There's a familiar face among the roster of those advising Mitt Romney's presidential campaign: Former U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, the chief architect of the No Child Left Behind Act. Phil Handy, one of three co-chairs for Romney's education team confirmed Spellings' involvement today.
Spellings is serving as a volunteer for the Republican hopeful's campaign, which means she's working with Handy, the former chairman of the Florida state board under then-Gov. Jeb Bush; Nina Rees, who led the U.S. Department of Education's office of innovation and improvement under President George W. Bush; and Marty West, a professor at Harvard's Graduate School of Education.
Spellings' day job is still working as a senior adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on education issues. And she's also the president and CEO of Margaret Spellings and Company, a public policy consulting firm in Washington.
Another Romney adviser? Russ Whitehurst, the former head of the Institute of Education Sciences and the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, and a member of the Koret Task Force on Education at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. The task force recently put out a paper on the right role for the federal government when it comes to education policy, which calls for making federal accountability optional for districts and states that adopt dramatically expanded school choice.
Handy didn't hint at any discord within the Romney campaign. Still, I'd love to be a fly on the wall for some policy discussions: Koret's ideas seem to be a big departure from Spellings' brainchild, the NCLB law, which she once said was "like Ivory soap, it's 99.9 percent pure."
And those following the fight over reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind Act on Capitol Hill probably know that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has joined civil rights groups to come down hard on both renewal bills passed by both the House and Senate education committees because the legislation doesn't require states to set student achievement goals.
In fact, the Chamber actually endorsed a Democratic substitute version of the legislation, put forth last week by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the ranking member of the panel, which would have included goals for student progress.
We'll see how all this plays out when Romney fleshes out his education ideas. (Best preview yet is this chapter of his recent book No Apology.). As governor of Massachusetts, Romney was known as a big proponent of standards and merit pay, two issues President Barack Obama's administration have made prominent parts of its agenda, both through Race to the Top and now the plan to offer waivers from parts of the NCLB law.
That might not leave moderate Republicans like Romney much room to draw contrasts with the current administration, said Michael J. Petrilli, a vice-president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. "The challenge is that the president's rhetoric on education has been very good," Petrilli said. "He has co-opted the language."
Could the Romney camp say if you like what Obama did on education, you'll like what Romney would do and make the election about something else? he wondered.
That's not going to happen, Handy said. When we see Romney's K-12 proposals "there will be a clear distinctions both on policy, and, as importantly process, and the way policy is promulgated," he told me.