As the governor of Massachusetts from 2003 to 2007, Mitt Romney championed aggressive education policies later embraced by the Obama administration and by other states.
But for most of his second run at the Republican presidential nomination, voters have heard little about his education record in Massachusetts or initiatives that Mr. Romney was largely unable to sell to that state's Democratic-controlled legislature.
Instead, in a high-profile May 23 speech on education, Mr. Romney spoke at length about school choice, pushing a bold--but administratively tricky--plan to let disadvantaged students and those in special education take their federal aid to any campus, including a private school.
Mr. Romney, who last week secured enough delegates to clinch the 2012 GOP nomination, is pushing hard to distinguish his education policies from those President Barack Obama espouses. The former business executive has floated market-based proposals that appeal to a conservative electorate, and leveled criticism of teachers' union influence on school policy--and with the Obama administration.
At the same time, Mr. Romney continues to share some administration policy priorities, particularly Mr. Obama's fondness for charter schools and insistence on tying teacher evaluation in part to students' outcomes on standardized tests, both of which have rattled union leaders.
Mr. Romney's decade-long evolution on education issues also has seen him move away from some of the most extreme positions taken by some in his party, including abolition of the U.S. Department of Education and repeal of the No Child Left Behind Act, which he nonetheless would like to overhaul.
The policy overlap between Mr. Romney and the man he is seeking to replace comes as no surprise to William H. Guenther, the president of MassInsight, a nonpartisan research organization in Boston that advised Mr. Romney on K-12 issues during his tenure as governor. He places Mr. Romney among a set of "liberal and conservative education reformers" focused on a combination of "excellent goals and no excuses."
"Governor Romney's education reform packages were ahead of their time," said Mr. Guenther, a registered Democrat. "Putting aside the lightning-rod issue of school choice, there's a lot of common ground between the candidates."
Although Mr. Romney's May 23 speech, given in Washington to the Latino Coalition's annual economic summit, touched only lightly on his Massachusetts record, he highlighted the state's strong showing on national tests in the education chapter of his 2010 book No Apology. He noted that, by his third year in office, the state's 4th and 8th graders scored first in the nation on both math and reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
The Romney campaign repeated those figures when President Obama's camp questioned the former governor's commitment to education issues after the recent speech.
But others in the Bay State say that Massachusetts was a national K-12 leader before Mr. Romney took office, and that his policies had little to do with its success.
"We were on a rising course, and he held the course during that time," said S. Paul Reville, who serves as secretary of education to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick and has been appointed to the state board of education by both Republican and Democratic governors.
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