Bad to worse: The GOP candidates on education


By Amanda Litvinov/photos by Gage Skidmore

Last night, during the 20th and final event of a long and fiery Republican debate season, the four remaining candidates were asked to describe themselves in a single word. Ron Paul and Mitt Romney went for the unsurprising “consistent” and “resolute,” respectively, while Rick Santorum, unable to come up with an adjective, went instead for “courage.” Making a mockery of the question, Gingrich responded, “cheerful.”

When it comes to their understanding of the value of public education, one choice word applies to all of them: clueless. Sitting dark-suited-shoulder-to-shoulder around a table, there were moments when Romney, Santorum, Paul and Gingrich seemed to meld into a four-headed monster, with each talking head vying to “outconservative” the rest on everything from immigration to women’s health to—you guessed it—education. Even when they found moments to praise educators, in the same breath they bashed their unions.

What the candidates fail to understand is that educators are the union. There’s no separating the two. And that’s just one of the holes in their knowledge of public education.

We’ve come up with a personalized lesson for each of them:

MITT ROMNEY boasted that Massachusetts ranks first in the nation in four key indicators, and was more than happy to take credit for the accomplishments of educators and students in the state he governed from 2003-07. But during his years in office, Romney battled the Massachusetts Teachers Association and ignored their pleas to stop putting students’ education in peril with drastic cuts to public school funding. Read this next part carefully, Mr. Romney: NEA knows that students should be evaluated with multiple measures, but when it comes to standardized tests, states without unions score more poorly overall than states with teachers unions.

Taking the trophy for the most outrageous statement of the evening, NEWT GINGRICH asserted that it was a mistake to believe “that teachers unions actually care about the kids.” He’s clearly in need of an education intervention! The solution to this gaping hole in the former Speaker’s education is simple: Spend a week shadowing an NEA member in her classroom. Watch as she tailors the lesson she prepared over the weekend in response to students’ questions. Watch as she heads to the discount store after school to pick up extra classroom supplies that her students lack. Watch as this dedicated cyberlobbyist logs on to EducationVotes, and sends a letter to her elected leaders to let them know what students need to thrive. Take note, Mr. Gingrich! This educator is the NEA—and she cares about her students.

RICK SANTORUM apologized for voting for the No Child Left Behind law. But his biggest regret was that the federal money went into it. He’s asserted during his campaign that charter schools, private schools and home schooling should replace the public school system as we know it today. We think Mr. Santorum could use a history lesson: He seems to have forgotten that the neighborhood public school, whose doors are open to everyone, was key to creating the vibrant middle class that fueled America’s economic growth throughout the 20th century.

RON PAUL really has been consistent in saying that the federal government should play absolutely no role in education. Talk to any economist about the devastating results some states would suffer in terms of losses in educator jobs and student outcomes, and we’ll give you a chance to rethink your position on this one. Educators and unions care about giving students the education they deserve, and know that investing in education makes good fiscal sense and good public policy.

  • Tell us what you would like to teach the four G.O.P. candidates about educating kids and protecting public education—leave a comment below!
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Reader Comments

  1. The USA is the most benevolent nation on earth! I have a friend who went to China to adopt a child from a group they call “The Potty children.” These are children with handicaps that are deemed to be restrictive to their usefulness as a contributing mamber of the Communist work-force. They described to me what they saw in this warehouse of humanity, where these handicaped/intellectually challenged childrens’ existence consisted of sitting in a potty-chair where they toilet, and eat, and nothing else. Other children, who show no aptitude for higher education, are relegated to sweat shops where they are required to sit, for example, slumped over a grind wheel 16 hrs. a day, removing burrs from screws that will be used in an iPod factory across town, and other such rudimentary labor tasks.
    Meanwhile, in my school, we have 208 special needs students with varying degrees of learning disabilities, and our core teachers spend a significant amount of their time planning lesson for, and remediating these students in extra intensive sessions toward the end of every school day in an effort to help them pass the State Assement Tests so our school can make AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress). Many of these students have been assigned aids that oversee their education at the taxpayers’ expense. Other student attend a special class for ESL (English Second Language) students. The lengths our public schools go to to meet the needs of ALL children is one of those examples of compassion our country has taken to help ALL its citizens. I get the distinct feeling that our GOP politicians would like to scrap this plan. It is beyond speculation and well into the realm of certainty that they would like to target the education profession as a “drain on the private sector”, you know; those “job creators” you keep hearing about.

