Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mitt Romney's No Apology 8: Education

In my latest reading of No Apology: Believe in America, Mitt Romney talks about education.

I enjoyed Romney's anecdotes about the teachers he had----how he was encouraged in school to write, and how one teacher of his tactfully critiqued his students about their writing.  Romney wryly says on page 211: "Those who read this book may quarrel with the success of the Cranbrook [school's] writing program in my case.  But at least I gained the confidence to give it a try."

I was also surprised to read that Romney and at least one of his kids received part of their education in public schools, for you'd expect for most rich people to go to private schools.  And they did, but they also spent time in the public educational system.

In terms of Romney's proposals regarding education, Romney argues against the idea that more funding and smaller class sizes mean better educational outcomes, and he appeals to parts of Massachusetts and other countries in making his case.  For Romney, the teacher's union wants more funding and smaller class sizes because that would lead to more teachers being employed and paid more.  (Romney may have a point here, but I wonder if more teachers could lead to each teacher getting paid less.)  Moreover, according to Romney, there is a lot of money in the public educational system that goes to bureaucrats.

Romney's not necessarily against paying teachers more, however, but he's against paying them more on the basis of seniority (and, on a related note, he doesn't care for the fact that bad teachers can keep their jobs just because they have seniority).  He's actually in favor of paying starting teachers more because that could encourage the best and the brightest to enter the teaching profession.  One problem he has with the current educational system is that the current crop of teachers is not always from the students who did well in school.

Romney favors giving high school seniors a test to determine if they will graduate.  When he was governor, those who got at or above a certain score received scholarships to any college in Massachusetts.
Regarding school choice, Romney expresses skepticism that a voucher system is politically feasible.  (UPDATE: He supports vouchers later in the book.)  But he believes that the Catholic schools in Boston made the public schools there better, as public schools sought to compete.  And Romney is a proponent of charter schools, which parents can use or not use, based on how good they are.

You can read this article to see a critique of Romney's educational policies when he was governor.  According to the article, the scholarship for those who did well on the test was inadequate and did not make much of a difference.  The article is also critical of Romney's stance as governor towards bilingual education, and it says that Massachusetts' high performance in education was not due to Romney's policies but rather to reforms that resulted in more spending on education.  And the article states that Romney's aloof style and failure to engage people in the educational profession was problematic.

That critique may very well be valid.  At the same time, I agree with what Romney defines as his goal: to make sure that the educational system is working, rather than just throwing money at the problem.  I'm not against educational spending, but I believe that steps should be taken to ensure that the money is being put to good use.

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