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Romney Would Not Fund New Science and Math Standards

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Phil Handy

An education advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign said last night that a Romney administration would not use federal funds to encourage states to adopt higher standards in math and science.

President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top Program has offered grants to states that adopt certain reforms, including the Common Core State Standards in math and language arts. “The Common Core standards are a very good idea, but they should be opted in by governors and enacted by the states, and both should ultimately be sponsored by the states,” said Phil Handy, higher education co-chair of Romney’s Education Policy Advisory Group. “Economic incentives are not the purview of the federal government.”

Handy, wearing bright orange socks that punctuated his dark suit, spoke at a debate hosted by Teacher’s College, Columbia University and Education Week last night, where he was joined by Jon Schnur, an education advisor to President Barack Obama and co-founder of America Achieves. Susan Fuhrman, president of Teacher’s College, moderated the discussion.

Jon Schnur

Schnur countered that Obama agrees that states should determine their own standards but that the federal government should “provide a supportive role.” “Standards alone don’t drive [change],” he said. “You also need investment.”

The two advisors sparred for 90 minutes over the federal government’s role in education. (Only about 10 percent of K-12 education dollars come from Washington; states cover most of the rest). In the last two years, forty-five states and the District of Columbia have adopted new Common Core standards, which many hope will lead to revamped curricula that enhance children’s critical thinking abilities and deepen their understanding of math. But standards are just the first step, and schools are now scrambling for the money to purchase new instructional materials that are in line with the standards, to train their teachers accordingly, and to develop new state tests that reflect the new expectations. Race to the Top grants have provided some of this funding.

While the Common Core process is well underway, a new phase of the uniform standards movement is just getting off the ground: the Next Generation Science Standards, which are based on recommendations from scientists at the National Academies.  Proponents of the new science standards, which states may begin adopting as early as next spring, say they are an important first step to improving scientific literacy among American students. Though the new science standards did not come up at the debate, the next president will determine the role of the federal government in helping states implement them.

Handy said  Romney believes the government is responsible for: 1) providing transparency in the form of school data that would help parents make informed decisions about where to send their kids 2) providing funding for underprivileged and special needs kids under Title I and other programs 3) offering  some of that funding in the form of vouchers that would allow parents to choose scho0ls outside their zone.  ”No child should be obligated to go to a certain school because they are born in a certain zip code,” he said. Low performing schools “need some disruption in the system,” he said, “and we believe that choice is part of that disruption.”

Schnur responded that “If you focus only on transparency and choice and walk away from funding, I think choices aren’t meaningful.”

About the Author: Anna Kuchment is a Contributing Editor at Scientific American and a staff science writer at The Dallas Morning News. She was previously a reporter, writer and editor with Newsweek magazine. She is also author of “The Forgotten Cure,” about bacteriophage viruses and their potential as weapons against antibiotic resistance. Follow on Twitter @akuchment.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. profchuck 1:20 pm 10/16/2012

    The federal government is notoriously incompetent when it comes to most programs including education. The more money the feds throw at education the worse our system becomes. Most politicians are retread lawyers that would not know a partial differential equation from from a partial plate denture. This is the reason that politicians consistently make bad decisions when it comes to science. As a retired college level educator I am dismayed by the level of education our freshman students bring to the classroom. Many are functionally illiterate when it comes to the hard sciences and even English grammar. The Federal education programs do not assign rational priorities and their curricula are based on politically correct notions rather than actual educational goals. The states will probably do a better job, they cannot do worse.

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  2. 2. RSchmidt 1:26 pm 10/16/2012

    Make sense given that anyone who knows math, knows that republican economics do not work. Of course anytime the government spends money that doesn’t find its way immediately into the back pocket of a republican supporter, the government is wasting money. The only reason the republican party exists is because of the extreme greed of the top 5% and the extreme ignorance of much of the US population.

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  3. 3. MauiPilot 1:46 pm 10/16/2012

    This article is not about science but politics and written as such is unworthy of your magazine to print in this way. The title teaser of the article in not fully representative of the commentary from the Romney camp. You should read the entire text of the debate. Shameful on you.

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  4. 4. MadScientist72 1:51 pm 10/16/2012

    @ profchuck – “The states will probably do a better job, they cannot do worse.” Really? I highly doubt it. State governments are run by the same “retread lawyers” as the federal government. At least at the federal level, there’s usually enough distribution accros the political spectrum to maintain some degree of balance. If everything was punted to state level, the blue states would still get decent enough STEM education, but the anti-science religious fanatics running the red states would ensure that STEM education there would be worse than none at all.

