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Romney doubles down on class size claim, vilifies educator unions

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by Félix Pérez

Hearing Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney repeat yet again his claim that class size does not matter, voters must be tempted to quote a former president who famously said, “There you go again!”

Romney voiced his class size mantra yesterday at an appearance at the Education Nation Summit hosted by NBC News. The former Massachusetts governor’s pronouncement that class size does not play a role in student achievement flies in the face of decades of research and the first-hand knowledge of educators and parents.

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Referencing a single report from his tenure as governor, Romney said, “. . . within the normal range that exists in schools, it wasn’t classroom size that was driving [student achievement]. Nor was it spending per student.”

Dennis Van Roekel, a high school math teacher from Arizona with more than two decades of classroom experience, said Romney’s remarks indicate he is “oblivious to what is good for our nation’s students.” Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which represents more than 3 million educators, said:

Romney . . . proved he’s completely out of touch with parents and educators. He continues to insist that class size doesn’t matter.

Romney’s class size comments have become a staple of his on the campaign trail.  And it’s a long-held position. Romney wrote in his book No Apology that “the effort to reduce classroom size may actually hurt education more than it helps.”

Doubling down on his campaign rhetoric of vilifying educator unions, Romney suggested limiting educator involvement in the political process. “I don’t mean to be terribly partisan, but . . . I think we’ve got to get the money out of the teachers’ unions going into campaigns.”

In response, Van Roekel said, “Attacking educators and unions like NEA with gross exaggerations about political muscle and with divide-and-conquer tactics is a distraction from having to confront the real questions about his education record as governor of Massachusetts.”

Romney’s campaign tactic of proclaiming his regard for teachers while insulting the organizations they created to advocate for students and the profession is one he trotted out last week at another high profile event, one sponsored by Spanish-language television network Univisión.

Romney’s reflexive antagonism toward educator-led unions erupted at the Education Nation forum when he cut off a New York City parent mid-question (see video clip below). Upon hearing the father cite a poll that found that New York parents support educator unions, Romney interrupted the audience member.

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“I don’t believe . . . I don’t believe it. I don’t believe it for a minute . . . And I do know this, that having looked at schools, I know that the teachers’ union has a responsibility to care for the interests of the teachers.”

Calling Romney’s behavior toward the parent disrespectful, Van Roekel said, “Romney says he fundamentally believes in parental involvement, but when a New York City parent tried to say that in fact, recent polling shows that parents across the city of one of the nation’s largest public school systems, support teachers and their unions by a ratio of 3 to 1, Romney rudely cut him off, refusing to listen to facts. This was a disrespectful act unbecoming of someone seeking the highest office in the land. Parents deserve more respect.”

Reader Comments

  1. R. Cross

    More hype. Don’t believe everything Obama says. He will say anything to get re-elected. Just like the casinos that promise education funding. They don’t mention that current education funding will get slashed and redirected to other programs-making the increase negligible. Don’t vote for casinos or Obama. Watch the debates-they will tell you what Romney really says. Not this anti-republican hype. Think for yourself.

    Reply
  2. Erika

    Class size doesn’t matter just like uninsured people getting healthcare at the ER is a cost-effective way to provide care. I think he is pandering to uneducated and/or classist Americans. He has to know the truth about both of those claims… the data has existed for years. He has to be saying what he thinks people want to hear. I pray he doesn’t win… if my class (or my husband’s classes) get any bigger, we won’t be able to raise our kids b/c our workloads will be out of control!

    Reply
  3. Frank Alsheimer

    It is too bad that Romney shoots himself in the foot so much. He is out of touch with the realities of public schools today. However, we cannot say that there are not different factors relevant to the class size question when talking about middle-class suburban schools and those of the inner city and perhaps rural communities. There is already too much emphasis on test scores as a measure of teacher success or failure. Individual principals cannot be given unlimited control of their staff retention –teachers must have reasonable due process and support of teacher unions. Teacher unions are an insulation from the evolving whims of school boards and administrators. I have seen good teachers driven out to transfer -some to even -retirement by an arbitrary principal.
    BUT— I have yet to see really substantial proposals, not superficial, from the Obama administration regarding the deficit, Medicare, Social Security, huge costs of medicaid, drug costs, huge student loan deficits, and medical lawsuits.

    Reply
  4. Renee

    After Mr. Romney loses the election he will have time to come teach both my special-Ed and English learner-loaded earth science courses along with my 36-student lab chemistry courses. He can also grade all my papers while I spend time with my family and shop for our clothes at Wal-mart.

