Political Animal


October 06, 2012 6:00 PM The Unorthodox Extremism of Mitt’s Education Policy

By Simon van Zuylen-Wood

For the most part, Mitt Romney’s education platform—a move away from Bush and Obama’s federal accountability measures— reflects contemporary GOP orthodoxy. To a lesser degree, he has spoken favorably about Obama’s Race to the Top effort. During Wednesday night’s debate, however, he floated two ed reform ideas that don’t seem broadly popular with anyone.

First, he suggested states “grade” schools “so parents know which schools are succeeding and failing.” No Child Left Behind already mandates states do this, and it’s among the least popular of the law’s provisions. One of the reasons the Obama administration issued Get-Out-Of-NCLB-Free waivers was to mitigate the law’s stigmatizing effect on poorly graded schools—especially since states that strive for high standards inevitably have more “failing” schools than states with lower standards. But rather than replace state standards with more uniform grades, or doing away with “report cards” altogether, he’s decided to double down.

If Romney’s support for “report cards” originated as a centrist Bush-era idea, his other unorthodox idea comes from the left-wing confines of the education policy world: A proposal to let disabled and low-income students take their federal Title I and IDEA dollars with them to other school districts. As Dana Goldstein noted in Slate this week, this is something of a progressive, even radical, idea.

Coming from a Republican, this is a big deal: Historically, affluent and white parents and school districts have gone to great lengths to keep poor, nonwhite kids out of their own kids’ classrooms. Those of us concerned about the resegregation of American schools have long advocated for more partnerships between urban and suburban districts, through magnet schools and voluntary busing programs. But this is typically understood as such a lefty proposition that not even the Democratic Party will embrace it.

In other words, under Romney, the federal government might subsidize a de facto busing/school integration program the likes of which the Obama administration hasn’t come close to proposing.

What’s striking about both plans is they reflect completely different approaches to school choice. In the first, Romney is proposing that states grade schools as they have been under NCLB. Except, rather than have the federal government penalize “failing” schools, parents would simply try to move their kids out of them if they performed badly. In the second, he’s suggesting we allow disadvantaged children to enter more affluent neighborhoods, primarily by leveraging federal funds. In each case, school choice is the goal. But in one, states and parents provide the impetus; in the other, the federal government does. Perhaps more strikingly, considering their author, neither plan appears to be an obvious pander to any particular constituency. They seem to be genuinely opposite reflections of a coherent, if flawed, choice-first education philosophy.

Simon van Zuylen-Wood is a writer for Philadelphia Magazine.


  • Doug on October 06, 2012 6:21 PM:

    I'm presuming it's the cost of retrofitting already-existant buildings that's behind the idea of allowing disabled children, or rather their parents, to shop around. The newer the school building the more likely that building meets ADA requirements.
    I'm not familiar with IDEA, but as it's also included then something tells me that, once again, it's the money Romney and Co. are after rather than creating schools with a mix of affluent and disadvantaged children.
    Call me cynical...

  • golack on October 06, 2012 6:38 PM:

    or was that money meant for private charter and church run schools???

  • Anonymous on October 06, 2012 6:40 PM:

    In other words, under Romney, the federal government might subsidize a de facto busing/school integration program the likes of which the Obama administration hasn’t come close to proposing.

    I doubt it. Romney's primary job here is to blow smoke in as many directions as possible. And I wouldn't classify school transfers as hugely lefty. It's pretty controversial among urban districts (and their unions) that see a brain drain in their student pool, which further exacerbates the bad "report card" leading to a negative feedback loop. I see a Romney administration as blowing a lot of sunshine up parents asses while sticking local districts with the transportation costs and across the board education cuts behind the scenes.

  • exlibra on October 06, 2012 7:29 PM:

    Agree with golack, @6:38 PM; the money a child would "take with him" would go to support church schools (not even, necessarily, accredited or doing well). As for the idea that the poor and/or minority kids would take their money and go to the affluent, suburban magnet schools... I'm sure those schools would discover that heir waiting lists are way too long to admit the unwashed masses. Sorry and all that, but there's no room at the inn, you know.

  • pea on October 06, 2012 9:35 PM:

    Gvien that Rmoney has taken virtually every position on every issue with SOME audience somewhere, why do you bother to try to make sense of 2 of them?

