The Washington Post claims that Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney was being disingenuous when he attacked President Obama for being beholden to the teaching unions and lacking the political will to carry out necessary education reforms. The Post says that far from being in bed with the unions the President’s relationship with them has been soured by initiatives that encourage districts to tie student performance testing into teacher evaluations and the Administration’s commitment to expanding charter schools.
Obama’s Race to the Top program required states seeking a share of the $4 billion in grant money to change laws to link evaluations to performance, a move much decried by union officials. The Department of Education also provided incentives to states for lifting caps on charter schools and introducing merit pay. Again, moves which earn union ire.
“Obama has taken on teachers unions unlike any previous Democratic president,” said Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution. “Because of that his support among union members, although it is still there, is rather tepid.”
The National Education Association went so far as to denounce Education Secretary Arne Duncan for his focus on charter schools and support of firing teachers who performed badly. Union officials were also appalled when, in response to a board of trustees firing all its teachers at a failing school, instead of denouncing the action, President Obama cited it as an example of why accountability was needed in schools.
“A better way for him to state it is to say American achievement is mediocre,” Loveless said. “It’s been mediocre for 50 years.”
With the Obama Administration and Democratic Mayors across the country taking a hard line on union resistance to education reforms, while supporting many of the pro-choice, anti-union policies that are the traditional preserve of Republican candidates, Romney has backed away from the anti-federalism stance of traditional Republican views on education. His ‘incentives’ to states are similar forms of federal education control to Obama’s federal programs. The two parties, and their Presidential candidates have in reality never been closer to agreement on education policy. There do remain isolated differences such as the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program that Obama seeks to abolish and Romney to preserve.
A congressionally mandated review of the program released in 2009 found that after three years — not three months — only some students saw those gains. About one-fourth of children who used the scholarship read 19 months ahead of their peers after three years. In general, however, students’ gains were more modest. After three years in the program, students read at about four months ahead of their public-school peers.
Other than such islands of contention, differences between the candidates on education seem to center on how to pay for programs such as Stafford loan extensions rather than whether to pay for them.