Decision 2012: The Candidates and Education Reform

We’re in the home stretch of the 2012 presidential race. Between now and November 6, there will be two more presidential debates, one vice presidential debate, lots of polls, thousands of robocalls, and throngs of pundits parsing words, analyzing comments, and speculating what the outcome of the race may be.

At Standing, we’ve been watching the race closely – not just so we can be informed voters, but to help us understand how the resident of the White House will affect a number of key industries that are vital to our economy: healthcare, education, agriculture, and sustainability.

Over the next month, we’ll be exploring one of these key industries each week – attempting to summarize each candidate’s stance on the critical issues so you can evaluate the differences for yourself.

First up: Education.

With America’s schools and students falling farther and farther behind their international peers, there is much debate about how to improve our country’s educational system. Voters understand the crucial link between having an educated workforce with the critical skills needed for 21st century success and having a strong, robust economy.

But what do the candidates have planned for education?

In a nutshell, Obama’s Race to the Top education platform encourages and rewards states for adopting one of the federal methods to enact solid reforms – raising their standards, supporting and helping teachers improve, and turning around struggling schools. In Romney’s education white paper “A Chance for Every Child,” his plan would tie federal funds directly to reforms that expand parental choice, invest in innovation, and reward teachers for their results – not their tenure.

So let’s take a closer look at three of the big differences in the candidates: school vouchers, K-12 teacher performance, and federal student loans.

School Vouchers

Due to the economy, coupled with the erosion of federal and state funding for education, many communities are unable to keep up with the maintenance needs of aging school facilities. This issue is driving many families to explore their options in primary education.

One of the clearest differences between the candidates is each one’s stance on school vouchers. Romney endorses the use of vouchers and public tax money to pay tuition at private schools, even parochial schools. He also supports the idea of allowing federal tax money allocated to public schools for low income and special needs students to be reallocated to private schools those students decide to attend.

Obama is firmly opposed to vouchers and using any public tax money to pay private school tuition. He believes that reallocating tax dollars to private schools drains critical resources away from the public schools, which are already dealing with budget shortages.

K-12 Teacher Performance

In order to catch up with our international peers, the issue of quality in the classroom must be addressed.

Romney is aggressive in his stance: he does not want ineffective teachers in the classroom, no matter how long they have been teaching. He claims that teachers unions try to protect ineffective teachers from accountability. His proposal is to consolidate federal teacher-quality programs and provide states with flexible grants if they eliminate tenure and develop teacher evaluation systems that focus on student achievement and rewarding effective teachers.

Obama has emphasized the need to work with teachers unions to advance education reform. He has used incentives, such as competitive funding, to encourage states to reform teacher evaluations and reward teachers for increasing student achievement, measured in part by improvements in standardized test scores.

Federal Student Loans

The affordability of college is a critical issue on many levels: if students can’t afford to attend college, they aren’t qualified for good-paying jobs that help drive the economy. If they take on too much debt to attend college, that burden can remain with them for decades, which also impacts the economy.

When it comes to education, the topic of paying for college has been one of the most talked about issues from Obama’s camp. In 2010, Obama and the Democrats in Congress overhauled the student loan industry by eliminating the banks and other private institutions that issued federal student loans. By cutting out the subsidies paid to the lenders, that netted an significant savings – with much of that money funneled into Pell grants for students in need.

Romney believes that private lenders are better equipped than the government to issues loans to students and inform them of their loan obligations – and would, therefore, reverse this decision.

One area where the candidates do agree? The key interest rate for federal student loans. Earlier this year, both Romney and Obama supported Congress as it extended a 3.4 percent rate on federal student loans, which had been set to double.

Stay tuned for the next posts in our series, where we will discuss how the agriculture, health care and sustainability industries may fare after November 6.

  • Ashley Pitlyk


    Great post! Education is becoming increasingly complex, but you’ve done a great job of succinctly summarizing the key issues at stake in this year’s election. Thanks for writing this!