Education in Election 2012: K-12 Education

This post is part of this week’s “Education in Election 2012” series, exploring the differences between the parties and presidential candidates on education policy.

In our final post in this series, and with Election Day right around the corner, we’ll take a look at where the candidates stand–in their own words–on K-12 education. How do the candidates and parties plan to improve our classrooms?

President Barack Obama:

  • Launched Race to the Top, spurring 46 states to raise their standards for college and career readiness, and has a plan to recruit 100,000 science & math teachers over the next decade
  • Expanded and strengthened Head Start and Early Head Start to reach an additional 64,000 children

[Ed. Note: Most of President Obama’s education plans are tailored toward higher education. It is worth noting the President also allowed states to waive No Child Left Behind requirements, which were burdening many states.]

Governor Mitt Romney:

K-12: Promoting Choice And Innovation

Giving students trapped in bad schools a genuine alternative requires four things: (1) such alternatives must exist, (2) parents must receive clear information about the performance of their current school and of the alternatives, (3) students must be allowed to move to a new school, and (4) students must bring funding with them so that new schools can afford to serve them.  Mitt’s reforms achieve each of these objectives:

  • Provide Incentives For States To Increase Choices For Parents And Develop Quality Alternatives.
  • Build On The Success Of Effective Charter And Digital Schools.
  • Expand The DC Opportunity Scholarship Program To Serve As A Model For The Nation.

K-12: Ensuring High Standards And Responsibility For Results

Currently, there is little easily-available data for parents about their children’s schools. Mitt’s reforms will provide better information for parents through straightforward public report cards and will empower them to hold districts and states responsible for results. When combined with increased parental choice, this will give parents more control over their children’s education.

  • Reform No Child Left Behind By Emphasizing Transparency And Responsibility For Results.

K-12: Recruiting And Rewarding Great Teachers

A school is only as strong as its teachers, but the most promising teachers often find it difficult to reach the classroom door or receive recognition for their efforts once inside.  Mitt’s reforms smooth the path for talented individuals to join the profession and shape the next generation.

  • Attract And Reward Great Teachers Through Increased Flexibility And Block Grants.

Republican Party Platform:

Parents are responsible for the education of their children. We do not believe in a one size fits all approach to education and support providing broad education choices to parents and children at the State and local level. Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards, in which all students can reach their potential. Today’s education reform movement calls for accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of State and local control of our schools, and it wisely sees consumer rights in education – choice – as the most important driving force for renewing our schools.

Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a personal and cultural identity. That is why education choice has expanded so vigorously. It is also why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have not succeeded, but they have done immense damage.

 

Attaining Academic Excellence for All

Since 1965 the federal government has spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with no substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates (which currently are 59 percent for African-American students and 63 percent for Hispanics). The U.S. spends an average of more than $10,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $550 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K-12 education in 2010. Of that amount, federal spending was more than $47 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free.

More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance. After years of trial and error, we know what does work, what has actually made a difference in student advancement, and what is powering education reform at the local level all across America: accountability on the part of administrators, parents and teachers; higher academic standards; programs that support the development of character and financial literacy; periodic rigorous assessments on the fundamentals, especially math, science, reading, history, and geography; renewed focus on the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers, and an accurate account of American history that celebrates the birth of this great nation; transparency, so parents and the public can discover which schools best serve their pupils; flexibility and freedom to innovate, so schools can adapt to the special needs of their students and hold teachers and administrators responsible for student performance. We support the innovations in education reform occurring at the State level based upon proven results. Republican Governors have led in the effort to reform our country’s underperforming education system, and we applaud these advancements. We advocate the policies and methods that have proven effective: building on the basics, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and math) and phonics; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, proper implementation of technology is a key factor in providing every child equal access and opportunity.

Consumer Choice in Education

The Republican Party is the party of fresh and innovative ideas in education. We support options for learning, including home schooling and local innovations like single-sex classes, full-day school hours, and year-round schools. School choice – whether through charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, or tax credits – is important for all children, especially for families with children trapped in failing schools. Getting those youngsters into decent learning environments and helping them to realize their full potential is the greatest civil rights challenge of our time. We support the promotion of local career and technical educational programs and entrepreneurial programs that have been supported by leaders in industry and will retrain and retool the American workforce, which is the best in the world. A young person’s ability to achieve in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, zip code, or economic status.

In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K-12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. We believe the gap between those two realities can be successfully bridged, and Congressional Republicans are pointing a new way forward with major reform legislation. We support its concept of block grants and the repeal of numerous federal regulations which interfere with State and local control of public schools.