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  5. 5. lamorpa 1:52 pm 10/16/2012

    Why bother with standards? Everyone gets a great education at their private schools (and extra tutoring if needed), top colleges and graduate schools. The 6 figure cost of such things are an insignificant drop in the bucket of your income isn’t it?

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  6. 6. RDH 2:02 pm 10/16/2012

    RSchmidt, On a day when yet another Obama pick turned out to be a looser (A123 Systems), which follows such spectacular failures as Solyndra that happens to be backed by Obama supporters, you want to make absurd claims about “republican economics”?

    Just look at the facts on “republican economics”. When Pelosi, Reid and Obama took over Congress in Jan. 2007, we had had 52 straight months of job growth. Unemployment had been “mired” in the 4% range for years, which is considered by many economists to be “full employment”. The GDP was growing at 3.5% and the last Republican budget saw a paltry deficit of $161 billion (yes, RS, Republican deficits were measured in billions, not trillions). Now unless you believe that Pelosi, Reid and Obama passed a Republican/Bush agenda for the next two years, exactly whose policies were in place when we went into recession, the deficit topped a trillion dollars and unemployment nearly doubled and eventually more than doubled (by 2010)?

    Pelosi spent two years trotting out in front of the cameras to declare Republican legislation “Dead on arrival”. And soon, so too was the economy.

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  7. 7. lamorpa 2:25 pm 10/16/2012


    And isn’t it amazing that the GOP congress shamelessly collects their salaries while doing nothing but block all initiatives in the name of partisan gain. GOP – the party of “Screw America I’m Only Interested In My Personal and Party Gain” It’s sickening.

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  8. 8. RSchmidt 2:29 pm 10/16/2012

    @RDH, that’s hilarious. On one hand we have the Republicans who brought us war, deficits and a ruined economy and on the other we have the democrats who brought us Surplus, The Head of Bin Laden, and an economy recovering from the mess the republicans made but because the democrats haven’t completely repaired the effects of republican mismanagement, the republicans are better. We have seen the republicans in action. It cost american lives and tanked the world’s economy and served only to expand the divide between rich and poor. We have seen the republicans obstruct everything the current administration has tried to accomplish to the point of damaging the credit rating of the US and putting Americans at risk of another deep recession for no other reason than to protect the tax cuts for the wealthy and to try and discredit Obama. The republicans have come to represent everything that is wrong with the US. The US will not be able to survive another republican government. There is nothing more for them to pillage.

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  9. 9. priddseren 2:31 pm 10/16/2012

    The US Federal Government should be removing itself from the education system not pillaging the people for yet more money in the name of yet more requirements that it cant effectively create or manage. All that will happen is the politicians will take yet another 100 million spend 95% of the money with state governments on some ridiculous salaries and pensions for the employees tasked to manage the standards and the 5% that is left will be used up by the school district hiring yet more people to manage the standard. Let the states deal with education and the people themselves.

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  10. 10. tucanofulano 2:41 pm 10/16/2012

    Shameful of you to pander to the far left. No science in the article at all.
    Why would you support (1) centralized incompetence? (2) lowered achievement goals?

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  11. 11. Xopher425 2:51 pm 10/16/2012

    Of course the Republicans have all the answers. After all, the Great and Glorious Bush did create that wondrous piece of educational policy: No Child Left Behind.

    Romney’s plan will allow states, especially in the deep south, to decide their the implementation of standards. This will keep the children ignorant and lacking critical thinking skills. Our nation is already far behind the rest of the first world nations in math and science – why would you do something that allowed us to fall further behind?

    I’m beginning to think that the Republican Party’s deepest desire is a nation packed with a constantly increasing population of ignorant people that are easy to lead. We’re to be the worker drones in their ant colony, toiling away for the queen.

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  12. 12. RSchmidt 3:05 pm 10/16/2012

    @priddseren, it is no surprise that you would throw your lots in with the states who have many times tried to make an end run around the constitution by making creationism part of the curriculum. You’re a typical republican, when a particular policy fails, just take it to an even greater extreme. Again, your made up numbers and paranoid delusions make it clear that, like all tea baggers, you have no answers, just ideology.

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  13. 13. jastrite 3:12 pm 10/16/2012

    More left-wing nonsense from SA. Get back to science before you lose your subscribers.

