Romney's Education Plan Calls for More School Choices

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In all the months of Republican primaries and early campaigning, the topic of education rarely emerged. That changed on Wednesday when the presumed Republican nominee, Mitt Romney, announced his new education agenda.

The photo with an article in The New York Times about Mr. Romney's education announcement says much: Mr. Romney standing in front of a banner that says "A Chance for Every Child." Sound familiar?

But Mr. Romney, like the most recent Republican president, George W. Bush, spoke in stark language about the nation's educational challenge, calling the education of minority students "the civil rights issue of our era."

Speaking at the Latino Coalition's economic summit in Washington, Mr. Romney:

... said he would consolidate $4 billion in current expenditures on teacher quality across 10 federal agencies, and send the money to states as block grants.

He also promised to break logjams that still hold up reforms by taking on teachers’ unions, which he called “the clearest example of a group that has lost its way.” He accused Mr. Obama of quavering before the unions because of their power within the Democratic Party. “President Obama has been unable to stand up to union bosses — and unwilling to stand up for our kids,” he said.

But beyond the war talk, Mr. Romney's message was about giving parents more school choices:

Mr. Romney’s biggest departure from existing policy was his call for poor students and those with disabilities to be able to attend any public school in their state — “or a private school where permitted by law” — and to have federal funds follow them, rather than the current system in which the money stays with a student’s local school.

The inclusion of private schools suggested that Mr. Romney favors voucher programs that use public dollars to pay private tuition, long a controversial idea but one that has lately been embraced by Republican lawmakers in Indiana and Louisiana.

“For too long, we’ve merely talked about the virtues of school choice without really doing something about it,” Mr. Romney said.

According to The Times, Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, an education policy group, noted that these ideas constituted a shift from President Obama. However, Mr. Finn said, “Frankly, it catches up the federal policy to what is already state policy” in many places.

Also in the news this Friday morning, Jenny Anderson reported on The Times's City Room blog that Packer Collegiate Institute will again be able to serve as an SAT testing site, including for two exams in June.

The private school in Brooklyn Heights reached a deal with the College Board, which administers the SAT, to host the exam on June 2 and June 16. The school had been cited for numerous testing violations during the May 5 exam hosted there. As a result, the scores of 199 students who took the exam then were invalidated.

This may be far afield, but the blog by a Scottish girl about her school meals -- NeverSeconds: "One primary school pupil's daily dose of school dinners" -- has gone viral. It's a delightful reflection on food, and the photos of her laden trays are captivating.

And while we're casting a wide net and going for the silly factor this Thursday -- this SchoolBook editor will be away on vacation for the next two weeks, so what the heck? -- enjoy this fun video, created by Mike Penney, a history teacher at Abby Kelley Foster Charter High School in Worcester, Mass. Gawker explains the premise: he "invited his students to reflect on ups and downs of the school year that was — all while secretly sneaking his fellow teachers into the background to do some stealth disco." Check out those moves.

Gotham Schools' Rise & Shine morning post has a more complete roundup of Thursday's news.

And here's some of the education-related events happening in New York City on Thursday:

At 11 a.m. the Young People's Chorus of New York City presents its annual, free Satellite Schools concert "Give Us Hope," at the 92nd Street Y. The performer/choreographer Jacquelyn Bird will be on hand "to teach the children some high-spirited dance moves. This annual concert at the 92nd Street Y, where the Satellite Schools choristers have the opportunity to sing -- and this time dance -- together, is the high point of each year's schedule for these children," a news release says.

At 1:15 p.m., Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott "speaks to students visiting the Planetarium at the American Museum of Natural History," Central Park West and 79th Street.

At 5 p.m., District 4 will showcase its students' achievement in the arts with an event at El Museo del Barrio in the Bronx.

Lastly, artists from the ENACT Dropout Prevention Programs have been working with public school students in the city all year, and nearly 100 of the students will "show families, teachers and principals what they have learned and how the ENACT workshops have kept them focused on success in school and in their communities," a news release says. The Show Up! 2012 event will be held at the High School of Hospitality Management, 525 West 50th Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues in Manhattan, at 6:30 p.m. and is open to the public.