As the DNC Opens, How Different are Obama and Romney on Ed?

Governor Chris Christie, who was a keynote speaker at last week’s Republican National Convention, largely agrees with President Obama on the major issue of education. He admitted this last year, and even hosted Arne Duncan at Drumthwacket to help promote their shared school reform agenda. Such bipartisan cooperation is indicative of the shared platform of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama going in to November’s election, writes John Mooney for NJspotlight.com.

“I have a lot of agreement with the president and Arne Duncan on these education issues, and I’ve said that publicly many times,” Christie said in March at a televised forum on education.

He called Duncan an “enormous breath of fresh air in the education system,” and said Obama deserves the credit for appointing him.

Mooney notes that it’s an indication of how broad the support base for education reform is in the US at the moment, with President Obama having moved to the center on education issues and abandoned union interests.

“Imagine if Chris Christie endorsed Obama’s healthcare plan,” said Andrew Rotherham, a well-known education blogger and policy consultant out of Washington, D.C. “Would he have been picked for the keynote? Probably not.”

The overlap and bipartisan nature of the education debate at the moment is exciting for education reformers. While some states have been having more trouble than others in enacting much-needed reforms because of entrenched union interests, at a national level both sides are endorsing testing and accountability measures with little regard for how much the teachers unions get riled.

It’s a little less exciting for Romney, however, as it removes a way for him to differentiate himself from the President leading up to November’s election. While Romney’s education platform is likely to be strongly endorsed by Christie, who has campaigned for advancements such as federally-funded vouchers for low income students to attend private schools — which is something the President does not want to happen — this is the only major issue of contention in the education sphere between Romney, Christie and Obama.

Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor of political science at Drew University, notes that there is no real difference between Romney’s record on education and that of the sitting President. As governor of Massachusetts, the standards and testing approach endorsed by Romney is roughly the same model as the system being championed by Obama and Duncan.

McGuinn said Obama is sure to exploit that, with Christie far from the only Republican governor who has embraced Obama’s education policies through the Race to the Top grants and most recently state waivers from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

“I totally expect to see the Obama campaign run videoclips of all those Republican governors endorsing the president on education,” McGuinn said. “He knows that education is something that has always played well with the center and swing voters.”