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Excerpt from Sean Cavanagh's article.
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney unveiled a series of education proposals Wednesday, which cover a lot of ground but are heavy on private-school choice, as my colleague Alyson Klein explains over at Politics K-12.
Romney wants to allow parents to use federal Title I and special-education funding to pay for a variety of school options—including private school costs, meaning vouchers. And on that point, the contrast between Romney and Obama, who opposes private school vouchers, is quite sharp.
While many Republicans have praised Obama for his support for charters, linking teacher and administrator evaluations to performance, and other education policies, the president has shown no interest in redirecting public funds to private school choice. He recently rankled Congressional Republicans, for instance, by proposing to cut off funding for the District of Columbia voucher program.
Mike Petrilli, an executive vice-president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and former top education official in George W. Bush's administration, finds a lot to like about having federal dollars follow children, for public and private schools, as he explains in an online essay. But Petrilli's less fond of mandating that states offer a list of choice options in order to receive federal Title I and spec-ed funding. Those top-down mandates from Washington rarely work the way they're supposed to, writes Petrilli, who cites the problems in administering the No Child Left Behind Act as an example of why they don't.
The title of Petrilli's essay sums up his view: "The Romney education plan: Replacing federal overreach on accountability with federal overreach on school choice."
Education Sector's Anne Hyslop offers a different perspective. She praises pieces of Romney's proposal but says it wrongly assumes that choice—rather than polices for turning around low-performing schools and helping struggling students—will act as a cure-all.
"By using choice as the only mechanism to improve school quality, a child's success will still depend on their ZIP code and family background," she writes, adding: "For these students—the ones left behind in dropout factories and chronically low-achieving schools—what is their future? Romney's education plan would continue the standards and assessment movement, but drop the accountability. States and districts would not have to intervene in any ineffective schools to address low achievement, high dropout rates, or large achievement gaps. And that's unacceptable."