Friday, May 25, 2012

Mitt's Education Policy

Mitt Romney rolled out his Education policy, declaring “the gap in educational opportunity and achievement of people of color in this society, I believe, is the civil rights issue of our time.” In a speech Wednesday, Romney proposed expanding charter schools, which are privately run but funded by taxpayers, and creating a voucher-like system in which poor and disabled students could attend private schools, also using public money.

Romney had a hard time finding support at the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia, a largely African-American neighborhood facing economic, educational and social challenges. Local teachers and education leaders rejected some of Romney’s education prescriptions, including his assertion that class size doesn’t matter. The former governor contends that smaller classes are a ploy by teachers unions — one of his favorite targets — to get more teachers hired.

Romney also identified two-parent families as one of three keys to educational success, along with good teachers and strong leadership. Local education leader Abdur-Rahim Islam pushed back, telling Romney that two-parent families are unrealistic in the community. “We will never get to that second part described about having a two-parent situation, parent support, as a key component,” Rahim said.

Steven Morris, a music teacher at the school, disputed Romney’s assertion on class size.

“I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, over 10 years — 13 years — who would say that more students would benefit them. And I can’t think of a parent that would say ‘I would like my kid to be in a room with a lot of kids,’” Morris said. “So I’m kind of wondering where this research comes from.”

Romney cited a McKinsey Global Institute study that examined education systems in foreign countries and had compared U.S. student performance with countries like Singapore, South Korea and Finland, finding that class size didn’t matter.

“Gosh, schools that are the highest performing in the world, their classroom sizes are about the same as in the United States. So it’s not the classroom size that is driving the success of those school systems,” Romney said. Instead, parental involvement and top-flight teachers and administrators are what makes the difference, he said.

Ronald Benner, whose technology classes range from 23 to 28 students, chimed in that “you can give more personalized attention to each student if you have a smaller class size.” Another teacher stressed the importance of keeping classes to no more than 18 students in the critical early primary grades.

Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter held a press conference on a sidewalk outside the school blasting the Republican’s visit.
“I don’t know why this guy’s here,” said Nutter, standing behind an Obama campaign sign. Romney “has suddenly somehow found West Philadelphia, somehow now wants to talk about education.”

Romney does not necessarily expect to do well in Philadelphia, a Democratic stronghold. Nor does the campaign expect to steal a significant block of the African-American vote from Obama in what is shaping up to be a close election. This rare inner-city campaign stop had more to do with outreach to suburban moderates than to African Americans.

An Associated Press poll this month found that 90 percent of blacks would vote for Obama in November and just 5 percent would support Romney. At the same time, just 3 percent of blacks said Romney “understands the problems of people like you” better than Obama does.

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