Romney’s Big Education Speech

It’s safe to say...I’m not a fan of it.

On the other hand, I’m a conservative so I’m not the target audience. It will probably play well with the groups it was aimed at (Moms, mushy suburban voters, etc).

You can read the whole thing here, I’ll just pull out a few bits that illustrate my problem with his approach.

More than 150 years ago, our nation pioneered public education.  We’ve now fallen way behind.

Now coincidence isn’t causality but the federal government wasn’t involved in public education when it was pioneered and I bet if you look at the end of the golden age so many seem to yearn for, you’d find that the more the federal government got involved the worst things got. Now, I’m not saying the federal government is responsible for all the ills of public education or getting the feds out of it is a silver bullet fix but surely the “severely conservative” candidate would show some modesty about the ability the national government’s ability to do something in this area.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Let’s not kid ourselves – we are in the midst of a National Education Emergency. The only reason we don’t hear more about it is because our economic troubles have taken our national attention away from the classroom.  But if unemployment was where it should be and home values were going up, there is no question that the crisis in American education would be the great cause of this campaign.

Of course, the jobs and housing failures of these past few years only make the need for educational improvement all the more critical.  So I’ll be blunt: I don’t like the direction of American education, and as President, I will do everything in my power to reverse this decline.

Much as you have in your own business careers, I’ve found that you can’t expect dramatically different results unless you are open to dramatic change.  As president, I will pursue bold policy changes that will restore the promise of our nation’s education system.

Oh good. Another national emergency that the President is going to take on. Because if there’s one thing this country has tried over the last half century it’s big “dramatic change” in what DC demands of local schools. Of course that’s always worked in the past so surely it will again.

As President, I will give the parents of every low-income and special needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school.  For the first time in history, federal education funds will be linked to a student, so that parents can send their child to any public or charter school, or to a private school, where permitted.  And I will make that choice meaningful by ensuring there are sufficient options to exercise it.

To receive the full complement of federal education dollars, states must provide students with ample school choice.  In addition, digital learning options must not be prohibited.  And charter schools or similar education choices must be scaled up to meet student demand.

I guess that sounds nice if you accept the premiss of federal funding  but I’m not sure how that work in reality. On many occasions Romney has said the answer to big problems is freeing states to be more creative and bloc-granting their federal funds. How would a state or local school district do any planning if they didn’t know how the parents would decide how to direct their personal federal money? If the money isn’t really in the control of the parents but just a requirement that state and local governments offer a menu of schools, how is this real reform and why is the federal government better placed to make the judgement on what’s sufficient than state or local governments?

Parental choice will hold schools responsible for results, but parents can only exercise that choice effectively if they have good information.  No Child Left Behind helped our nation take a giant step forward in bridging this information gap.  But the law is not without its weaknesses.  As president, I will break the political logjam that has prevented successful reform of the law.  I will reduce federal micromanagement while redoubling efforts to ensure that schools are held responsible for results.

For example, parents shouldn’t have to navigate a cryptic evaluation system to figure out how their kids’ schools are performing.  States must provide a simple-to-read and widely available public report card that evaluates each school.  These report cards will provide accurate and easy-to-understand information about student and school performance.  States will continue to design their own standards and tests, but the report cards will provide information that parents can use to make informed choices.


Romney is going to reduce micro-management but then mandate “simple-to-read” report cards for schools. Obviously federal bureaucrats will write regulations about what “easy-to-read”, “easy-to-understand” and “widely available” mean. They will also pass judgements on the materials create at every level and then require changes as needed. No micro-managing here!

We will take bold steps to ensure our system welcomes and rewards the best teachers.  As president, I will make it my goal to ensure that every classroom has a quality teacher.

Oh good…more bold steps. The idea that a President can or even should “ensure” every teacher is a quality teacher is laughable on its face. Kind of like the idea the federal government (or any government) can ensure that no child is ever left behind.

Yes, that’s just goofy rhetoric but it’s important. For too long politicians, especially at the federal level, have overstated what they can provide and what people should rightfully expect from them. At some point if conservatives don’t start saying, “no” and explaining why, what’s the point of this exercise in republican government?

There are currently 82 programs in ten agencies that spend $4 billion on teacher quality.  As president, I will consolidate these programs, and block grant them to states that adopt innovative policies.  For example, states will be rewarded if they regularly evaluate teachers for their effectiveness and compensate the best teachers for their success.  Teaching is a highly valued profession that must attract and retain the best and brightest.

So a President Romney isn’t interested in scaling back the reach of the federal government, just “consolidating” and make existing programs more efficient. And help me out here, when did ensuring “teacher quality” become something the federal government is supposed to be doing? And why in the world does anyone think it’s even remotely qualified to do it?

In 2008, the National Education Association spent more money on campaigns than any other organization in the country.  And 90% of those funds went to Democrats.

That’s a great talking point and he should hammer the hell out of it.

When I became Governor, we were in the midst of instituting tough, bi-partisan education reforms.  They included the requirement that every student pass a test to graduate from high school.  The test came under attack from the unions.  But we stood our ground.

We also offered our best students a four-year, tuition-free scholarship to the state college of their choice.  I called it the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, after two Massachusetts citizens who understood the importance of education to our nation.

Every year I’d ask a school principal to invite the students who scored in the top 25% on the exam to a special assembly.  After some words about hard work, I’d ask them to reach under their chair and remove an envelope that had been taped there.  And I’d watch as each of them would open the enclosed letter.

Every year, I’d stand in front of the room and the same scene would unfold:

At first, you could hear a pin drop.  Then each student’s eyes would get big and proud smiles would creep across their faces as they found out how well they had done on the exam.  And then they would read the part of the letter where they learned they’d earned an Adams Scholarship.  The smiles turned into cheers – and the sound was deafening.

I got more hugs on Adams Scholarship day than I did at Christmas.  Kids would bring me their cell phones so I could tell their parents the exciting news.  And parents – more than once – told me that they had been worried they would not be able to afford college and that the scholarship would make a difference.

I can’t tell you how much I hate that crap.

First, it follows a section in his speech where he talks about government fueling the rising cost of college. So hey,  let’s celebrate giving out state funded degrees! What about tax payers who had to scrimp and save to send their kids to school and pay the freight for these “free” scholarships?

Which brings me to my biggest pet peeve…I hate politicians who get off on getting thanks for spending other people’s money. How about instead of all the hugs you got, you suggest these fortunate students write letters thanking random taxpayers who are actually footing the bill whether they like it or not?

I think Romney has the right instincts about school choice and his critique of Obama and the Democrats favoring teacher unions over students is spot on but I don’t see how his faith in his ability to develop a better technocratic, top-down solution is going to produce anything other than more money for those very unions.

Scott Walker and Chris Christie (and as I was quickly reminded, Bobby Jindal) have done more to advance the cause of education reform in the last two years than any President ever can. I’d rather see a plan that forces governors like them be responsible for the quality of education in their state and let the people demand action from them. No federal program, no matter how efficient, “bold” or “dramatic” can take the place of solid state and local leadership.


About Drew

I blog about politics and hockey because I sort of understand those things. I'd blog about women but I'll never understand them.

Posted on May 23, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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