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The First Word

Election 2012: Can Education Reform Win?

By Todd Price

Believe it or not, President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney actually agree on quite a bit related to school reform—although they would probably disagree with that statement. Each party believes that theirs is the true party of education reform, and that the other party supports the status quo.

‌However, both candidates have a track record with education and clearly state the opinion that the most important factor for improving student achievement is the teacher. Both candidates also agree with the idea that reforming education will ultimately improve the economy and both use the slogan “globally competitive” as a standard refrain.

‌The Romney campaign believes that the idea of the highly qualified teacher, made famous during the Bush administration, “only serves to reinforce hurdles that prevent talented individuals” from moving into the profession. Therefore, they endorse increasing alternative certification. This line of thought is consistent with the Obama administration, where Secretary of Education Duncan famously espoused that the “effective” label is more important than the “qualified” label.

The Romney campaign aims to “provide special financial bonuses to math and science teachers, Advanced Placement teachers, and teachers with a proven record of results.” Likewise, the Obama campaign is already on record with Blueprint for Reform, which calls for merit pay, salary ladders for emerging teacher leaders, and aiming to “provide formula aid to states that commit to establish rigorous systems for teacher certification and licensure and teacher preparation program accountability.”

Obama and Romney also both speak of parental school choice. Differences arise when the Romney campaign speaks of parental choice by calling for an expansion of vouchers, public funds for private school tuition, and making programs like the popular Washington D.C. opportunity scholarship program a national model. The Obama campaign is opposed to such programs.

What neither Romney nor Obama’s campaign is addressing is that the biggest challenge for school reform is bringing all the interested stakeholders to the table. This is a tall order when public education plays such a major role in all facets of life in a pluralistic society such as the United States. Despite the heated rhetoric in a political campaign season, no one credible suggests that we can do without public education; the debate rages simply because there are strong ideas and opinions regarding where the institution should go to next.

Look for the post-election year to be one where the common themes of academic success related to the STEM (Science, Teaching, Engineering, and Mathematics) and Common Core State Standards will evolve. Teaching tools based around Universal Design for Learning principles and technology-enhanced curriculum will also continue to grow as prospective education solutions come to the forefront of conversation. Teacher recruitment, the test of academic proficiency (TAP), teacher education, teacher and student evaluation (value-added and growth models), and compensatory schemes will be on the table for discussion in education policy circles and congress in the next legislative session.

For Obama and Romney, regardless of who is elected in the coming year, debate is necessary over the proper role of the government, the markets and the local citizen in education. These issues will shape the generation of federal legislation around school reform for good or bad in the years to come.

Todd Price, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the National College of Education and Director of Leadership and Specialized Roles.


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