    1. I wish public schools could do some of the things that charter schools do; such as, require parent participation, extend school days, and have consequences for breaking the rules (like no longer being allowed to attend that school). It is not fair that public money be given to charter and private schools who can change rules that public schools can not.

      1. I don’t think schools that take public money can kick out kids. Kids are kicked out of charter schools for low test scores, being English Language Learners, and for special needs (IEPs). That is wrong. No school that takes public funds should be allowed to kick out kids for such things — all of which lower test scores. Charter schools originally were not “pick your school” as you do your shopping. Charter schools were originally intended to help the most difficult to reach kids, the poorest, and the most recalcitrant learners. That is what they *should* be.

        To see a compilation of news paper articles around the country about how charter schools discriminate against special ed and other kids, go to:

        Also check out:

  2. Someone needs to remind the GOP candidates and the rest of the country that just because you went to school, it doesn’t mean that you know what it takes to run a classroom or to actually be a teacher. Perhaps Newt, Mitt, Rick, and Ron also believe that since they know how to put on a band-aid and have been in hospital or have had an operation that they know what it takes to be a nurse or a doctor. Why are they not legislating the success rate of hospitals and attacking nurses and doctors? Because it’s ludicrous and it’s ludicrous to do they same to schools and teachers!

    Teachers are not misleading, dishonest, undependable, irresponsible. . .that would be a politician!
    When are we going to fix politics! That is what is really broken!

  3. I am a retired teacher with 34 years of experince and a masters degree. when I listen to these so called candidates i shake my head and wnat to cry. They have no concept of what it means to be a teacher! To have kids show disrespect with name calling behind your back and you have to face them in class and make them learn. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my job to the effect that I subbed for 8 years after I retired. Worse yet, to be subjected to the “teacher bashing” that goes on is disheartening. Let them sit with me when I spent nights and weekends correcting papers or averaging grades or conversing with parents about their children. Mr Candidates, get a life and enter the real world,get down to the realm of the middle class and see how it feels when you have advenced degrees, face constant criticism and bashing and are expected to take cuts in finance for the most inportant job in the world. By the way fellows, who taught you so you could be where you are today?

  4. The more I hear these noodles-for-brains talk and talk and balk about public education and the funding we need for it, and to have the nerve to even suggest that we don’t care about children, the more I am convinced that they need a serious dose of wake-up-to-my-reality. I would love to see any of them step into my classroom and teach children unable to do or even speak for themselves. Without educators like us, these children would be cast aside like unwanted waste simply because of their disabilities, because people like Gingrich and company want all money to go into their own pockets instead of given to help the helpless, the needy. I’m willing to bet that if they had a child with a disability or multiple disabilities, they’d try to find a way to ship him/her off to some faraway land so they wouldn’t have to support him/her. It’s sad how little a person could care for their fellow human beings. God help them.

  5. As each GOP debate unfolds, the reality should sink in for ALL the public that these four dingle-berries don’t know jack about education or WHAT is good for students. I STILL contend — spend a day in my shoes and see what you think then! With less money and more students in each classroom, the teachers of today are under pressure to adhere to the government rules. NCLB has been a travesty from the first moment — to expect 100% of students to be at grade level is unrealistic and grandioso at best. Other professionals are not expected to perform with 100% reliability. If lawyers were required to win each case or doctors expected to make 100% of their patients healthy — would they lose their jobs?!

  6. As I read Mr. Gingrich’s statement that teacher’s unions don’t care about kids, I am sitting on a bench outside a classroom at a community college 150 miles from home. I am waiting for a group of students to finish an academic competition. To help them prepare for this, I came to work early and stayed late several days a week. I got up at 4:00 this morning (Saturday) in order to have them here on time. I won’t be home tonight until after 8:00 tonight (still Saturday). I don’t get any financial payment for doing this, just the look in the kids’ eyes when they’ve done well or learned something new. Mr. Gingrich, I do this because I care about my students. And I Am NEA!

  7. The four stooges need to pull their heads out of their rectal cavity and educate themselves on what is really going on in the world. The educational system in the US is in a decline and more emphasis needs to be put on improvement of it. If we keep going the way we are this country will be a land of uneducated idiots.

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