Romney's Education: The Student as Itinerant

Why do the educated have such a hard time coming up with means and methods to educate America’s children? Feed them, make sure they aren’t hungry. Place students in information-rich environments. Let trained teachers pick their favorite, successful methods, exposing students to a diversity of learning interactions and a tool kit ready for any problem. Like we do at church, feed the whole community in the school cafeteria once a month. Involve students in setting their own goals. Give grades for creative fun. Shrink class size. Say “please” and “thank you” quietly. Have I said anything you disagree with? Not yet?

Well, how about this: cut teachers. Ignore or remove the regulations for equal access. Bring business people into the business of education. Make pastors principals. Teach science by outlining what God created in each of the six days He took to make the world. Give parents vouchers; let them shop for seats in great schools. Do we still agree? Shouldn’t parents have control over the direction, quality, and material of their children’s education?

That’s the question and assertion Mitt Romney affirms. In doing so, his is the single most destructive proposal for America’s classrooms put forward by a major party candidate in a century. His plan would affect America’s quality of life, its economic future, its foreign policy, its crime rate, and health statistics. It matters as much or more than jobs. Yet it been reviewed only in passing, although it has some big “whoa’s!”

An education voucher is no different from the solicitations you regularly get in the mail that look like checks but are designed to have you buy into a scheme that costs more than you receive. In the end, it represents no benefit to you, and the limited benefits are transferred only to a few. The beauty of Romney’s educational voucher scam is it is a two-fer. It provides a direct tax subsidy, from public tax monies, for children attending private schools that often have selective admissions and erect barriers to a wide variety of students—the poor, handicapped, the gifted, those with different religions. So vouchers put money into the pockets of the rich. The second part of the voucher program is its  promise of hideous false hope. With a sizable check but too small to cover tuition even at low cost private or religious schools, parents will sally forth to shop for better education which the voucher will not buy, since it doesn’t cover the costs. Moreover, schools with good records of achievement have limited numbers of seats. The voucher doesn’t ensure a student will be able to enroll. Many schools may reduce their class size in order to prevent an influx of students who don’t have the right fit (read: wrong color, family income, ethnic heritage, or other variables used as barriers). Who thinks young Juan’s or Tyrone’s mothers, the housekeepers at the local convention hotel, will be able to use their vouchers to enroll their children in the same school as the general manager’s son?

Vouchers simply jiggle coins in a sack. The payments will be insufficient to make a difference on the education of those who truly need it, but will offer pocketed income for the rich who don’t.

Mitt Romney also has other ways to improve education: cut teachers. It’s a notion so absurd that the Ivy-wise Mitt denies he said it, intended to say it, thought it, and finally condemns his own idea. But cutting federal support for local education will cut teachers. Title One reading and math teachers who work with our most disadvantaged, lowest achieving kids. Mitt is saying he would simply write them off. Those jobs would be cut and those funds would go to vouchers for the rich.

Mitt also thinks the qualifications to teach are too high and prevent too many who desire to teach from entering the field. So he wants to end certification all together. Here’s why, from his May 23 white paper:

No Child Left Behind required that all teachers of core academic subjects be “highly qualified.” Although well-intentioned, there is no evidence that this “certification” requirement is an indicator of teacher effectiveness. Instead, the primary effect of the requirement has been to add additional time-consuming procedures that ironically prevent some of the most highly-qualified individuals from ever entering the profession.”

And the outcome of dropping or ending industry standards is that education will flourish in a glorious revolution:

These reforms will transform the teaching profession from one burdened by bureaucracy, focused on certification, and evaluated based on years of service to one that attracts the best and the brightest, builds crucial skills, and rewards effective performance.

Are you thinking about the above: the worst and the dumbest; lowering skills, and destroying performance by eliminating review and standards? I am.

The irony is Julius Rosenwald, a German Jewish immigrant and one of the founders of Sears, undertook the vast work of building public schools in southern rural communities in the early decades of the last century. He built them by the hundreds in each state, over 5,000 schools nationally. His seed money spurred local communities to raise matching funds and contribute labor and pride to a new school building, a gleaming symbol of hope and progress for communities, a place of dreams for those whose lives were ground in the dust. In segregation, those schools were gateways to success and community stability.

Now, in freedom, another industry titan wants to send itinerant students like beggars in search of education far away from their communities to places where they will be met with closed doors. As they wander, their old classrooms will be emptied, their new innovative teachers will have no standards, much of their work will be done in digital schools without a relationship to a person who can make a difference.

But of course, we know from his plan, that makes no difference to Mitt Romney.