Experts’ views about Obama and Romney on education

The following are edited excerpts from telephone interviews and email exchanges with leading education analysts, writers and researchers regarding the policies and positions of the presidential candidates.

Michelle Rhee

Chief executive, StudentsFirst; former chancellor, District of Columbia Public Schools

Both support expanding educational options for families. President Obama did this, for example, by encouraging states to get rid of unnecessary caps on public charter schools through Race to the Top [grants]. At the same time, Gov. Romney supports dramatically expanding choices parents can make about where to send their kids to school. But he doesn’t tie that increased flexibility to strong rules ensuring any school — private or public — that takes the public funds will be held accountable for student learning.


Jonathan Kozol

Author whose books about education include "Death at an Early Age” (1967) and “Savage Inequalities” (1991). His new book is “Fire in the Ashes.”

As we saw in Wisconsin, there is a constituency out there that would like to do away with public-sector unions. The teachers are the loudest of those unions. Romney could not do away with teachers unions, but I think he will do his very best to move us in that direction.

President Obama simply wants to challenge the teachers unions to be more flexible in their demands but obviously recognizes they have a useful role in our society.

I regret the President’s apparent willingness to continue relying on standardized exams in evaluating teachers because I think it’s a simplistic way of judging what happens in the classroom and excludes so many aspects of a good education that are not reduceable to numbers.

The President recognizes that a demoralized teaching force is not going to bring passionate determination to the education of children — no matter how you measure them, castigate them or properly criticize them.

Jeanne Allen

President, Center for Education Reform, based in Washington, D.C.


A Romney administration would likely leave the regulating to the states, where it belongs. This becomes the huge distinction between the candidates—on charters, on teacher issues, on testing. Obama believes government should lead, and if the states aren’t doing something he’ll step in.

Romney’s impact would be felt much bigger and broader than the current administration’s impact. Today you can get more money by promising to behave. Romney’s approach would likely be very different: his incentives for choice...; his fight with labor; his attempt to reopen the higher education lending market.

Obama should be calling the unions to the carpet, and instead [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan is sending platitudes about getting along and collaborating. That’s because they promised the unions they would work with them and need the unions. Romney has no such allegiance.

Gary Orfield


Professor, UCLA Graduate School of Education; co-director, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA

The Obama administration should have fought harder to continue the economic stimulus in education for at least another year or two. Without it things in schools and colleges would have been far worse.

My reading is that Romney is profoundly skeptical about the value of federal funds and thinks they do no good.

A Romney administration would obviously bring deep cutbacks in virtually all areas of domestic spending.


The Chicago teachers strike is a reflection of the fact that teachers have been pushed too far for too long and are particularly incensed on the overly assertive (and intellectually indefensible) use of test scores to evaluate individual teachers. Romney’s very hostile reaction toward the teachers and the Obama Administration’s straddle show the difference.

Diane Ravitch

Education historian and blogger whose books include “Death and Life of the Great American School System” (2010).

Both support charters, which is privatization, and which do not get better test scores than public schools.


Both support test-based evaluation of teachers, which has never been shown to accomplish anything other than to demoralize teachers.

Both support carrots (merit pay) and sticks (closing schools like shoe stores that don’t make a profit). Merit pay has been tried again and again for nearly a century. It never works.

Both emphasize test scores as the measure of good education, which they are not.

Neither talks about the impact that poverty has on children’s readiness to learn.


Three big differences:

1. Romney supports vouchers; Obama does not.

2. Romney embraces privatization; Obama has offered only half-hearted support via privately managed charters.

3. Romney wants to give the student loans back to the banks and provide no help for college students drowning in debt. Obama took the program away from the banks and understands that students need financial aid. All the talk about boosting college-going rates is hollow, if students can’t pay for it.


Other comparisons/analyses:

The National School Boards Assn.

The anti-union, Michigan-based Education Action Group Foundation, Inc.: Romney wants to ban teachers union political contributions. Comparing the Democratic and Republican education platforms and agendas.


Democrats for Education Reform: The case for Obama and the case against Romney.

Rick Hess, director of Education Policy Studies, American Enterprise Institute: How Romney Should Grade Obama on Education

Columnist Harold Meyerson on the dangers of Democrats embracing an anti-union agenda.