"What proposals he had were more ideologically driven ... than any deep thinking about what it takes to close achievement gaps and improve education for all children," Mr. Reville said.
Like Mr. Obama as president, Mr. Romney as governor sought to promote rigorous academic standards. He persuaded the Massachusetts school board to add science to the list of tested subjects under the state's accountability plan. And he vigorously defended the state's system of high school exit exams as a graduation requirement, a policy put in place by his predecessors.
When New Bedford Mayor Scott Lang decided in 2006 to let the local high school give diplomas to all students--even if they hadn't passed the state-mandated exams--Mr. Romney threatened to withhold education aid to the district.
Mr. Lang "came around to my point of view," Mr. Romney later wrote.
The governor also pushed for Massachusetts to be tested as a separate "country" on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMSS, assessment in 2007, said Robert Costrell, who served as Mr. Romney's top education adviser when he was governor and is now an adviser to his campaign. Minnesota is the only other state that took that step; both states stacked up well against international competitors.
But most of the items on Mr. Romney's agenda fell flat in a legislature dominated by Democrats.
For instance, Mr. Romney put forth a package of proposals in 2005 and 2006 that would have offered $5,000 bonuses to teachers who were among the state's top third of performers. New math and science teachers would have also been given extra pay, along with educators who led Advanced Placement courses in those subjects.
The governor also pushed to tie teacher evaluation in part to student performance--a policy that the Obama administration made a cornerstone of the president's Race to the Top competitive-grant program.
And Mr. Romney's vision for school turnaround includes many of the principles that the Obama administration incorporated into a supercharged version of the School Improvement Grant program, unveiled in 2009. For instance, Mr. Romney wanted to make it easier for superintendents to remove underperforming teachers and principals.
He also wanted to let districts convert perennially struggling schools into charters, and to offer grants to help low-performing schools partner with outside experts.
In addition, he put forward a plan to require parents in the lowest-performing districts to attend parenting classes in order to enroll their children in full-day kindergarten. That idea met with resistance from some parents, who found it to be insulting and targeted at low-income people, according to published reports.
Mr. Romney testified before the Massachusetts legislature on his package of reforms, recalled Mr. Costrell, but the appeal didn't drum up much support. Meanwhile, some state lawmakers remember him as disengaged from the legislative process and unwilling to collaborate.
"I don't have good memories, to say the least," said Rep. Patricia Haddad, a Democrat, who chaired the Massachusetts House education committee from 2005 to 2008 and now serves as the state House's speaker pro tempore. "I felt like he wanted me to do what he wanted me to do. It wasn't, 'Let's talk and find a balance.' "
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