    But it's safe to say exlibra is right: $ to churches and home schoolers; stiff the public schools; and let those poor kids with low scores or the disabled with beaucoup needs just self-deport themselves to some other place (as if any other district would want them or could find room)

    oh yeah, and meanwhile he plans to gut the Dept of Ed. Period. Rmoney is a lot like Bush in some ways. As Bush once said (approximately), "We don't need any more research on education. We already know everything we need to know." (one of our less curious presidents)

  • anonymous on October 06, 2012 11:46 PM:

    Here in Pennsylvania it took an investigation by the Rachel Maddow Show to get photo ID voting laws yanked to avoid the state continuing to send clearly false and misleading messages to voters within the state.
    It is really pretty pathetic.
    She and her staff called throughout the state, checking 800 number messages and actual websites- and found repeated misinformation still being disseminated to the voting public.
    This, despite a court ruling to stop insisting people show voter ID with an expiration date to vote in November. One community website actually said that the law took effect on Nov 6th--and meanwhile that law was blocked from being implemented at all by a court of law.

    It took an MSNBC news program to get PA. Republican tea partiers to get with the program and remove false ads, billboards, and inccurate 800 number messages to voters. Who knows what remains. They are so obstinate.
    Not only that, the state is spending 5 million dollars including federal funds for a public awareness campaign that is supposed to talk about current law. However
    citizens have continued to see tv ads and received post cards in the mail telling residents they have to show an ID with an expiration date when the court said that is not true. They want voter suppression in PA.
    This state really went downhill after Democratic Governor Ed Rendell finished his second term.
    State workers, on St. Patrick's Day in 2011, had an email from a Corbett designee that essentially said, yeah, it is St. Patrick's Day, but James Madison said you ought to work on self-reliance and pulling yourself up from your bootstraps, and don't expect anything from us.
    PA is a big mess.

  • atrocious on October 07, 2012 12:06 AM:

    PA eliminated 18,800 positions in the school district as a result of the enormously reduced funds to public schools, kids show declining skills, student achievement is adversely affected, kindergarten and pre-school programs have been eliminated in city segments, there are delayed textbook purchases, they've been eliminating tutors, there are fewer renovations, wage freezes were effected for hard-working teachers, there is a reduction in elective course offerings, there are personnel reductions, including 30% or more furloughed employees, half affecting teachers.
    PA *is* really the biggest mess besides Texas.
    What is going on with Republicans??????????????

    We say we link Mr. Romney to what Republicans are doing to education. We heard him speak about how Wisconsin's Scott Walker was leading the way in cutting teachers, fire fighters and police.

  • ceilidth on October 07, 2012 9:28 AM:

    I think you misunderstood Romney's ideas and where they come from very badly. School report cards are extremely popular (and often wildly misleading) among parents, particularly well educated parents. In some cases they point out real problems; in others they simply demonize schools and lead to an exodus of students.

    The other plan has nothing to do with sending children from low income areas to higher income areas. In my state, that's already law: any parent can request a transfer to a different district and many already use that plan. This is about something different: allowing one group of parents--those with children who have autism spectrum disorders and who want extremely expensive and intensive approaches for their children to receive money to send them to private schools. These are often programs that cost close to $100,000 a year. Some states already do this but it's not national thing.

  • theotherchucknorris on October 07, 2012 1:36 PM:

    "other unorthodox idea comes from the left-wing confines of the education policy world: A proposal to let disabled and low-income students take their federal Title I and IDEA dollars with them to other school districts. As Dana Goldstein noted in Slate this week, this is something of a progressive, even radical, idea."

    Not left wing, not progressive. Kind of libertarian (except Libertarians are not real fans of government run schools). Assigning this to the Left or to Progressives is a mistake and verges on being a smear.

    Take the money and move is Vouchers pure and simple a right-wing concept.

    And there won't be any spaces for the students to flow to with their money. The successful schools are full up and not taking in many new students. There is no extra capacity in good schools.
    Vouchers are just one more way to destroy public education.

    Once you've moved to vouchers, the usual plan is to just make them smaller and smaller and smaller.

    Voucher plans are also designed to funnel the money to church schools or for-profit charter schools. This creates corporate entities and a for-profit constituency that will bring corporate lobbying to support high revenues devoted to education funding. (An example of this that we've seen before is in the private prison sector. Note how successful this has been in funding prisons and growing the prison population. Not sure that anyone on the Left would like to see this replicated in the education sector.)

