Romney stubs toe in flawed education pitch

 

"Ok, ok. So one-hundreth, of one-hundred percent...that equals...ME!"

By DeWayne Wickham

Originally posted on www.usatoday.com

 

In its planning, Mitt Romney’s recent foray into a west Philadelphia charter school was the kind of well-timed incursion that has made Navy SEALs legendary. He went to that Democratic stronghold to talk about the nation’s troubled public schools, the soft underbelly of President Obama‘s support in urban America.

But in its execution, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s visit to the Universal Bluford Charter School was a strategic blunder — the kind GOPcandidates often make in black neighborhoods. Romney went there to tout charter schools, which many black parents like, and ended up discounting the importance of small class sizes, a major selling point for the creation of such schools.

At the Bluford school, Romney told a small group of charter school supporters that his experience as Massachusetts governor and the one study he cited suggest that “getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key” to improved learning in public schools. He didn’t acknowledge the mountain of evidence which disputes that contention.

Class-size bumble

Romney’s dismissal of the need for smaller classes in public schools was an unforced political error that drew polite, but unyielding challenge from the people he went into west Philadelphia to court. This gaffe came a day after he gave a major education policy address and sounded like he’d stolen a page from George W. Bush‘s compassionate conservative playbook.

“Here we are in the most prosperous nation, but millions of kids are getting a Third World education. And, America’s minority children suffer the most. This is the civil rights issue of our era. It’s the great challenge of our time,” Romney told the Latino Coalition as part of his release of a 34-page education policy blueprint.

If Romney gets his way, the cornerstone of his effort to address this civil rights problem will be an “unprecedented” expansion of “parental choice.” He wants federal education funds to be linked to students so parents will have more leverage for getting their kids into better performing public, charter or private schools.

Parental choice

Parental choice is the mantra of politicians who try to deflect attention from the failure of states to provide all schoolchildren with an equal educational opportunity. It’s the alternative many Republicans hawk in response to demands for a stepped up campaign to fix, not abandon, failing public schools. It’s the code words of politicians who offer some children an escape hatch out of troubled schools, while leaving many others behind.

Parental choice is the fool’s gold of education reform. Arguing for parental choice is the low-cost plan Romney hopes will win him an incremental increase in support from blacks, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic, but whose children are more likely to be trapped in an underperforming public school. That won’t work.

Black voters aren’t that easily swayed. They know improved educational opportunity requires high-cost solutions such as smaller class sizes and an expansion of Head Start, the federally funded program that jumpstarts learning among preschool children from low-income families. But Romney discounts the educational value of smaller classes and made no mention of the need for a beefed up Head Start in his education policy paper.

So while the frustration of many black parents with children in public schools may be the Achilles’ heel of black support for Obama’s re-election, Romney’s education plan doesn’t have the killing force of an arrow from Paris’ bow.

See on www.usatoday.com

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