Mitt Romney told NBC's Brian Williams today that he doesn't think the federal government should provide support—financial or otherwise—for common standards, which have been adopted by forty-six states and the District of Columbia.
Instead, the Republican presidential nominee thinks states alone should pony up the money for their implementation. The Obama administration has allocated $360 million to two consortia of states to help develop tests that align with the standards, which were created through a partnership of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. And the administration gave states that adopted the standards an edge in the Race to the Top competition.
"I don't happen to believe that every time there's an initiative that comes along, the federal government should finance it," Romney said during NBC's Education Nation, noting that the state he governed, Massachusetts, was able to boost its standards without having any extra federal funding.
"You know, I think it's fine for people to lay out what they think core subjects might be and to suggest a pedagogy and being able to provide that learning to our kids," Romney said. "I don't subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push a common core on various states. It's one thing to put it out as a model and let people adopt it as they will, but to financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government's idea of a curriculum, I think, is a mistake. And the reason I say that is that there may be a time when the government has an agenda that it wants to promote."
And in the same interview he chided Secretary of Education Arne Duncan for pushing a "national curriculum," although he added that he likes that the Obama administration has championed new teacher-evaluation systems and prodded states to expand charter schools through Race to the Top.
As he has in the past, Romney decried the influence of teachers' unions on elections and appeared to argue that unions should not be able to contribute to campaigns.
I believe that we simply—we simply can't have a setting where the teachers' unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interest of the kids. I think it's a mistake. I think we've got to get the money out of the teachers' unions going into campaigns. It's the wrong way for us to go. We have got to separate that.
Shifting to early childhood, Romney has not outlined a specific policy on early education, and did not do so in the interview, despite a question from Williams. Instead, he argued that parents are key to making sure students succeed in the early years. In fact, he said that it can be "extraordinarily important" for one parent to stay home with his or her child.
"To have one parent that stays closely involved with the education of the child and can be at home in those early years of education can be extraordinarily important," Romney said.
But Romney, who has said he would like to tamp down on federal spending, didn't spell out any specific federal preschool initiatives that he would like to steer funding to. Instead, he said he'd take a hard look at the effectiveness of early childhood programs the federal government is already pushing, including Head Start.
Romney talked up his education record in the Bay State, including a call he made as governor to require parents in low-performing schools to take parenting classes, an idea that met with resistance and never came to fruition.
"The idea that somehow schools are entirely separate from the home, from the economic circumstances of the home, from the social experiences of the home, that's just not reality. The home is an integral part of the education system and the best teachers in the world can't possibly overcome a home that is completely pulling in a very different direction," Romney said. "That's one of the reasons why I proposed in my state that before you could send your child to go to kindergarten, that the parents had to go to a training program to learn about the impact of education. And again, I wasn't able to get it done. It's something I wanted to do and something, I think that has some merit."
Also on the early childhood front, Romney gave a big shout-out to Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone program, saying it has been "remarkably successful in helping bring young people to a posture where they're ready to learn by the time school starts," Romney said. "And those types of efforts I think should be evaluated one by one, and we should encourage and support those that are most effective."
The Harlem Children's Zone love may be one point of agreement between Romney and the Obama administration. President Obama has created a federal program, Promise Neighborhoods, which is aimed at helping communities create their own versions of the program by pairing K-12 with wrap-around services, such as early childhood education.
President Obama did his own interview on education today with NBC's Savannah Guthrie. She asked him about the fact that some states who have gotten waivers from pieces of the No Child Left Behind Act set lower student achievement goals for racial minorities than for white students. Does that bother the president, Guthrie wanted to know.
"Of course it bothers, me," Obama said. Obama noted that the waivers make a move towards growth models, which measure individual student progress and "would give every school the opportunity to improve" without being labeled as failing. And he said that schools will continue to have to break out data by subgroup. (Of course, some folks would argue that just having the data isn't going to force schools to actually intervene on behalf of minority kids.)
Obama also acknowledged that not everyone in Congress is a huge fan of Race to the Top.
"We're working with Congress to try to fund this Race to the Top model," he said. "Sometimes there's resistance to taking money out out of the formula side and putting it in these competitive grant programs. But we're going to keep pushing."
(Image: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney speaks at the NBC Education Nation Summit in New York on Sept. 25.