On Wednesday presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, finally let us in on his plans for education. My reaction?
Romney’s nonchalant attitude towards class size is the least of my worries. The plan in its entirety is cause for grave concern and would make me contemplate homeschooling or a sudden move to Finland. And that was after only reading the first eight pages. I think it’s more than fair for me to say that Mitt Romney doesn’t take education seriously. But! Even in the forward by Jeb Bush it says right there “There is no more critical issue facing the United States than the need for education reform”! Yes, it does. And if it is so very important to Camp Romney then why has it taken almost two years for him to make substantial remarks on this most “critical” issue?
Romney isn’t an education guy and his domestic policy is based on getting the private sector in to do their thing and bring on the dolla bills. His approach to P-16 education reads like a page out of the businessman’s handbook rather than someone who has actually had a conversation with an educator.
Which is how he ended up with his now infamous ‘I don’t see how class size makes a difference’ gaffe and a room full of Philadelphia teachers thinking “Say what now?” For anyone who has even paid a bit of attention to education ever knows that class size is on top of the list of why teachers are finding it difficult to actually teach. 25 eight year olds to one adult isn’t conducive to a productive learning environment. Children aren’t getting the time and attention they need in order to be successful and the teacher is trying to keep their head above water. This is not what any person should want for a child and for a Presidential candidate to just shrug at one of the biggest issues facing education makes me think that he doesn’t get it.
Mitt Romney wants dramatic education reform, innovation, wants to promote choice and do something about No Child Left Behind. While he spends a solid four pages bashing the National Education Association he spends about a half a page on each prong of his plan. So while we all know how much the NEA has spent and on what I still have no clue what spending levels Mitt Romney is thinking - not even a ballpark figure - when he says he wants reforms to Title I and IDEA.
Title I is the part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that provides financial assistance to local educational agencies (LEAs) and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families. At the start of his education manifesto Romney says that the achievement gap between students of color and caucasian students is the civil rights issue of our time. He even refers to it as ‘tragic’ and says that our education system is reinforcing a cycle of poverty. Strong and truth in those words. And yet - and there’s always a caveat to anything a politician says - recently Romney enthusiastically endorsed the “Ryan Budget”. A House or Representatives passed measure that cuts $2.7 billion from Title 1 funding; would eliminate Head Start for more than two million children over the next decade; and cuts $2.2 billion from IDEA (the Individual with Disabilities in Education Act) which provides funding to school districts for children with disabilities.
The funding for Title I is received based on the number of high needs students are in a district while funding for IDEA is for districts to “support the development and provision of appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities, or the development and provision of alternate assessments that are valid and reliable for assessing the performance of children with disabilities”. These funds are given to the state which are then given to local education agencies based on the numbers and need of each school district. What Mitt Romney would like to do is have the amount of Title I funds and/or IDEA funds ‘attached’ to a child; thus if a child decides to enter a different school or school district their funds would go with them. Hypothetically speaking should 15 kids leave a district and each kid has $1,000 attached in Title I or IDEA funding then that is $15,000 that the district loses when that kid leaves. Which...call me crazy...wouldn’t that only exacerbate the problem of high needs districts? You know, by taking more money away from them?
While class size is a problem it seems to me that Mitt Romney has much bigger issues than thinking that 30 eight year olds in a room has no impact on their ability to learn. Instead I have more questions than answers and team Romney still doesn’t get it.
So which is it Mitt: Do you want to do something about stopping the cycle of poverty and inequity in our education system or do you want to just keep on keepin’ on with a lot of jargon and nothing in the way of a plan?