The bulk of the federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for disabled youngsters should follow the students to whatever school they choose so that eligible pupils, through open enrollment, can bring their share of the funding with them. The Republican-founded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts by Congressional Democrats and the current President to kill this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions. We support putting the needs of students before the special interests of unions when approaching elementary and secondary education reform.

Because parents are a child’s first teachers, we support family literacy programs, which improve the reading, language, and life skills of both parents and children from low-income families. To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society. We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception. We support keeping federal funds from being used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio- emotional screening programs.

We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous litigation and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. We support legislation that will correct the current law provision which defines a “Highly Qualified Teacher” merely by his or her credentials, not results in the classroom. We urge school districts to make use of teaching talent in business, STEM fields, and in the military, especially among our returning veterans. Rigid tenure systems based on the “last in, first out” policy should be replaced with a merit-based approach that can attract fresh talent and dedication to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct.

Improving Our Nation’s Classrooms

Higher education faces its own challenges, many of which stem from the poor preparation of students before they reach college. One consequence has been the multiplying number of remedial courses for freshmen. Even so, our universities, large and small, public or private, form the world’s greatest assemblage of learning. They drive much of the research that keeps America competitive and, by admitting large numbers of foreign students, convey our values and culture to the world.

Democratic Party Platform:

  • Democrats believe that getting an education is the surest path to the middle class, giving all students the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and contribute to our economy and democracy. Public education is one of our critical democratic institutions. We are committed to ensuring that every child in America has access to a world-class public education so we can out-educate the world and make sure America has the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.
  • This requires excellence at every level of our education system, from early learning through post-secondary education. It means we must close the achievement gap in America’s schools and ensure that in every neighborhood in the country, children can benefit from high-quality educational opportunities.
  • This is why we have helped states and territories develop comprehensive plans to raise standards and improve instruction in their early learning programs and invested in expanding and reforming Head Start.
  • President Obama and the Democrats are committed to working with states and communities so they have the flexibility and resources they need to improve elementary and secondary education in a way that works best for students.
  • To that end, the President challenged and encouraged states to raise their standards so students graduate ready for college or career and can succeed in a dynamic global economy. Forty-six states responded, leading groundbreaking reforms that will deliver better education to millions of American students. Too many students, particularly students of color and disadvantaged students, drop out of our schools, and Democrats know we must address the dropout crisis with the urgency it deserves.
  • The Democratic Party understands the importance of turning around struggling public schools. We will continue to strengthen all our schools and work to expand public school options for low-income youth, including magnet schools, charter schools, teacher-led schools, and career academies.
  • Because there is no substitute for a great teacher at the head of a classroom, the President helped school districts save more than 400,000 educator jobs.
  • We Democrats honor our nation’s teachers, who do a heroic job for their students every day. If we want high-quality education for all our kids, we must listen to the people who are on the front lines. The President has laid out a plan to prevent more teacher layoffs while attracting and rewarding great teachers. This includes raising standards for the programs that prepare our teachers, recognizing and rewarding good teaching, and retaining good teachers.
  • We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom. We also recognize there is no substitute for a parent’s involvement in their child’s education.

Remember to exercise your right to vote, and vote in all the races up and down the ballot this Tuesday!

Alex Hunt

About Alex Hunt

Alex Hunt is a former Yale & Irene Rosenberg Graduate Fellow at the Center for Children, Law & Policy. Alex graduated from the University of Texas in 2008 with a Bachelor of Arts in government. Before entering law school, he taught middle school math at YES Prep Southwest in Houston with Teach For America. In 2010, he received New Leaders' EPIC Spotlight Teacher Award, a national award for teachers with outstanding student growth. Alex graduated cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in May 2013. During law school, Alex was Casenotes & Comments Editor for the Houston Journal of International Law, interned for both state and federal judges, and served as Vice President of the Health Law Organization (HLO). In addition, Alex has received the Irving J. Weiner Memorial Scholarship Award (for a year of outstanding work in the UH Law Center Legal Clinic), the Napoleon Beazley Defender Award (for outstanding work on behalf of children), the Ann Dinsmore Forman Memorial Child Advocacy Award, the Mont P. Hoyt Memorial Writing Award for an Outstanding Comment on a Topic in International Law, and he was a finalist for Texas Access to Justice's Law Student Pro Bono Award. Alex is currently in private family law practice with the Hunt Law Firm, P.L.L.C. in Katy, Texas.

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