Thursday, August 9, 2007

Heeere's .... Mitt Romney

Hello, EWA'ers -- it's Greg Toppo from USA Today. I've been asked to follow the Republicans' great-hair candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

So far it has been easy -- Romney doesn't have much to say about education, aside from a few predictable GOP positions. But he has great news potential, so stay tuned.

First a little background:
Willard Mitt Romney was born in Detroit on March 12, 1947, and attended private schools in Michigan. He attended Stanford for a semester, then spent two years as a Mormon missionary in France. He was BYU's valedictorian in 1971, and went on to earn MBA and law degrees from Harvard.

And yes, he's an Eagle Scout.

He's been married to the same woman, Ann Romney, since 1969 -- they have five sons and 10 grandchildren. Mrs. Romney was diagnosed with MS in 1998.

Business background: Management consultant, famously president of the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympic games.

Political background: His father is George Romney, former Michigan governor and HUD secretary under Nixon.

Son Mitt ran unsuccessfully in 1994 for Ted Kennedy's senate seat, then successfully in 2002 for governor against state Treasurer Shannon O'Brien.

His education platform: Romney sorta likes No Child Left Behind (testing good, federal intrusion bad) and abstinence-only sex ed. He likes charters and vouchers and wants to give principals more control over their schools; he also likes pay-for-performance (and for advanced credentials) but isn't convinced that smaller class sizes matter. He worries that Asian kids are kicking our butts and wants immigrant kids to learn English.

In 2004, as governor, he vetoed a bill that would have given illegal immigrants who'd graduated from Mass. high schools in-state college tuition rates even if they promised to seek citizenship.
As has been pointed out previously in Ed Week, last May in one of the debates, Romney said he once wanted to eliminate the U.S. Department of Education, but that as governor, he witnessed “the impact the federal government can have holding down the interest of teachers’ unions and instead putting the interest of parents and teachers first.”

Among his most interesting proposals as governor: mandatory parental preparation courses. That could be worth looking into.

He also made headlines in 2005 by proposing to spend $54 million to hand out laptops to half a million Massachusetts kids. (Mass. reporters -- did this die on the vine?)

Perusing, it's clear that, at least for now, he's not putting much energy into the issues that make EWA members sit up straight. Education doesn't appear at all on "The Romney Agenda," his four-point plan for America. Poke around his website and you'll find a few generic excerpts from speeches he gave as governor ("If we are going to compete in the global economy, we have to set our education goals higher") but little else.

His Feb. 13 announcement speech in Dearborn, Mich., features only cursory nods to education -- here's the most detailed reference (blink and you'll miss it):
"Look, America faces unprecedented challenges. We are under attack from jihadists, we face new competition from Asia unlike anything we have known before. We are spending too much money here, our schools are failing too many of our kids, forty-five million people don't have health insurance, we are using too much oil. And what does Washington do, it talks and debates and talks and kicks the ball down the field. It is time for less talk and more action in government."
He has said he wants to "raise the bar on education by making teaching a true profession," -- but few details so far -- and he wants to focus on math, science and parental involvement.

He believes, as I mentioned, that we're lagging in math and science -- last February he told the Detroit Economic Club: "Our schools are falling behind those of other nations -- you've seen that. It's true particularly in math and science. Our 15 year olds ranked 24th out of 29 OECD nations in math. 24th out of 29. Our high school seniors rank in the bottom 10% in math and the bottom 25% in science. How can you lead the world if the kids in the next generation are falling behind in the skills they need to innovate and create new enterprises?"

Romney's most interesting statement so far is this:
"We cannot continue to have an excellence gap with the rest of the world and intend to remain the economic superpower and military superpower of the planet. That's just not going to happen. We're in a position where unless we take action, we'll end up being the France of the 21st century: a lot of talk, but not a lot of strength behind it in terms of economic capability."

Never mind that French kids were up there with the Asians in math in the last round of PISA.

To be fair, Romney's website does feature a short (two-minute) video of an "Ask Mitt Anything" town hall meeting, in which a young girl stands before a microphone and asks, "What do plan to do to help schools?"

Good question, he says, then gives this lengthy reply:
"I generally like schools to be managed by local communities and states -- not the federal government. And I don't want the federal government telling people what to teach in schools and how to run schools. So I'm kind of hesitant to get the federal government too involved in education. But there are things that I think make a huge difference: I like choice -- I like parents being able to send their child to different schools, including charter schools, or to have vouchers to let them go to schools. I like English being taught in our schools. In my state as you know, we had a ballot initiative when I ran for governor that said that our kids should not be taught in bilingual classes, they should be taught in English. And I said, 'You know what, for our kids to be successful in America, they need to speak the language of America.' So I wanted that to be part of our system. (applause) Then we fought to make sure that we gave kids an incentive to do well in school -- and I was able to work with my counterparts in the legislature to get in place something known as the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, and it says that if you graduate in the top quarter of your high school class, you're entitled to a four-year, tuition-free scholarship in higher education to our state university or state colleges. I want to make sure we make sure our kids know that if they're doing well in school we're going to stand with them and help them in education. (applause) So there are things we can do to encourage that. And I do know that I know some people are not that happy with the No Child Left Behind legislation, but I have to be honest with you -- I find the testing of our kids to be a good thing, to find out which schools are succeeding and which ones are failing. And to make sure that we provide the support to those that are failing and school choice to those that are failing, so kids in their schools have the kind of opportunities they need."

That's all for now -- I'll continue to come back to Romney whenever he makes news, so if you see something I don't (or need to correct something I flubbed), please e-mail me:

Edited to Add: Caroline Grannan (in comments) correctly notes that many researchers -- Bracey included -- are skeptical of the unfavorable comparisons to U.S. kids' performance and that of kids in other nations.In my defense, though, I'd point out that a new NCES report found here -- -- suggests that the French kids may be taking August off, but they still get the job done ... -gt


caroline said...

It's actually not true that U.S. kids are getting their butts kicked in international comparisons, according to nationally noted education commentator Gerald Bracey. I know it was Romney who made that claim, but Greg still accepted it as a given, albeit with an asterisk.

Bracey has done a lot of the boring deconstruction that's required to understand most education issues.

Here's an article by Bracey in the Stanford alumni magazine laying out his case. It's actually a pro-con with Hoover Institution privatization advocate Terry Moe, so you can read Moe's "U.S. schools suck and kids are stupid" viewpoint too.

-- Caroline Grannan, San Francisco public-school parent, advocate and volunteer (and blogger, )

Greg Toppo said...

Caroline Grannan correctly notes that many researchers -- Bracey included -- are skeptical of the unfavorable comparisons to U.S. kids' performance and that of kids in other nations.

In my defense, though, I'd point out that a new NCES report found here -- -- suggests that the French kids may be taking August off, but they still get the job done ... -gt