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Romney’s Book Showcases Education Record, Policy Ideas

By Alyson Klein — December 30, 2011 4 min read
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Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the current GOP presidential frontruner, wants to see schools tout the benefits of marriage and pay their beginning teachers more.

He also thinks the No Child Left Behind Act was a step in the right direction because “only the federal government had the clout to force testing through the barricade mounted by the national teachers’ unions.”

Those are just some of the views sketched out in Romney’s book, “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness” , which was published back in March of 2010, in advance of Romney’s White House bid. The book devotes a whole entire chapter to education, in which he emphasizes schools’ role in preparing students for a changing workforce, and on education as a civil right.

And in the book, Romney talks about the relationship between social issues and education, in a way he hasn’t yet on the campaign trail.

“I believe it’s time for Americans to be honest with ourselves,” Romney writes. “We will never be able to truly address the achievement grap until we eliminate the high rate of out-of-wedlock births in our country. It’s not a coincidence that student achievement scores by ethnicity mirror the rates of out-of-wedlock births.” He cautions that this isn’t just a problem for minorities since “most out-of-wedlock children are born to white mothers.” And he says that kids must be taught in school about “the advantages of marriage.”

Romney adds: “Any discussion of out-of-wedlock births must exercise extreme care and compassion to make sure we in no way appear to judge or condemn these moms or their children. These moms are some of the best people we know.”

Romney hits teacher quality hard. He suggests setting a high bar for education schools and opening up alternative pathways. More controversial is his pitch for an increase in salaries for beginning teachers—that’s a bit unusual for a Republican. He also wants to see a movement away from a “lockstep seniority-based grid.”

Romney has some ideas on social studies education, too, where he wades into some culture war issues. It bugs him that “progessives have de-emphasized the subjects that had previously been considered essential”, such as the history of Western and American civilization. “They presented all the world’s cultures to our children and insisted that none was superior to others,” he wrote.

He also cites research showing that class size has no impact on student achievement (complete with charts and graphs). And he advocates for expanding school choice, particularly charter schools.

He’s a testing fan. He rejects the claim that No Child Left Behind advocates “teaching to the test”, which he attributes to teachers’ unions.

“‘Teaching to the test’ can only mean teaching the fundamentals fo math, algebra, geometry, calculus, reading comprehension, and English composition. If giving these students these skills is ‘teaching to the test’ then I’m all for it.”

And Romney likes the idea of using technology to make it easier to teach kids with different learning styles. Teachers’ unions oppose a “good deal” of the new “computer learning revolution”, he writes. He’s a fan of homeschooling too. (He tips his hat to his sister in law, Becky Davies, who has homeschooled four of her children.)

Romney is not a fan of teachers’ unions generally, calling them an “obstacle” to education reform. (He’s hardly the first Republican—or policymaker—to take up that mantle.)

“Teachers’ unions do their very best to secure...insulations from performance for their members, and the results are lack of accountability, rising pay as a simple function of years on the job, and near-absolute job security,” he writes. “These have a deadening impact on student achievement. I don’t blame teachers’ unions...I blame administrators, school boards, and parents for saying yes, even when schools are manifestly failing their students.”

And if Romney could “wave a wand over American education and get one result”? He’d want to see schools rededicate themselves to teaching writing.

Romney also showcases his record as Massachusetts governor. Here’s what he defines as his “education sucesses” back in the Bay State:

•Creating a scholarship for the students who scored in the top 25 percent of their high school class on state graduation exams. The scholarship could be used at any state institution and was worth about $2,000 a year.

•Vetoing a bill that would have prohibited the creation of new charter schools.

•Implementing the state’s high school exit exam program. Romney threatened to pull state funding from one district (New Bedford) when the mayor threatened to give a high school diploma to all students, regardless of whether or not they passed the test. The mayor relented.

—Championing “English-immersion” programs for English-language learners, rather than “bilingual education.”

Romney also seems to have the biggest cadre of education advisers in the GOP field right now.

They include: Nina Rees, who served as assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement under President George W. Bush; Marty West, a Harvard professor, and F. Philip Handy, the former chairman of the Florida State Board of Education under former Gov. Jeb Bush. (Handy worked as an education adviser on Sen. John McCain of Arizona’s campaign back in 2008.)

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