President Obama and Mitt Romney both appeared on NBC’s “Education Nation”, which has covered some fairly interesting educational ground in the past. Both covered some interesting topics, and after you take out some of the political nuances there appears to be more similarities than either would care to admit. The President, and Education Secretary Arne Duncan, have taken lots of heat for the “Race to the Top” program from the teacher unions (Methuen’s affiliate of the Massachusetts Teachers Association refused to sign on to the Race to the Top application, preventing the District from participating in the program). The President obviously takes a substantially more diplomatic tact relative to the teacher unions, but has come down mostly on the reform side, including support for charter schools. With groups like DFER (Democrats for Education Reform), the President, and many Democratic Mayors, like Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa leading reform efforts, tensions with the Teacher Unions have now arisen. The New York Times highlighted that tension with today’s story on the increased giving by Teacher Unions to Republicans.
Romney was much more direct in his criticism of teacher unions, but did make an interesting point that I wish had been explored further. Romney advocated that teacher unions be prohibited from making political contributions, arguing that it created “conflicts of interest”, as often times teacher unions may be negotiating with elected officials who have received these contributions. A fair point, and one that shows Romney at least tipping his hat to the inherent problems that money brings to politics. But nobody asked whether he felt the same principles applied to other “conflicts of interest”, such as members of Congress taking money from business interests when they are writing regulations into law that directly impact those interests. The examples are too numerous to cite. Should Romney be asked if contributions in that category also constitute “conflicts of interest”, and if so should they be prohibited?
A clear area of difference was Romney coming out against federal “Common Core” curriculum standards. He essentially said that federal financial inducements to incentivize state adoptions of Common Core would be counter-productive. The clips are long, but worthwhile. One of the rare moments where substance has been discussed during this campaign.