Education is climbing to the top of the list of issues for Hispanic, Democratic, black and female voters in determining whom they will vote for in the upcoming 2012 election. Three education-related issues to watch in the upcoming 2012 election will be standardized testing, school choice and the No Child Left Behind Act, but the policies of President Obama and Republican Candidate Mitt Romney are similar on these in many respects.
Standardized tests have been around since the 1800s. The 2002 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) mandated annual testing in all 50 states. In 2009, U.S. students were being out-performed in math and science and had no change in reading. Failures in the education system were blamed on rising poverty levels, teacher qualifications, tenure policies and the pervasive use of standardized tests. Supporters of standardized tests believe that they are fair and objective measures of student achievement, and that they ensure that educators are accountable to taxpayers. Opponents say the tests are biased and subjective, and that their use promotes a narrow curriculum. They feel teachers are simply “teaching to the test.”
President Obama believes that too much testing makes education rote and that performance should be measured in more ways than test scores, but his own education program, Race to the Top, promotes a Common Core Standards, a set of educational standards for English, language arts, and mathematics that states can voluntarily adopt. There will be new tests in 2014 that are based on this set of standards.
Romney is a supporter of standardized testing. He credits the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 with providing a much-needed boost to accountability. In 2008, he was one of the NCLB law’s biggest champions. He believes that high standards are critical to high student achievement. He advocates that consistent student achievement is the starting point for improving the education system. If schools perform well, they get greater flexibility for assessment in the future.
Another issue is that of school choice, which means simply giving families the opportunity to choose the school their children attend. Those options include the choice between other public schools, private schools, and charter schools, tax credit and deductions for expenses related to schooling, vouchers and homeschooling.
In 2008, President Obama voted no on vouchers that would use public money to send students to private schools. He does support charter schools and has provided some grant money to states that start charter schools.
Romney wants students from low-income families and those with disabilities to be able to attend any public school in their state or a private school with federal funding. Romney favors voucher programs and has said that he supports more useful evaluations of schools, so parents have the information they need to make choices.
No Child Left Behind
President George W. Bush created No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2001 to fund a number of federal programs aimed at improving the performance of U.S. schools by increasing the standards of accountability for states, school districts and schools.
The NCLB calls for states to reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and math tests in 2014 or face several sanctions, including the loss of federal funding. Obama has undercut this threat by introducing waivers allowing states to exchange aggressive NCLB goals for reform measures to increase teacher performance and retention.
Romney supports NCLB. He believes that there is room for change, specifically by putting more focus on individual student achievement, rather than the overall progress of specific schools, and adding flexibility in testing for high-achieving schools.