Among his talking points about education today, presumptive Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney excoriated the Obama administration for dragging its feet on education reforms. He used an Obama administration catchphrase, “We Can’t Wait,” to make his point. The Obama slogan highlights the administration’s attempt to push policies as much as possible within its power, skirting a Congress that has been locked in a series of partisan debates.
“In his speeches, President Obama likes to tell us, ‘We can’t wait,’ Romney told the crowd at the Latino Coalition’s Small Business Summit Luncheon in Washington. “If only he would say that and mean it about education reform—because millions are waiting for change, and so many are missing their chance.”
But some might say that education is the poster child for the Obama “We Can’t Wait” initiative. The U.S. Department of Education has offered states a chance to sidestep the No Child Left Behind Act by crafting their own plans that include promises to tie teacher evaluations to student performance, adopt college- and career-readiness standards, and devise new accountability systems that factor in student growth. The waivers, granted to 10 states with 26 more and the District of Columbia hoping to win a waiver in the second round of awards, were a way to get around a Congress that has taken only baby steps toward reworking the NCLB law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
Romney also said that “states will be rewarded if they regularly evaluate teachers for their effectiveness and compensate the best teachers for their success,” but there’s no doubt the current administration has made strides in this direction.
Other “We Can’t Wait"-themed education initiatives include capping student loan repayments to 10 percent to 15 percent of a borrower’s discretionary income.
In addition, charter schools got a boost in the administration’s signature Race to the Top grant contest, which long-preceded the “We Can’t Wait” theme, because states had to improve the climate for charters to compete.
Romney went on to say that “the President can’t have it both ways: He can’t talk up reform, while indulging the groups that block it,” one of many digs at teachers unions in his speech. “He can’t be the voice of disadvantaged public school kids, and the protector of special interests. President Obama has made his choice, and I have made mine: As president, I will be a champion of real education reform in America, and I won’t let any special interest get in the way.” (More on Romney’s comments about teachers is here on the Teacher Beat blog.)
But perhaps it’s not entirely fair to say that President Obama has, either.
He’s made the unions mad on more than one occasion. Unions were furious when Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke in support of the firing of teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island, under the administration’s School Improvement Grant program. The NEA approved a laundry list of criticisms against Duncan during its convention last year.
They included criticism for his weighing in on local hiring decisions of school and school district personnel, supporting the use of high-stakes standardized test scores for both student achievement and teacher evaluation, while acknowledging that the currently available tests are not good, and failing to recognize the shortcomings of offering to support struggling schools or states, but only in exchange for unsustainable state “reform” policy.