By Dennis Van Roekel, President of the National Education Association (NEA)
It was hard not to be taken aback earlier this month when presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his top supporters, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, again demonstrated how out of touch they are with ordinary Americans by voicing their desire to cut back on police, firefighters, and teachers. But the 3 million teachers, cafeteria workers, librarians, and other educators I work with weren’t surprised.
That’s because Mr. Romney has already revealed how little he understands about the issues that are important to the rest of us. Take his education agenda, for example. Today, few topics unite liberals and conservatives, but almost everyone seems to agree that George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law has failed. There’s almost unilateral agreement that NCLB’s focus on standardized testing and punishing is wrong; it hurts our schools and our children.
Not only is Romney’s education agenda short on details and long on inflammatory rhetoric, but the main proposal seems to be turning back the clock and resurrecting flawed policies from the George W. Bush administration. Romney has even surrounded himself with education advisers from the Bush era.
It’s clear that Romney is out of touch with the concerns of middle-class families — his education plan ignores what they want and need for their children, and demonstrates total disdain for public schools and educators. When he made a speech about education, Romney blamed teachers but said nothing about any meaningful plan for building student success, engaging parents, guaranteeing equity, or addressing the special needs of students living in poverty.
Romney hasn’t said much about his education record as governor of Massachusetts either — probably because he did little to improve education in the state. In fact, he cut early education and pre-k funding, vetoed $10 million for kindergarten expansion, questioned the benefits of early education, and suggested Head Start was a failure.
Romney also has dismissed the importance of small classes — one of the most important indicators of how well children do in school. Parents know that the more individual attention their child receives from a teacher, the better chance their child has to succeed. Perhaps this is why Mitt Romney chose the exclusive Belmont Hill School for Boys for his children, where there was one teacher for every six students.
Ask any teacher or education support professional, and they’ll tell you that students need to be at the center of reform. Our children deserve smaller class sizes; investments in early childhood education; better preparation for the worldwide economy; up-to-date textbooks and computers; and a well-rounded education that includes history, arts, PE, and music.
We also need to ensure that every student has qualified, caring, and committed teachers. You’ll hear politicians like Romney spend a lot of time talking about getting unsuccessful teachers out of the classroom. But that’s not what we talk about as educators. We talk about putting in place a system where no unqualified or under-trained teacher ever gets into the classroom in the first place.
We must raise the bar for those entering the profession. There must be greater focus on preparing, mentoring, and supporting new teachers. Then, once teachers get into the classroom, we can’t abandon them; we must provide more relevant training, reliable evaluation systems to measure teacher effectiveness, and yes, better salaries to recruit and retain great teachers.
A sound and sustainable education platform requires that parents, teachers, support professionals, school administrators, and community leaders work together for the sake of students. Romney might believe that blaming teachers is a shrewd political strategy, but it does nothing to help prepare students for the challenging world of the 21st century. Our children deserve better.
Views expressed in this post are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the endorsement of the Learning First Alliance or any of its members.
The opinions expressed in Transforming Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.