But Mr. Romney, who writes in his book that he helped speed the implementation of Question 2, the ballot initiative, which voters adopted, believes he made the right move.
"Time and again, I heard from parents in the immigrant community who applauded the decision to scrap bilingual education in favor of English," he wrote.
Like many in his party--whose members in Congress overwhelmingly backed the NCLB law championed by President George W. Bush in 2001--Mr. Romney's views on education have gone through an evolution.
As a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 1994, running against Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Mr. Romney said he wanted to eliminate the Education Department. He also advocated policies that are still big parts of his K-12 agenda, including expanding vouchers and charter schools.
But, as a contender for the Republican nomination in 2008, Mr. Romney said he had been on the wrong track as a Senate candidate. He counted himself a supporter of the NCLB law--and during a May 15, 2007, debate even identified the law as an area in which his own views differed sharply from those of the GOP base, which by then had begun to clamor for a more limited federal role in K-12 policy.
During the 2012 campaign, Mr. Romney has been much quieter on No Child Left Behind, praising its focus on testing and accountability while calling for turning back most decisionmaking to states.
He hasn't yet unveiled a comprehensive proposal for reauthorization of the law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But the bare-bones plan he sketched out last month is consistent with the general direction of some Republicans in Congress, such as Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, the chairman of the House education committee--and amounts to a major rollback of the accountability system at the heart of the law.
The Romney plan would rely chiefly on transparency as the lever for school improvement, calling on states to craft A-F grading systems to gauge schools' performance, as well as create "report cards" that would include information such as state results on NAEP.
Mr. Romney's position on the law shouldn't be taken as an indication that he doesn't think low-performing schools need to be turned around, said Martin West, the K-12 co-chair of his education advisory team, in a May 29 interview on the "On Point" public-radio program.
Instead, the candidate believes "the federal government is poorly positioned to specify what needs to be done at the local level," said Mr. West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The shift isn't surprising, said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank.
"It completely reflects the center of gravity in the Republican Party," said Mr. Hess, who writes a blog for Education Week's website. "There's no way to tell if Romney's heart is where it was in '08. The balance of forces has shifted on this issue, and he has clearly followed suit."
In many ways, Mr. Romney has a challenge on education similar to one he has on health care, said Andrew J. Rotherham, a co-founder of Bellwether Education Partners, a Washington nonprofit group that works to improve outcomes for low-income students.
Mr. Romney won enactment of a health-care plan in Massachusetts that was seen as a model for President Obama's 2010 health-care law.
But he can't talk about his past priorities, said Mr. Rotherham, who served as an education aide under President Bill Clinton, because such measures would smack of overreach at a time when the GOP wants to see a slimmer federal government.
School Choice, Teachers
Mr. Romney's marquee proposal this time around would allow parents to use federal aid from the $14.5 billion Title I grant program for disadvantaged students and the $11.6 billion in state grants for special education at other public schools in their districts or states, at charter or private schools, or for online courses and tutoring.
The proposal raises a lot of tricky implementation questions, said Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst with the Education Commission of the States, in Denver. For one thing, he said, the federal funds would likely only cover a fraction of the cost of educating a child at a private school, so local officials would have to elect to direct state and district dollars as well.
Meanwhile, Mr. Romney, like the president, calls for expanding high-quality charter schools. And, like Mr. Obama, he wants to combine a myriad of teacher-quality programs into a single funding stream.
Mr. Romney is seeking to scrap the requirement that all teachers must be highly qualified as defined under the NCLB law and to prod states to revise their teacher-evaluation policies--something that Mr. Obama is also pushing in a plan offering states waivers of key NCLB mandates.
Mr. Romney wants to expand the $20 million D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program for students in Washington, a program whose funding Mr. Obama has proposed killing.
On higher education, the GOP candidate favors bolstering the role of the private sector, which he contends has been hurt by the administration's decision to end the Federal Family Education Loan Program and to ensure that all loans originate through the Education Department.
Advising the Candidate
Mr. Romney's long roster of education advisers reads like an invitation to a reunion of President George W. Bush's appointees on K-12 issues. Eleven of Mr. Romney's 18 education advisers--most notably, former U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige--served in the Bush administration in some capacity or were appointed to education panels by Mr. Bush.
President Barack Obama has used cash and executive authority to make a deep impact on national education policy--and earned critics on both sides of the political aisle. Check back next week for an Education Week story on Obama's Education record.
But the person most closely associated with the 43rd president's NCLB law--Margaret Spellings--is missing from the list. Ms. Spellings, who helped craft the law as White House domestic-policy adviser and then served as education secretary in Mr. Bush's second term, had been part of the Romney team earlier this year. She bowed out because she felt the work conflicted with her role as a top education adviser to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
But Ms. Spellings continues to have warm feelings about Mr. Romney's education policies, particularly his record in Massachusetts.
"He was one of the best governors in the country on education," she said in interview.
Library Intern Amy Wickner contributed to this article.
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