    So could you quit identifying it as a Lefty policy solution?

  • zandru on October 07, 2012 1:43 PM:

    Frankly, I think it would be unwise to give any sort of credibility to Romney's remarks, particularly when he was in his super-salesman let's close the deal by any means possible mode during the debate.

    He would have said ANYTHING. My guess is that he did.

  • kabiddle on October 07, 2012 4:50 PM:

    theotherchucknorris has this exactly right.

    All Children Matter founded by Betsy Prince DeVos is an evangelical right wing under-the-radar effort to seek control of public educational content and then its financial resources.

    Its content is deliberately anti-science and looks to model civil structure for the reign of God in heaven to come, using the considerable financial resources of local and state municipalities (just because you're broke doesn't mean you don't have a lot of dough lying around).

    They're also too cheap at heart to consider paying local property taxes AND pay tuition at a private or parochial school.

    Segregation by religion. . . through tax exempt institutions. . . And the voucher will be the stamped document.

    And Mitt is just their guy.

  • atlasfugged on October 08, 2012 2:24 AM:

    @Doug: [S]omething tells me that, once again, it's the money Romney and Co. are after rather than creating schools with a mix of affluent and disadvantaged children.

    Just look at Romney's roster of educational policy advisers:


    It consists of a combination of for-profit education executives, former Bush appointees, educational industry lobbyists, and Hoover Institution researchers.

    Nina S. Rees, Senior VP for Strategic Initiatives at Knowledge Universe (a major for-profit education company).

    Dr. Martin R. West, Harvard professor, Executive Editor, Education Next (Hoover Institution's education policy publication. The Hoover Institution is one the premier conservative/libertarian think-tanks in this country. FYI: Dinesh D'Souza was until 2010 listed as a resident fellow).

    Phil Handy, chief executive officer of Strategic Industries ("a worldwide diversified service and manufacturing company owned principally by Citigroup Ventures");

    Bill Hansen, chairman and chief executive officer of Madison Education Group ("a holding company for educational services. The operational mission of the corporation is to acquire, build, and operate educational organizations that have a growth potential that supports the corporation’s vision and goals.");

    Carol D'Amico, vice president of Project Lead the Way, and a former U.S. assistant secretary of education under Bush;

    Emily Stover DeRocco, president of the Washington-based Manufacturing Institute, a subsidiary of the National Association of Manufacturers ("The NAM – a manufacturers association consisting of 11,000 manufacturing companies – is a strong force for sensible government policies that will reduce the cost of production and tear down barriers to exports". NAM strongly opposes and fought against Obamacare) ;

    John Bailey, "serves as the Executive Director of Digital Learning Now! He co-founded and serves as a Sr. Advisor at Whiteboard Advisors, a strategic consulting practice for investors, philanthropies, and entrepreneurs";

    Christina Culver, president of C/H Global Strategies (a lobbying firm serving educational industry clients);

    John E. Chubb, interim chief executive officer, Education Sector, Hoover Institution researcher;

    Bill Evers, research fellow, Hoover Institution, and a former U.S. assistant secretary of education under Bush;

    Scott Fleming, president and vice chairman of Madison Education Group (see above);

    Julio A. Fuentes, president and chief executive officer of the Hispanic Council for Reform and Educational Options;

    Paul E. Peterson, professor of government, Harvard University;

    Jim Peyser, managing partner with New Schools Venture Fund (a venture capital fund specializing primarily in funding for-profit educational services and charter management ventures) and chairman of the National Association of Charter School Authorizers;

    Herbert Walberg, distinguished visiting fellow, Hoover Institution;

    Rod Paige, former Bush Education Secretary who once referred to the National Education Association, the nation's largest teachers union, as a "terrorist organization", trustee of the Thomas Fordham Institute which supports school vouchers and has endorsed Louisiana's voucherization/Christianization policy.


    As far as I can tell, with the exception of Rod Paige, not one of these people has ever worked in any public school system or, for that matter, ever taught a child. To me, that reveals a lot about Romney's philosophy on K-12 education and what his appro

  • atlasfugged on October 08, 2012 2:28 AM:

    ... approach would be to education "reform" were he ever elected president. It's aggravating that people are beginning to buying into this image of him being a moderate.

  • paul on October 08, 2012 8:48 AM:

    What do you want to bte that this lets "charter schools" that can't get past the school board in a particular district siphon off money from that district anyway?