Mitt Romney’s op-ed appearing in the Washington Post (and other national papers including my hometown Winston-Salem Journal) praising the selection of Betsy DeVos as the presumptive Secretary of Education is a stunning display of ignorance on the part of a man who almost became the leader of the free world “Mitt Romney: Trump has made a smart choice for education secretary” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/mitt-romney-trump-has-made-a-smart-choice-for-education-secretary/2017/01/06/627550e0-d421-11e6-9cb0-54ab630851e8_story.html?utm_term=.18000721c941).
And while his intentions may be noble, what the former governor of Massachusetts and the former republican candidate for president forgets is that it is people like him who have actually disrupted the very “status-quo” he claims that Betsy DeVos can change.
Romney alleges that DeVos’s nomination “reignites” and “age-old battle over education policy.” He states,
“The heat is already intense not just because it involves the future of our children but also because a lot of money is at stake. Essentially, it’s a debate between those in the education establishment who support the status quo because they have a financial stake in the system and those who seek to challenge the status quo because it’s not serving kids well.”
Before he even begins to list his reasons for endorsing DeVos, he already shows that he has misinterpreted the situation of public education because there really has been no status quo in public education. If anything, the terrain of public education has been in a state of constant flux for the past thirty years. With the “Nation at Risk” report to “No Child Left Behind” to the advent of high stakes testing to the innumerable business models infused into education to “Race to the Top” to Common Core to charter school movement to vouchers, the thought of even calling what we have had in our country “status quo” is not just wrong –
And all of those causes in the change to the “status quo” were not necessarily brought by educators as much as by politicians and business leaders, two titles that Romney wears. And the very actions that have caused the “status quo” are allowing politicians to blame public education for failing to hit targets that are constantly moving or in many cases invisible so that “leaders” and reformers can come and claim to save the day.
Romney then offers a couple of points to back up his endorsement, or as he calls it, “my take.”
“First, it’s important to have someone who isn’t financially biased shaping education. As a highly successful businesswoman, DeVos doesn’t need the job now, nor will she be looking for an education job later.”
If the former governor really believed this, then I need him to explain the following quote from DeVos and how it is not being “financially biased.”
In 1997, in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, DeVos said that she had “decided to stop taking offense at the suggestion that we are buying influence. Now, I simply concede the point. We expect to foster a conservative governing philosophy consisting of limited government and respect for traditional American virtues. We expect a return on our investment; we expect a good and honest government. Furthermore, we expect the Republican party to use the money to promote these policies, and yes, to win elections.”
Betsy DeVos spends a lot of money on educational issues that are counteractive to traditional public schools. And she said that she expects something in return for her money. That does not sound like someone who is financially unbiased. Romney then states,
“She founded two of the nation’s leading education reform organizations and helped open the door to charter schools in her home state of Michigan.”
If Mr. Romney wants to offer up Michigan as a beacon of educational prosperity because of her opening the door to charter schools in Michigan, then he may want to look closer. Betsy DeVos’s record in Michigan as an educational reformer is not impressive. At all.
As with many people who laud reform efforts, Romney then cites studies whose very funding and existence are centered on improving the image of the reform measures. He states,
“But recent studies show that choice and competition are having a positive impact on kids’ learning in the state. A recent analysis by the Michigan Association of Public School Academies found that students in Detroit charters are performing better than their counterparts in traditional public schools in every subject tested by the state’s annual assessment. Meanwhile, recent studies by Stanford University found children in Detroit charters showing stronger academic improvement, gaining an extra two months’ learning in math and reading per year, as compared with the typical public school student in the city.”
The Michigan Association of Public School Academies is actually a charter school organization. Of course, they will say positive things about charter schools. The website for the study is http://www.charterschools.org/blog/2016/12/09/taking-look-detroit-what-does-data-really-say. And when the title of the “study” says “What the data really says” then it might be easy to see how others may not interpret it the same way.