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  14. 14. RSchmidt 3:13 pm 10/16/2012

    @tucanofulano, there is more science in this article than in all republican policies combined. Centralized incompetence is allowing Kansas, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Missouri, Tennessee, Kentucky and Ohio to replace science with religion in the science classroom. American children deserve better than to have religious fanatics dictating science education.

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  15. 15. RSchmidt 3:16 pm 10/16/2012

    @jastrite, I suspect that the right wing nuts jobs that visit sciam are trolls such as yourself who really have no interest in science anyway, so what does it matter?

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  16. 16. rodestar99 3:40 pm 10/16/2012

    I don’t think that the education system will ever be
    fixed in this country because liberal ideas have undermined the right to discipline or reward students based on achievement. Their attempts at equality have
    pretty much worked …everyone is equally illitereate.
    Diruptions in classes used to be treated with an application of the paddle to the backside of the miscreant. But not any longer…we might hurt their self
    esteem. The basic problem is that the school boards used
    to make the rules and the curriculum and they set the standards for the community. When the federal government took over and began to issue edicts designed to promote equal education they did what all social programs do…they created mediocrity. You don’t elevate the under lower the average achievement..
    The unions have made it impossible to upgrade the quality of teachers or get rid of the ones that should be flipping burgers and they have tied up much of the funds needed for education in pension programs and
    benefits for these same teachers.

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  17. 17. Zexks 4:06 pm 10/16/2012

    @jastrite Is that better of worse than the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology being led by creationist Rep. Paul Broun?

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  18. 18. mihrant 4:53 pm 10/16/2012

    You can immediately tell from the comments that this essay has no place in a scientific magazine. Please, Scientific American, clean up your act!

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  19. 19. Bird/tree/dinosaur/etc. geek 4:56 pm 10/16/2012

    @ RDH: You can say that with a straight face? Wow. You Republicans really do live in fantasyland.

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  20. 20. geojellyroll 6:09 pm 10/16/2012

    What exactly is ‘funding’ suppose to do? Kids don’t learn learn anything in 12 years of schooling?

    Hint…the answer isn’t always ‘spend, spend,spend…spend.’

    With a 16 trillion dollar debt, science from NASA to the EPA is going to be slashed…and decimated if more is spent on fluffy ‘feel good’ programs.

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  21. 21. maurice999 1:34 am 10/17/2012

    Raising the Math standards does not raise the level of understanding of Math. Nor does having more teachers; we need to re-examine the whole teaching and learning process of Math/ Science, and maybe look at more simulation AI feedback software of the students learning process at an individual level. The schools have failed to bring the students to the present level; even CA has debunked some of those early gains reports. Wait until the Minority Activists see this article! These Activists have been arguing that you are going to have even more drop outs, with what is in place. Until social conditions are addressed, what good does it raising standards when the student has no place to study, home life that indescribable, pier groups knocking the books out of the students hands; whole groups will not learn because it is not “Macho.” Also, some of the statistics showed that many of the schools areas with the most money spend had the lowest achievement record. Also as to the Clint era, people were recklessly spending on all kinds of investment schemes and on possessions, exactly like 1928-29; then the collapse occurred as predicted. This is why Clinton has no real recommendations today. Also, why doesn’t all the massive wealthy Democratic Liberals, both private and politicians, share their wealth with all the people they pretend to support; of course that is for “others” to share their wealth, never themselves. Plus the Democrats run for office and their wealth is never challenged; Vance Packard pointed to this scam in the, “Status Seekers.” As to states, even liberal CA has turned down school bond funds (Interesting to see what happens this election); people are tired of supporting failed systems, and with big administration salaries. There must be hundreds or even thousands of CA, state, and local government employees and University Presidents that meet Obama’s criteria of rich annual income of near or over $200K.
    It is time to start new Political parties.

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  22. 22. profchuck 12:53 pm 10/17/2012

    I agree with the posts that decry the presence of politics in a scientific forum. However, this article is purely political thinly wrapped in a scientific critique. Education is in serious trouble in this country and there is plenty of blame to go around. While teaching a freshman introduction to astronomy I was criticized by some religious fundamentalists for suggesting that the Earth was several billion years old and that the cosmos was tens of billions of years in age. I was also criticized by a left leaning group for not including more issues of “social significance” in my teaching. I couldn’t win either way. When political or religious extremism works its way into a science class objectivity goes out the window and propaganda finds a home. I am retired now and no longer have to put up with this nonsense.

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  23. 23. nickyfricky 8:51 am 12/13/2012

    Makes sense.

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