For every ill in higher education, Romney sees a market solution. Private banks and other lenders should play more of a role in financing college, not less. Romney would “encourage market entry by new education models” (quoted from his white paper “A Chance for Every Child”) and reduce regulations on higher-education institutions.

This is why he has held up the for-profit college Full Sail University as a model for higher education—an institution that, like most for-profit colleges, has low completion rates and higher student debt ratios than traditional colleges. How any of this would improve access or the quality of higher education is not clear but really is beside the point: In Romney’s “education-as-commodity” worldview, there is one solution to every problem—let the Invisible Hand of the market work its magic.

Romney’s views on K-12 education also largely stem from this education-as-commodity philosophy. His proposals for improving the nation’s schools are a hodgepodge of recycled ideas that have been floating around in right-wing think tanks for the last four decades. He wants more taxpayer-funded vouchers for parents to remove their children from public schools to send them to private or parochial schools.

More charter schools—especially for-profit charters—that suck more money from the public school system and tend to leave special-needs students and English language learners behind. He wants to tie teacher pay to standardized test scores, which—while framed as “accountability”—is usually code on the right for dismantling teacher unions.

Barack Obama’s record and vision on education stands in stark contrast to the approach favored by Romney. Now, to be sure, Obama has rankled many of those on the left with some of his education policies.

For instance, the Race to the Top initiative rewarded states that increased the number of charter schools, put in place teacher evaluation systems, and relied more heavily on standardized testing. And while he has yet to comprehensively revisit and revise No Child Left Behind, Obama has offered states relief from some of its most severe mandates which are due to kick in by 2014. With these policies, he has taken a more moderate approach that has not always played well with the base of the Democratic Party. But with these reforms, the Obama administration has also promised to reward school districts across the country with more resources.

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