Panelists Hope for Bipartisanship in Education Reform

Though education reform did not play a prominent role in the discourse surrounding the 2012 presidential election, there is hope for bipartisan compromise on the issue during President Obama’s second term, according to panelists at a discussion at the Graduate School of Education on Thursday.

The panelists said that education was not a major focus in the 2012 presidential election because the complex issues at the forefront of education policy are not important to the average voter.

Assistant professor of Education at the Ed School Martin R. West said that while voters tend to have low impressions of the American public school system as a whole, they tend to rate their local public schools highly. “To the extent that people perceive education as a problem in the U.S.—and I think they do—they perceive it as someone else’s problem,” he said.

The panelists said that, in the next few years, Republicans and Democrats alike will have to consider substantial changes to education policy.

“Education is one of those issues in American politics where there is legitimate hope for bipartisan collaboration,” West said.

West, who served as an advisor on K-12 education policy for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, said that the Republican party will have an opportunity during the next four years to put forth a vision for the role of the federal government in education.

Massachusetts Secretary of Education S. Paul Reville, who served as moderator for the discussion, said that though education was not a major platform for Harvard Law School professor Elizabeth Warren during her successful Senate campaign, he thought she was attuned to the needs of the middle class, which includes public education. “I think she’s more education conscious than Scott Brown,” he said.

For Nadine R. Rubinstein ’13, leader of the Harvard chapter of the national nonprofit Students for Education Reform, the American education system needs fundamental change. “For me personally, there’s nothing more important than improving education in terms of making America better, in terms of its economy, in terms of social cohesion, and combating the increasing polarization of politics,” she said.

Though she said she does not think federal education policies such as No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are without flaw, she added that they have the ability to affect change on a broad scale. “I think the federal government’s biggest role can just be using federal money to incentivize certain changes or behaviors,” she said.

—Staff writer Elizabeth S. Auritt can be reached at eauritt@college.harvard.edu.

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