But it is Romney’s citing of the study at Stanford that actually is a little more misleading. Simply clicking on the link, you will find that he is referring to a story by the Detroit Free Press entitled “Detroit charter schools show gains, but lag behind state.” While the title of the article takes some of the power away from Romney’s initial claims, he is actually citing a study by CREDO, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes which is housed at Stanford University but is funded by the likes of the Hoover Foundation and the Walton Foundation. There is even a relationship with Pearson. Simply Google CREDO and their relationship with the charter industry and those who wish to reform public education through charter schools is apparent.
If Romney really wants to quote the breadth and width of the studies produced by Stanford University, then maybe he could go to The Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE) which just released “Privatization or Public Investment in Education?” Its brief report (overall summary) from Dr. Frank Adamson, the Senior Policy and Research Analyst states,
“The data suggest that the education sector is better served by a public investment approach that supports each and every child than by a market-based, competition approach that creates winners…and losers. While competition might work in sports leagues, countries should not create education systems in which children lose in the classroom.” (https://edpolicy.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/publications/scope-germ-brief-final.pdf)
Dr. Adamson’s further explains,
“…mechanisms such as vouchers, charters, and markets allow for private firms to compete in the education market, under the argument that increased competition will provide consumers (students and families) with a greater choice, thus increasing quality. However, in practice, public education contains different constraints than business markets, most notably the obligation of providing every child with a high-quality education…privatizing education has accompanied lower and/or more disparate student performance, likely because markets operate with different principles than the requirements of public sectors.”
Did the former governor consider the findings of the SCOPE study to be of any value in reference to the CREDO study? Probably not, because it does not fit his narrative.
The two paragraphs that begin with “When I became governor of my state, I wanted to improve our schools” and “Massachusetts has consistently ranked No. 1 among all 50 states on the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress exams” were rather contradictory as if the need to fit everything in a prescribed mold for presentation trumped the need for logic.
In the “When I became governor” paragraph, Romney talks about debunking the “preconceived” ideas that reducing class sizes and increasing funding are the keys to success in public education. But in the next paragraph he contradicts himself when he talks about what really matters are teacher driven curricula standards and school choices among “standard public schools, charter schools, public exam schools, private schools, Catholic schools and cyber schools.” And of course there had to be great people involved – teachers, parents, etc.
Ironic isn’t it that most charter, private, parochial, and cyber schools can boast of smaller student to teacher ratios and in many of those cases be able to boast of greater use of resources per student. That sounds a lot like what decreasing class size and spending more per student might do in traditional public schools. Of all the options that Romney discusses possible in Massachusetts during his gubernatorial tenure, it is probably safe to say that the traditional public schools were the biggest schools with the largest school populations and the most diversity as far as socio-economics, learning styles, and race were concerned.
And ten years after he finished his term as governor, Romney’s state of Massachusetts actually overwhelmingly voted NO to Question 2 in expanding charter school growth in the state. How would Romney explain that?
Finally, Romney makes reference to a McKinsey & Co. analysis that studies the most successful education systems in the world. Romney lightly sums up the analysis with, “It’s the teachers that make the difference.” What Romney does not mention is that the study is ten years old and most of the reform measures that have taken place in the current terrain of constant flux that he calls the “status quo” have actually caused the teaching profession to be somewhat “deprofessionalized.”
Go to any state where reform measures have taken place – charters in New Orleans, school choice and vouchers in Milwaukee and you will see fewer and fewer veteran teachers.
Go to states where teacher wages and benefits have been compromised like North Carolina and you will see fewer and fewer teacher candidates.
Go to any place where “school choice” is a motto and you will see many who have no choices at all.
Ironically Romney is the same person who unceremoniously talked about the 47% of Americans who live off the government in a fundraising dinner while running for president in 2012. He said,
“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what…who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims. …These are people who pay no income tax. …and so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
Well over 80% (nearly 90%) of students in America attend public schools. That’s a lot more than 47%. Good public schools everywhere help people be empowered to take personal responsibility.
But students in the country have a right to a good public education. It is not a privilege. And school choice with other reforms like vouchers and charters actually promote more privilege.
The Mitt Romney who was a governor ten years ago certainly did not think that health care was a privilege for people in Massachusetts. His program was a model for the Affordable Care Act known as Obamacare.
But the Mitt Romney in this misguided op-ed seems to want only a few to have the very best.