President Obama may understand the problems that plague our education system. He may even understand many of the policies needed to correct these problems. For instance, his administration touts “Race to the Top,” funded by more than $4 billion in stimulus funds and designed to encourage real reform. But Race to the Top represented less than five percent of the total stimulus spending on education, the rest of which went to states without concern for reforms and did no more than temporarily prop up a failing status quo.
Moreover, Race to the Top was itself poorly designed. It awarded states money in return for promises, without regard for results. States merely had to offer ambitious plans for change to win funding, and now many of them are struggling to follow through. Once again, President Obama’s excessive federal spending is failing to produce results. Instead, he has only managed to expand the number of federal programs and the amount of federal money spent.
A better plan: Supporting teachers, increasing choice, and emphasizing results
Ensuring that all children in the United States have access to a K-12 education that equips them to pursue their dreams is both a fundamental American value and essential for lasting economic prosperity. Sadly, we have long fallen short in this vital task, especially when it comes to the education of our most disadvantaged students. The cause is not a lack of public investment: As a nation we spend over $11,000 annually on each student enrolled in K-12 education, more than almost any other country. Nor can we assign blame to those leading our classrooms: American schools are filled with talented and passionate educators who know that the system desperately needs reform and want to be a part of a brighter future for our children. What we need is leadership from state and federal policy makers to free public education from a paralysis that keeps our schools and students from reaching their full potential.
To that end, we must dramatically expand parental choice over the education their children receive and unleash the power of innovation and technology to drive improvement. We must call on states to set high academic standards, hold schools and teachers responsible for results, and ensure that families and taxpayers have accurate information about school performance and spending. And we must reward effective teachers for their excellence in the classroom so that others like them will be attracted into the profession.
Promoting choice and innovation. Empowering parents with far greater choice over the school their child attends is a vital component of any national agenda for education reform. To start, low-income and special-needs children must be given the freedom to choose the right school and bring funding with them. These students must have access to attractive options, which will require support for the expansion of successful charter schools and for greater technology use by schools. And parents must have reliable, transparent, user-friendly information on how their own children and their schools are performing. Just as innovation and technology moved the nation into the Information Age, so too can they catapult our schools into the 21st century.
A Romney Administration will work with Congress to overhaul Title I and IDEA so that low-income and special-needs students can choose which school to attend and bring their funding with them. The choices offered to students under this policy will include any district or public charter school in the state, as well as private schools if permitted by state law. Eligible students remaining in public schools will also have the option to use federal funds to purchase supplemental tutoring or digital courses from state-approved private providers rather than receiving Title I services from their district. To ensure accountability, students using federal funds to attend private schools will be required to participate in the state’s testing system.
Ensuring high standards and responsibility for results. States must have in place standards to ensure that every high school graduate is prepared for college or work and, through annual testing, hold both students and educators accountable for meeting them. The results of this testing, for both their own children and their schools, must be readily available to parents in an easy-to-understand format. And both parents and taxpayers should have detailed and timely information on school and district spending to ensure accountability for the use of public funds.