One of the things I like most about Mitt Romney is his ability to think "outside of the box." It is therefore especially disappointing to see him advocating the same, tired education reform ideas that have been killing public education (and student outcomes) in this country for over a decade. I realize that there is a very rich and powerful pro-voucher lobby supported by, among others, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Foundation. I realize that tapping into such funds for campaign contributions seems like a good idea, though it's clear from his book No Apology that Romney has advocated this position for quite some time. However, the real issue is never addressed because it is even more controversial than reconsidering Medicare and Social Security funding. The real issue lies with students themselves.
We have simply stopped holding students accountable for the results of their own efforts and behavior. At the middle school at which I am employed, a student may fail all of his or her courses and still be promoted from grade to grade, even to high school. Only recently has the State of Indiana begun to enforce even a small amount of student accountability, which is merely making students who do not demonstrate adequate reading proficiency in third grade remain grouped with third graders the next school year for reading. They are still promoted and will rejoin their same-age peers regardless of success the next school year.
What is even more interesting is the lack of superior results demonstrated by charter schools. Charter schools are a fairly small minority of the total number of schools in the state of Indiana. Nevertheless, half of the ten lowest performing schools on the IREAD-3 test (the third grade reading exam) are charter schools. On the ISTEP+ test (Indiana's primary measure of school accountability), charter schools consistently crowd the bottom of the list. Given the evidence that charter schools perform no better than public ones, and in fact most often worse, why then does Governor Mitch Daniels insist in hailing charters are panaceas? Why does Mitt Romney hop on this bandwagon? The evidence in raw data confirms that charter schools, which pay less, offer no teacher protections, and are not required to hire licensed teachers, are simply less effective. If state test scores are indeed the Holy Grail of measuring achievement, why are our leaders ignoring them?
*Sigh.* Mitt, I'm still going to vote for you. On this issue Democrats (and especially President Obama) propose the same exact set of solutions. I suppose the issue of education reform is candidate-neutral. Why is it that every time there is bipartisan agreement it is on a terrible idea? Me, I'll stick with bitter partisan feuds. They at least have some hope of offering up a good idea or two.