What is at stake for K12 education in next month’s presidential election? Both President Obama and Gov. Romney say improving education will be a top priority in their administrations, but their policies and initiatives would likely be quite different.
To examine those differences, DA turned to the Republican and Democratic national political platforms. While political platforms rarely offer detailed policy proposals, and of course are never binding on a president’s administration, they do provide valuable insight into each party’s philosophy and approach.
What follows is the K12 education section from each party’s 2012 political platform, each printed in its entirety.
Democratic Platform: Moving America Forward
The Democrats seek to out-educate the world and offer greater access to higher education and technical training.
Democrats believe getting an education is the surest path to the middle class, giving all students the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and contribute to democracy and our economy. Public education is one of our critical democratic institutions, and we are committed to ensuring that every child in America has access to a world-class public education so we can out-educate the world and make sure America has the world’s highest proportion of college graduates by 2020.
Early Learning Plans
This requires excellence at every level of our education system, from early learning through post-secondary education. It means that we must close the achievement gap in America’s schools and ensure that in every neighborhood in the country, children benefit from high-quality educational opportunities. This is why we have helped states develop comprehensive plans to raise standards and improve instruction in early learning programs, and [have] invested in expanding and reforming Head Start.
President Obama and the Democrats are committed to working with states and communities so they have the flexibility and resources they need to improve elementary and secondary education in a way that works best for students. To that end, the president challenged and encouraged states to raise standards so students graduate ready for college or career, and can succeed in a dynamic global economy. Forty-six states responded, leading groundbreaking reforms that will deliver better education to millions of American students. Too many students, particularly students of color and disadvantaged students, drop out of school, and Democrats know we must address the dropout crisis with urgency. The Democratic Party understands the importance of turning around struggling public schools, and will work to expand public school options for low-income youth, including magnet schools, charter schools, teacher-led schools, and career academies.
Because there is no substitute for great teachers in classrooms, the president helped school districts save more than 400,000 educator jobs. The Democrats seek to honor our nation’s teachers, who do a heroic job for their students every day, and if we want high-quality education for all our kids, we must listen to the people who are on the front lines. The president laid out a plan to prevent more teacher layoffs while attracting and rewarding great teachers, which includes raising standards for the programs that prepare teachers, recognizing and rewarding good teaching, and retaining good teachers. We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom. We also recognize there is no substitute for parental involvement in their child’s education. www.democrats.org/democratic-national-platform
Republican Platform: We Believe in America
The Republicans want to “give every child a chance.”
Parents are ultimately responsible for the education of their children. We do not believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to education and support providing broad education choices to parents and children at the state and local level. Maintaining American preeminence requires a world-class system of education, with high standards in which all students can reach their potential. Today’s education reform movement calls for accountability at every stage of schooling. It affirms higher expectations for all students and rejects the crippling bigotry of low expectations. It recognizes the wisdom of state and local control of our schools, and it wisely sees consumer rights in education—choice—as the most important driving force for renewing our schools.
Education is much more than schooling. It is the whole range of activities by which families and communities transmit to a younger generation, not just knowledge and skills, but ethical and behavioral norms and traditions. It is the handing over of a personal and cultural identity. That is why education choice has expanded so vigorously. It is also why American education has, for the last several decades, been the focus of constant controversy, as centralizing forces outside the family and community have sought to remake education in order to remake America. They have not succeeded, but they have done immense damage.
Money Does Not Insure Quality
Since 1965 the federal government spent $2 trillion on elementary and secondary education with no substantial improvement in academic achievement or high school graduation rates (which currently are 59 percent for African-American students and 63 percent for Hispanics). The U.S. spends an average of more than $10,000 per pupil per year in public schools, for a total of more than $550 billion. That represents more than 4 percent of GDP devoted to K12 education in 2010. Of that amount, federal spending was more than $47 billion. Clearly, if money were the solution, our schools would be problem-free. More money alone does not necessarily equal better performance.
After years of trial and error, we know what does work, what has actually made a difference in student advancement, and what is powering education reform at the local level all across America: accountability on the part of administrators, parents and teachers; higher academic standards; programs that support the development of character and financial literacy; periodic rigorous assessments on the fundamentals, especially math, science, reading, history, and geography; renewed focus on the Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers, and an accurate account of American history that celebrates the birth of this great nation; transparency, so parents and the public can discover which schools best serve their pupils; flexibility and freedom to innovate, so schools can adapt to the special needs of their students and hold teachers and administrators responsible for student performance.
We support the innovations in education reform occurring at the state level based upon proven results. Republican governors have led the effort to reform our country’s underperforming education system, and we applaud these advancements.
We advocate the policies and methods that have proven effective: building on the basics, especially STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) and phonics; ending social promotions; merit pay for good teachers; classroom discipline; parental involvement; and strong leadership by principals, superintendents, and locally elected school boards. Because technology has become an essential tool of learning, proper implementation of technology is a key factor in providing every child equal access and opportunity.
The Republican Party is the party of fresh and innovative ideas in education. We support options for learning, including home schooling and local innovations like single-sex classes, full-day school hours, and year-round schools. School choice— whether through charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, or tax credits —is important for all children, especially for families with children trapped in failing schools. Getting those youngsters into decent learning environments and helping them to realize their full potential is the greatest civil rights challenge of our time.
We support the promotion of local career and technical educational programs and entrepreneurial programs that have been supported by leaders in industry and will retrain and retool the American workforce, which is the best in the world. A young person’s ability to achieve in school must be based on his or her God-given talent and motivation, not an address, zip code, or economic status.
In sum, on the one hand enormous amounts of money are being spent for K12 public education with overall results that do not justify that spending. On the other hand, the common experience of families, teachers, and administrators forms the basis of what does work in education. We believe the gap between those two realities can be successfully bridged, and Congressional Republicans are pointing a new way forward with major reform legislation. We support its concept of block grants and the repeal of numerous federal regulations, which interfere with state and local control of public schools.
The bulk of the federal money through Title I for low-income children and through IDEA for disabled youngsters should follow the students to whatever school they choose so that eligible pupils, through open enrollment, can bring their share of the funding with them. The Republican-founded D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program should be expanded as a model for the rest of the country. We deplore the efforts by Congressional Democrats and the current president to kill this successful program for disadvantaged students in order to placate the leaders of the teachers’ unions. We support putting the needs of students before the special interests of unions when approaching elementary and secondary education reform.
Bolstering the Power of Family
Because parents are a child’s first teachers, we support family literacy programs, which improve the reading, language, and life skills of both parents and children from low-income families. To ensure that all students have access to the mainstream of American life, we support the English First approach and oppose divisive programs that limit students’ ability to advance in American society.
We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education, which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity. We oppose school-based clinics that provide referrals, counseling, and related services for abortion and contraception. We support keeping federal funds from being used in mandatory or universal mental health, psychiatric, or socio-emotional screening programs.
We applaud America’s great teachers, who should be protected against frivolous litigation and should be able to take reasonable actions to maintain discipline and order in the classroom. We support legislation that will correct the current law provision which defines a “Highly Qualified Teacher” merely by his or her credentials, not results in the classroom.
We urge school districts to make use of teaching talent in business, STEM fields, and in the military, especially among our returning veterans. Rigid tenure systems based on the “last in, first out” policy should be replaced with a merit-based approach that can attract fresh talent and dedication to the classroom. All personnel who interact with school children should pass background checks and be held to the highest standards of personal conduct. www.gop.com/2012-republican-platform_Renewing/#Item13