September 19, 2012

OneVote: Education


Maggie: Our OneVote election, where you can cast your vote for president, is less than five weeks away, and we want to make sure you’re ready. So, today we’re going to hear from our Team OneVote, and the presidential candidates, on one of the most important issues affecting young people: education.

“I’m concerned that won’t be able to afford to go to school because the government will be unable to help me, so that’s why it is really important to me. I’m going to college next year, so being able to afford education…obviously my parents aren’t going to be able to pay for my tuition. Some of the schools I am looking at are upwards of $40,000 a year.”

“We need to focus on education and make sure that we are educating our students, but I also don’t believe, also, that just throwing money at education is going to do anything either. We spend whole class days learning strategies on how to take the test, how to go through and answer questions instead of actually learning the material.”

Maggie: So, where do the candidates stand on education? Well, they actually agree on several issues. Let’s start with No Child Left Behind, the federal program that provides money to schools based partly on students’ performance on tests. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama want to make big changes to that law. Under Mr. Obama, 43 states and Washington DC have either applied, or been approved to waive parts of No Child Left Behind as long as they follow the administration’s guidelines

President Obama and Governor Romney also want to reform the way teachers are trained and evaluated. Both candidates want some portion of a teacher’s salary to be merit pay, based on how their students perform on tests. And both want to make it easier for school administrators to fire ineffective teachers

The president has also pushed for more teachers in science, technology, engineering and math: STEM. He has called for a billion dollars to be spent getting more teachers trained.

Romney wants to make it easier to become a teacher. He wants to eliminate some certification programs to let more talented individuals to get into teaching.

Both candidates also support experimenting with charter schools, schools that are managed privately but get public funding.

And that brings us to where they disagree, and it’s a biggie: how much influence should the federal government have on education?

Romney says the federal Department of Education is too big. He says state and local governments be more involved. He says changes he made while governor of Massachusetts — raising academic standards and beefing up testing — prove what can happen when states have more power. During the third year of his term, fourth and fifth graders in Massachusetts ranked first in the nation in reading and math.

President Obama’s administration has added new federal programs, including Race to the Top, which provides financial incentives for schools to boost graduation rates and Educate to Innovate, meant to improve students’ performance in STEM subjects. He has also increased federal funding for lower income students.

Federal school funding is another big issue where President Obama and Mitt Romney disagree. Mitt Romney supports a system where federal money for lower income and special needs students would follow the student to whichever school he or she chooses – public, or even private. Federal vouchers, or credit, could then be applied to private school tuition.

President Obama says funding needs to stay in the public school system. He says allowing families to use federal money for private school would cripple public education.

You can see how Romney and the president differ on this issue by looking at Washington D.C.’s Opportunity Scholarship program, which offers federal taxpayer-funded vouchers to low-income students, who can then use the money to pay for private schooling. President Obama ordered the program to stop accepting new applications, while Mitt Romney says if elected he would expand the program.

On higher education, both Romney and the President have urged congress to stop the interest rate from doubling this summer on a type of government-backed college loan. But that’s where the similarity ends. Romney wants to simplify government funded loans and turn over more loans to private banks. Obama wants student loans to go directly through the federal government, rather than through private banks.

“Education is a topic that I personally believe – something that should not be handled at the federal level; I personally believe that we should abolish the Department of Education. I believe that education is something that should be done at the local level, done by school districts and administered at the state level because things are different in different areas in the country; things are very different in Georgia than they are in the state of Texas.”

“I think that Democrats value education more than Republicans do, so I don’t think education is on the top of their priority list. And I know that Obama has supported increasing Pell grants, and he is just really invested in our education.”

Maggie: That is a campaign many teachers support. But some educators don’t like another Obama administration effort — the Race to the Top program. States that take on tough changes in education — such as linking teacher evaluations to student test scores — are awarded grants.


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