What would education policy look like in a Mitt Romney administration?
As the saying goes, people are policy. Romney’s list of campaign advisers was released this week and it is a re-run of the George W. Bush administration.
There is Rod Paige, Nina Rees, Bill Hansen, Russ Whitehurst, Bill Evers, Carol D’Amico, and possibly others who were high-level Bush II appointees. Margaret Spellings has also advised Romney but is not on this task force. There are representatives of big corporations, and there is a state superintendent (Tom Luna of Idaho) known for his love of online learning (and getting campaign contributions from providers of same). There are also conservative policy academics, such as Paul Peterson, Herbert Walberg, Robert Costrell, and John Chubb.
There was a time when I would have been on the same side with these like-minded folks. But I am no longer like-minded. What I can bring to the table, however, is that I know their policies and ideas well because I once shared them.
Their core beliefs are school choice, testing and accountability. These were the hallmarks of No Child Left Behind, as they are now the foundation for Race to the Top. So a new Romney administration would seek to advance vouchers, charters, online learning, and test-based accountability. But because Republicans don’t like to be perceived as proponents of federal control, they would seek to minimize the heavy hand of the Department of Education, or at least the perception of control by D.C.
The advisers share a belief in free markets and entrepreneurship, so they will advocate for policies that increase the market share of for-profit corporations and online companies in the “education industry.”
Alyson Klein of Education Week obtained a copy of the talking points for the Romney education policy, which clearly describes what to expect.
The basic idea is that parents make choices armed with information. The information will be derived from test scores, school report cards, and other measures. Testing will be as important, possibly even more consequential (if that is possible), than it is today.
Once parents make choices, then federal dollars follow the child. This concept is meant to enable Title I dollars and other federal aid to support vouchers, charters, tutoring companies, online corporations, and any other education providers.
On teacher quality issues, a Romney administration will follow the lead of Race to the Top and offer money to incentivize states to reward and retain teachers whose students get higher test scores and to ditch teachers’ seniority and tenure.
The administration will oppose “unnecessary” certification requirements, which means that it is unlikely to support teacher certification of any kind. Conservatives don’t believe that teachers need credentials, just the ability to produce higher test scores. Expect a wave of ill-trained new teachers who got their degree online, continuing support for Teach for America (again in the footsteps of Race to the Top), and encouragement of any who want to try their hand as teachers for a few years. Back to the good old days when anyone could teach.
The unions are the perpetual bad guys in the talking points memo, and no door in the Romney administration will ever be open to them. This will quicken the heartbeat of conservative activists. Expect support from this administration for any state that wants to roll back collective bargaining.
In higher education, expect no federal efforts to help students pay for college.
Anticipate a return to private sector management of student loans, which the Obama administration ditched as wasteful. Bill Hansen was once a lobbyist for the private sector lenders.
The talking points memo blasts Obama for not controlling the costs of higher education but offers no plan for doing so. Expect that online higher education, which is cheap, profitable and low quality, will get a boost in the Romney administration as a means to make college affordable.
What we see in this memo is what the architects of NCLB wished they could have proposed: Not only tough accountability but unlimited school choice. Back in 2001, the Democrats forced the Republicans to give up their choice goals. But Race to the Top paved the way for charters and for-profit entrepreneurs.
NCLB established the test-based accountability agenda. Race to the Top built on NCLB’s accountability agenda and required states to expand charters if they wanted a chunk of the $5 billion in discretionary funding. Now the Romney advisers are building on the Race to the Top agenda of choice & accountability.
What’s missing in the Romney agenda is any reference to early childhood education, which is research-based; no reference to asking Congress to pay the long-promised share of the costs of special education; nothing about equity issues; nothing about professional preparation or professional development (which gets entangled with credentials, which the task force opposes). All of these issues–and others–will be left to the workings of the free market, which is not known for producing equality of educational opportunity.
Most consequentially, there is not a word of support for America’s public schools. Not one.