Breaking Down the Issues: Education
According to polling data, Americans think the country’s educational system is in trouble. An August 2012 Gallup poll found that only 37 percent of Americans thought that public schools are providing a good or excellent education. In June 2012, Gallup pollsters found fewer than 3 of 10 people said they had either quite a lot or a great deal of confidence in public schools.
Higher education fares a bit better. In March 2012, three-fifths of Americans told a Pew Research Center poll that they think that colleges and universities have a positive impact on the country. But even Americans’ confidence in higher education shows some troubling signs. Only a slim majority of Americans (54 percent) agreed in another August 2012 Gallup poll that college graduates were actually ready for the world of work.
What do the presidential candidates plan to do about education?
Declaring that “educating every American student to graduate from high school prepared for college and for a career is a national imperative,” President Obama points to achievements in several areas:
- The American Recovery Act (ARA) of 2009 included more than $100 billion in federal funding for education. Obama’s 2013 budget asks for a 2.5 percent increase in federal spending on education.
- Within the ARA funds were grants to be awarded states on a competitive basis for the “Race to the Top” program, which aims at achieving higher educational quality by creating data systems for better information, improving teacher quality, and fixing the worst schools.
- Since Congress passed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act during the Bush administration, the act has received criticism. With Congress unable to pass a reworked version of the law, the Obama administration has granted 33 states waivers on some NCLB provisions under the ESEA flexibility program.
- Obama has urged states to expand the number of charter schools. This nontraditional school is attended by choice, may offer specialized curricula, and generally gives teachers and students more independence within a school district.
- Obama’s RESPECT Project aims to collaborate with teachers, school and district leaders, teachers’ associations and unions, and state and national education organizations “to transform the teaching profession.”
- Obama supports basing teacher evaluations on their students’ performance as measured on standardized tests.
- Saying that “we need great educators to teach our children the math and science skills that will enable them to compete for jobs in the future,” Obama has also proposed $1 billion in new funding for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) teachers.
- In higher education, Obama has moved to help students afford college by expanding Pell grants, granting tax credits for education-related expenses, and holding down interest rates on student loans. The president touts his record as having “produced the largest investment in student aid since the GI Bill.”
In his white paper “A Chance for Every Child,” Mitt Romney refers to education as “central to the American Dream.” His position on education is essentially to reduce the role of the federal government in education policy and to promote greater school choice for school-age children.
- Central to Romney’s plans for K–12 education is increased school choice. He wants to make more than $26 billion in education funding for low-income and special-needs students available directly to families so they can choose, if they wish, to send their children to charter schools, out-of-district public schools, or even to private schools. He also wants to expand the number of charter schools. He wants other districts to adopt programs like Washington, D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, which has helped 1,600 students attend private schools.
- Romney contends that Obama’s education spending has “not been invested in implementing the types of reforms required to produce real results.” Romney proposes across-the-board budget cuts for all discretionary spending, a move which could result in lower spending on education.
- Romney has not criticized Obama’s Race to the Top program although he has generally said that he prefers a reduced federal role in education policy.
- Regarding NCLB, Romney wants to remove federal involvement with struggling schools and have states provide clearer, easier to understand “report cards” on schools to clearly inform parents how schools are performing.
- Romney criticizes teachers’ unions for getting in the way of reforms. He favors using “increased flexibility and block-granting existing federal funds” to improve teacher quality. He also wants to get rid of NCLB provisions regarding teacher qualifications, which, he says, discourage talented people from entering the profession.
- Romney blames increased spending by the Obama administration on higher education for “driving up tuition and burdening too many young Americans with substantial debt.” He calls for simplifying the financial aid system, allowing greater participation by the private sector in both education and student loans, inviting reforms such as more skills training, and cutting federal regulations.
Now that you’ve read where the candidates stand on education policy and reform, ask students these questions.
Recall What is the one type of school that both Obama and Romney agree should be expanded?
Summarize How does President Obama aim to make college more affordable?
Draw Conclusions How does Romney’s plan seek to make schools more accountable to parents?
Writing What is school choice? Write a short paragraph describing this concept. Include at least one advantage and one disadvantage of school choice in your paragraph.