conservative plan of vouchers, charters, and putting the hammer down on these schools with report cards and threats didn’t work with NCLB and it won’t work here either.

  3. Carolyn Sharette

    There is no federal or state law that I am aware of that requires public schools to allow students who refuse to participate in the programs or maintain standards of conduct to remain in them. District policies have been crafted to allow students to stay in schools even after they have demonstrated they are not going to attend class, do homework, or maintain behavior standards. The requirements of FAPE (a free and appropriate public education) have not, to my knowledge, been interpreted to mean that districts must allow students to remain at a particular school.

    Districts could raise the standards for their schools quickly by making it a privilege to attend the best schools – a privilege maintained through effort, participation and attendance. If a student misses the mark, they can attend a different school in the district, which would likely have a different focus and less positive outcomes (because more time needs to be spent on remediating the students who have failed prior classes, or focusing on truancy etc). Parents could also lose their free transportation if the school the student qualifies for is not their boundary school. Being required to drive their student to school would increase the parents’ participation. While this may be unpopular, I don’t believe it is a violation of FAPE and would increase parent and student participation in schools.

    We would be doing these families a big favor if there were some real consequences for failure to participate in school. It should be applied each quarter (not just at year’s end) so students have LOTS of opportunities for “do-overs” which, I believe, is the key for many students during adolescence. If they fail a quarter, or don’t meet attendance requirements, they transfer to a different school. They could earn their original placement back, but it would be difficult. As a parent I would have appreciated this, and I believe many parents would appreciate the support of the schools in not allowing their students to fail or misbehave without real, meaningful consequences.

    So the fact that public schools are “required” to take all students is true, but HOW they determine they will serve students is completely up to them. At this point, they choose to ignore the failure to participate and bad behaviors and force teachers to try to deal with it, which greatly and negatively impacts the experience of all students.

    If it is not a level playing field for public schools, it is due to the districts’ lack of expertise in organizing their schools and implementing policies that effectively train students with real consequences. This is completely under the districts’ control. Therefore I believe it is not a valid argument against holding public schools accountable. Just because they CHOOSE to disadvantage themselves through ineffective policies that set up a system that doesn’t work very well, does not excuse them from being accountable. If the playing field isn’t level, it is under their control to make it so.

Leave a comment

DeseretNews.com encourages a civil dialogue among its readers. We welcome your thoughtful comments.