Cheat Sheet: Where Mitt Romney and Barack Obama Stand on Education

President Obama and Mitt Romney have different ideas on how to best reform our country's education system. iVoice Sharon Rowley investigates the candidates' plans

The discussion on education has taken a backseat to the issues surrounding the economy and healthcare in this presidential election. But how can we prepare the next generation for the future without focusing on education? Here’s where the candidates stand on this important topic.

Mitt Romney

During his term as governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney focused on expanding charter schools, provided financial bonuses to math and science teachers as well as teachers with a proven record of results, required that high school students pass a comprehensive assessment test to graduate, and created merit-based scholarships that provided full tuition to a state school for the top 25 percent of high school graduates.

As president, the Romney education plan would focus on giving parents choices. He believes that schools must be publically graded in ways that parents can understand (A-F just like students’ report cards), and parents that are sending their kids to failing schools need to be given access to better options. Romney believes that money should be “backpacked” or tied to the child -- meaning that funds for low-income and special-needs kids should follow the child to whichever school he or she attends, not to his or her local school district, giving parents the opportunity to send their child to another district, a charter school, a private school (where allowed by state law) or even for use toward private tutoring or online courses.

Romney’s plan supports rewarding teachers’ performance based on results and not tenure. He has repeatedly pointed out that the teachers’ unions are a major contributor to the Obama re-election campaign, and therefore the president’s allegiance is to teachers and not students. Romney believes reforms are needed to incentivize states to advance teacher quality and drop unnecessary certification requirements that discourage new teachers (i.e. the federal “highly qualified teacher” requirement).

When it comes to higher education, Romney believes that the costs are too high and too many Americans leave college burdened with substantial debt. He plans to reform the financial aid system to ensure that students and families have all of the facts about the true cost of receiving aid. Romney plans to reverse Obama’s nationalization of the student loan market in favor of welcoming private sector participation.

Barack Obama

During his first term as president, Barack Obama created the Race to the Top program, which awarded grants to states for education innovation and reform at the K-12 level. The initiative focused on developing better standards for achieving college readiness, creating better systems to provide information to teachers and parents on student progress, support for teachers to become more effective, and increased resources for interventions to turn around failing schools. President Obama believes that this initiative has had a huge impact on moving our nation’s education system forward and has broken through decades of stagnation.

The president’s plan for education includes the Zero to Five plan, which expands the Head Start program, raises the bar for states to improve their early learning programs, and encourages states to adopt universal pre-school.

President Obama also favors the use of charter schools, calling them “incubators of innovation in neighborhoods across our country," and has encouraged states to allow more charter schools to open as part of their Race to the Top reform plan.

The president’s education reform plan required states to change the way teachers are evaluated -- so evaluations include measurements of student performance -- most notably taking into consideration student achievement on standardized tests as part of a teacher’s evaluation.

President Obama has created a tax credit for college students of up to $10,000 over 4 years. He has overhauled the student loan system so that all federal loans come from the government and not private banks -- a shift that is projected to save $60 billion over 10 years -- and the president wants to direct those savings to Pell Grants for low and middle-income students. The president made his wishes clear during January’s State of the Union address, saying, “Let me put colleges and universities on notice. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.”

Sharon Rowley is an iVoice correspondent from Bedford Corners, NY. You can find her at www.momof6.com and on twitter at @sharonmomof6.

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