Romney education plan is radical

“Emphasizing high-stakes tests and charter school expansion, Obama has simply continued — or accelerated — the policies handed down by George W. Bush in his signature education reform, No Child Left Behind,” writes education historian Jonathan Zimmerman in the Los Angeles Times. By contrast, Mitt  Romney’s education plan is revolutionary, writes Zimmerman.

Romney has put forth a plan that could completely transform the way Americans organize and fund public schools. And that’s why it has little chance of being implemented any time soon.

Romney proposes letting poor and disabled students use federal funds to enroll in new schools — private schools or out-of-district public schools.

. . . forget all our effusive rhetoric about education as the great equalizer, the ticket out of poverty and so on. American education is profoundly unequal because it is still circumscribed by local district lines — and still financed, mostly, by local tax dollars.

While President Obama’s education policies “don’t change the bottom line,” Romney “has suggested that kids in a poor public school district should be allowed to enroll in a wealthier one.” That’s a huge change in the status quo.

Romney “hasn’t provided any real details,” Zimmerman writes. And don’t hold your breath waiting for upper-middle-class suburbanites to welcome low-income students.

 Yet the plan does remind us of the radical potential of school vouchers, which are today blithely dismissed by liberals as a right-wing plot to gut public education. But vouchers once drew significant support from the left too, including from such luminaries as Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks and urban muckraker Jonathan Kozol.

To Jencks, who crafted a 1970 report on the subject for Richard Nixon’s White House, vouchers could help equalize American education if public as well as private schools were required to admit a certain fraction of low-income students. And the vouchers would have to be distributed progressively, with the poorest kids getting the biggest tuition assistance.

I don’t see Mitt Romney as a wild and crazy guy. If elected, I don’t think he’ll challenge local control of schools. If he did try to push through a radical voucher plan, he’d face a lot of opposition from suburban Republicans, though he might get support from urban Democrats. I’m not betting the farm on this one.

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  1. I wonder where he expects to get the money for this. I’ve heard he thinks the current budget deficit is a bit large …

  2. This sounds good given the reigning orthodoxy, but there’s one truth nobody wants to admit:  adding “low-income” (meaning generally minority, low impulse-control, low-IQ, aggressive and racially hostile) students to good schools will just transform them into bad schools.  Proposals such as this one are worse than useless except for one purpose:  making all public education effectively a ticket to nowhere.

  3. The article says, “It’s hard to know how all of this would work, in practice, because Romney hasn’t provided any real details. But if it did work, it would represent nothing short of an educational revolution.”

    Absent an actual plan and a realistic means of implementation, it’s just “A chicken in every pot”-type rhetoric. There’s nothing revolutionary about a politician making vague promises upon which he has no intent to deliver.

    Leaving aside funding and logistics, similar experiments show pretty well that Engineer-Poet’s concerns are not a real problem – few parents jump through the hoops to enroll their children in a “school of choice” and the ones that do are the ones you least need to be concerned about. Transportation issues present a huge impediment to school of choice programs, so a lot of parents who would like to take advantage simply cannot.

    Interesting that Engineer-Poet sees low income kids as racially hostile. Unpackage the assumptions behind that statement and you are likely left with something fairly characterized as racial hostility.