In Debates Romney Passes Education Test that Obama Fails

Lance Izumi
Koret Senior Fellow & Senior Director of Education Studies, PRI

In the presidential debates and in recent interviews, it’s clear that Mitt Romney realizes something that President Obama can’t seem to fathom: the federal government is not the nation’s school board.

In the recent third presidential debate, President Obama alluded to his support for national Common Core education standards that will replace individual state standards.  Obama has strong-armed most states into accepting the national standards as a condition of his Race to the Top federal grant program, which he touted during the first presidential debate.  Mitt Romney has come out against this federal usurpation.

In an interview with NBC News prior to the first debate, Romney said, “I don’t subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push a common core on various states.”  Why are national standards dangerous?  Chief among the reasons is that they lead to a national curriculum.

As part of the new national-standards system, the Obama administration has funded two consortia of insider experts to develop national tests and curricular materials aligned with the national standards.  The impact of this nationalization of education can be seen in Romney’s home state of Massachusetts.

As Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass of the Boston-based Pioneer Institute have noted, “students in Massachusetts and across the country may soon have to seek out Huckleberry Finn on their own because it isn’t included in the national K-12 education standards.”  According to a Pioneer study, the Obama-supported national standards reduce the amount of literature students will study by more than half compared to the former Massachusetts state standards.

Given this disturbing development, Romney justifiably says that for the Obama administration “to financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government’s idea of a curriculum, I think, is a mistake.”  That mistake has political overtones.

By forcing national standards on states and local schools, Obama empowers his special-interest allies in Washington, particularly the teacher unions.  The American Federation of Teachers is a longtime supporter of national standards and, according to Education Week, “the union’s members were involved in the standards writing.”  The unions want to influence the standards process to dumb down their quality in order to advantage their members.

Ze’ev Wurman, former Senior Policy Advisor at the U.S. Department of Education, says that “analyses of the Common Core [national] standards find them to be mediocre” and that teacher unions “have a vested interest in lowering the accountability bar for their members.”  This union influence could also be detected in Obama’s comments in the third debate.

The president cited his plan to funnel federal funds for science and math teachers, many of whom, not coincidentally, would be members of the unions supporting his campaign.  Romney fundamentally disagreed with this top-down Washington-centric approach.

“I love teachers,” said Romey in the final debate, but “I don’t like the federal government start pushing its way deeper and deeper into our schools.”  Romney’s view is to increase local control of education, including empowering parents.

For example, in the first debate Romney proposed attaching federal dollars, such as Title I money for disadvantaged children, directly to students, which would “follow the child and let the parent decide where to send their student” and allow children “to go to the school of their choice.”  For his part, Obama has steadfastly opposed such parental choice programs, including trying to kill the successful Washington, DC opportunity-scholarship program for poor children to attend private schools.

When asked in the first debate about the federal government’s role in education, President Obama said, “I think that it has a significant role to play.”  Yet, the Founding Fathers opposed federal intrusion into education because they felt that local people knew what was best for their children.  Mitt Romney instinctively understands the Founders’ vision on education – a vision that Barack Obama’s nationalizing policies would overturn dramatically.

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