Education advisers spar over funding

Education advisers to the 2012 presidential candidates, President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, met on Monday, Oct. 15 at Columbia University’s Teachers College for a 90-minute debate over the merits of each candidate’s plan for education.

Obama’s campaign was represented by Jon Schnur, an adviser to Obama since the 2008 campaign and founder of New Leaders for New Schools, while Romney was represented by Phil Handy, co-chair of Romney’s advisory panel on higher education.

The two men sparred over a variety of issues, including education funding and federal budget issues, certain aspects of No Child Left Behind, teacher evaluation methodologies and a potential voucher program that Romney plans on instituting.

The key issue raised in the debate was whether waivers should be granted to individual states to release them from provisions of No Child Left Behind, the highly controversial and widely debated 2001 congressional act that set federal standards for schools that each state must meet.

The law, which passed with bipartisan support in Congress over a decade ago, has received widespread criticism from many groups, including education-focused organizations and teachers’ unions.

During the debate, Handy alluded to the fact that if Romney is living in the White House next year, Romney intends to review all executive orders and waivers Obama has issued. This could potentially mean Romney will be rescinding waivers for states that do not meet the criteria set by No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

Schnur noted that the waivers are intended to deal with the “worst parts” of NCLB and removing them would be a step backwards for education reform.

The waivers, which Obama first implemented in early 2012, have now partially released 34 states and the District of Columbia from NCLB requirements.

The waivers are Obama’s reaction to Congress’ failure to pass a new form of No Child Left Behind. Among the requirements waived include a provision that all children nationwide be proficient in science and math by 2014.

Handy mentioned at one point that Romney wants to begin a voucher program in which Title I and special education funding would be given directly to parents of disadvantaged students in the form of vouchers. Schnur said that the idea is “interesting” but noted that it “doesn’t seem workable.”

One of the more controversial aspects of the law is the inclusion of “Annual Yearly Progress” (AYP) determined by standardized testing in a variety of subjects, as a metric for school improvements.

Critics of No Child Left Behind contend that the law misuses AYP as a punitive tool to remove funding from schools, as well as being culturally insensitive and biased by using the same set of tests across the nation.