Candidates’ Key Differences on Education

Presidential Candidates Share Similar Vision of Education:
Differ Some on the Methods

Skimming through multiple articles and briefs on the presidential candidates’ stands on education policy, one would discover far more similarities than differences. But the differences are significant, and worth careful consideration by voters.
President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney share the vision of excellent educational opportunities for “every child.” They both support more effective teacher evaluation systems, higher academic standards, greater school accountability, more local flexibility for innovation, and more school choices for parents.

Their differences are submerged somewhat in the details of how they plan to reach this vision.

As the incumbent, Obama has an advantage of showing what his plan would look like through advances and policies carried out in the last four years. For example, he supported preparing students for college and career, and his “Race to the Top” grants have resulted in notable improvements and innovation in local schools. Ultimately, Obama emphasizes the need to provide resources and guidance to all public schools and hold them accountable for student growth at all levels – not just reaching one standard level of achievement which was the flaw of the No Child Left Behind mandates. He supports the belief that most low-performing schools need investments for innovation using high-performing school models to show them what works best, and supporting the implementation by increasing professional development for teachers and leaders.

Governor Romney leans on his record at the state level. He stated during his recent appearance on NBC’s “Education Nation” that his state of Massachusetts was already ranked #1 in math and reading, according to NAEP scores, when he became Governor. However, improvements to extend more opportunities to low-income families were needed. He believes that the key to public school improvement lies in the free-market ideology of competition – provide more choices to poor and special education students (i.e. moving the federal funds allotted for that child with them to a new school of their choice).

There are a few other ideological differences:

Obama (Democrat)Romney (Republican)
Invest more in the lowest performing schools using best-practice models to turn them around, and hold them accountable for sustained student growth.Does not support additional funds to schools, and supports reducing or eliminating the U.S. Dept. of Education. Allow Title 1 and federal special ed funds to follow the child, providing these families with school choice.
Supports a seamless and comprehensive set of services for children birth to school entry, encourages states to adopt high standards for voluntary, universal pre-k, including competitive grants. No new funds have been proposed for pre-k expansion.As governor, created an office for early education but cut pre-k funding and vetoed a $10 million proposal to expand kindergarten.
Supports funding for art and music education.Supports replacing “family planning” programs with abstinence education, and opposes school-based clinics that provide counseling for teens facing unplanned pregnancies.

Here are a few resources that provide summaries on the two candidates’ education policy positions.

(Disclosure: None of the information provided endorses any particular candidate. Information published is based on the two candidates’ websites, speeches, news reports and their public service records.)

“The Views of President Obama and Governor Romney on the Federal Role in Education,” (download, published by the National School Boards Association Action Center)

“Left and Right: How the two parties stand on education,” (published by Newsday, New York, September 2012)

“Education Nation,” (video interviews of both candidates by NBC news correspondents, posted by the National Education Writers Association)