Mitt Romney Visits West Philadelphia
In a speech yesterday in front of a Latino business group, Romney promised that if elected, he would tie federal education funds directly to low-income and special needs students to allow them to attend "any public or charter school, or...private school, where permitted." His visit today to the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia gave him the opportunity to see firsthand the type of urban charter school he advocated for in his speech.
The former governor of Massachusetts and CEO of Bain Capital was not exactly given a hero's welcome. Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter sarcastically remarked that it was nice that Romney finally discovered the existence of West Philadelphia, and other residents were even more pointed. As the Washington Post reports:
"Madaline G. Dunn, 78, who said she has lived here for 50 years and volunteers at the school, said she is 'personally offended' that Romney would visit her neighborhood.
'It’s not appreciated here,' she said. 'It is absolutely denigrating for him to come in here and speak his garbage.'"
The reaction to Romney's visit to this mostly African-American community should not be too surprising; after all, according to the Associated Press, he receives minimal support from black voters, who cannot seem to connect with the candidate.
An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found that 90 percent of blacks would vote for Obama in November and just 5 percent would support Romney. At the same time, just 3 percent of blacks said Romney "understands the problems of people like you" better than Obama does.
Romney went through the obligatory classroom visit and musical performance by the students, after which he participated in a roundtable discussion with 11 other educators. They pushed back against two of Romney's underlying premises: that the virtues of a man-woman marriage should be promoted, and that class size is overrated. Despite the roundtable participants' belief that Romney's emphasis on the role of traditional family values was unrealistic in that community, the candidate did not waver in his stance, according to CBS News.
'If we're thinking about the kids of tomorrow,' he said, 'trying to help move people to understand, you know, getting married and having families where there's a mom and a dad together has a big impact. That's, in my view, that's critical down the road for those that are already in a setting where they don't have two parents.'
In contrast to the teachers and administrators at the roundtable who were unanimous in their support of smaller classes, Romney presented a study from the McKinsey Company that found a low correlation between class size and school performance among students in various countries around the world. An Economist article written at the time the study gave an financial explanation for this, which also supports the study's other conclusion that "the quality of teachers affects student performance more than anything else."
"All other things being equal, smaller classes mean more teachers for the same pot of money, producing lower salaries and lower professional status. That may explain the paradox that, after primary school, there seems little or no relationship between class size and educational achievement."
The study itself shows the incompleteness of Romney's use of it to justify a position that class size is not overly relevant. If smaller classes make it easier to hire better teachers, which is often the case in the United States and which the McKinsey study deems critical, they can have a real impact in improving schools.
Reach Executive Producer Matt Pressberg here.