    Reply
  5. Curt-O-Vision

    If class size doesn’t matter why do charter schools and private schools tout their teacher student ratios as a BIG SELLING POINT? Out of touch touch doesn’t begin to describe Mitt. Our soon to be former governor Mitch Daniels now states that he might want to teach a class while he’s prez @ Purdue. “How to stick it to the middle class” would be a good title.

    Reply
    • JOE ZUCCARELLO

      Is Mitch Daniels in fact a state certified teacher? If not, he should get Purdue a CHARTER so anyone who might want to teach a class…”a class” sounds pretty cushy.
      -anyway- good point about class size.
      jz

      Reply
  6. JOE ZUCCARELLO

    APOLOGIES FOR PREVIOUS CAPS, TYPOS,I DO NOT TYPE IN STANDARD TECHNIQUE.
    IMHO, We are seeing in Priority schools in the capital city a propensity to continue to change faculty mid stream, formats,templates, standards and just about everythinig yearly.while transfering students in at 1/4 rate. We are seeing an increasing and widening workload,evidence based paperwork,documentation of what seems like everything, bullying and many other initiatives while keeping faculty #s DOWN.
    More frequent and detailed state overseeing and “piling on” is occurring while no $ is backing up the new initiatives in the form of support for initiatives,reforms and brass tacks of teaching –textbooks, maps, globes,audio visual etc.while established succesful performing Arts programs like String Orchestra, Choir,Rock band/guitar class and Percussion Unit were completely ommitted from the day due to the need for a skeleton staff of specialists to cover classes all day,every week using a convoluted, hard to follow schedule that serves over 500 students monthly one week at a time in 3 and 4 week overlapping rotations with the added confusion of random classes meeting for an hour end of each day with a “specialist” in order for academic clusters to have planning meetings.In our meetings it is all about documenting and cross curricular support for academics,,not our needs in order to serve the needs of the talented students that have been abandoned.
    . IMHO again,we are being set up to fail, so the big GOP union can get what THEY want……………takeover by charter schools and the dissoltion of our little Union.
    Sad but true.

    Reply
  7. JOE ZUCCARELLO

    HOW COULD I DUPLICATE WHNE THIS IS MY FIRST COMMENT EVER????

    GOP AND DEMS ARE THE 2 BIGGETS ORGANIZED LABOR/UNIONESQUE ORGANIZATIONS IN THE WORLD. HOW CAN GOP CRITICIZE OTHERS FOR DOING BASICALLY THE SAME THING THEY DO?
    IT ALL B.S.

    Reply
  8. JOE ZUCCARELLO

    THE 2 BIGGESS UNION STYLE ORGANIZATIONS IN THE WORLD?-THE GOP AND THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY.I COULD JUST STOP HERE,RIGHT?
    BUT THE REPUBLICAN IDEAL IS TO BE THE ONLY SUCH ORGANIZATION IN THE COUNTRY–THEN WHO WILL BE DEMONIZE THEM WHEN THEY GET WAHT THEY WANT???
    AHA MOMENT?

    Reply
  9. William Mullaney

    I teach 7th graders in Florida where we do have class size requirements passed as part of a publicly sponsored amendment that is always under attack by the Republican dominated state government. It is a blessing and a curse. Classes stay 25 and under for core subjects but electives are often overpopulated. The curse is the funding necessary to maintain the class sizes. The people of Florida want their cake and to eat it too. They want quality education but there is an economic price to pay and in these leaner, meaner times where the funding is very unstable. Teacher salaries remain stagnant which is making it harder and harder to attract new talent to the profession. Our technology is early 1990s and nowhere near enough of even that. Still, I would rather have the manageable class sizes than the alternative of 35 or 40 students which was the norm prior to the class size amendment being passed. I also wish that Americans better understood the peril our nation faces by continuing to act concerned about the quality of public education while continually electing politicians who don’t. The continued future greatness of this country rests on a well-educated and trained citizenry. Anyone who has spent much time in public schools in America can tell you that we are not meeting the challenges of tomorrow with the educational system of today! Villifying teachers for the hypocrisy of the leaders of this country seems more like an act of desperation than real leadership. Data driven education is all well and good but education has always been data driven for good teachers. Hire the best people, train them, pay them competitively, and get out of their way!

    Reply
  10. David Filing

    I find it interesting that Romney wants to get educators’ and union money out of politics; what about getting business and pac money out of politics?

    Reply
  11. Chatham H. Forbes Sr.

    Mr. Heath disagrees with every point the other teachers commenting here so emphatically make, – unanimously! As an educator myself, who has both public and private institution experience, I find it hard to credit Mr. Heath’s remarks. Both objective and subjective evidence are entirely with the teachers with whom he disagrees. Romney has never had the experience of overcrowded elementary and secondary classrooms. He has never been seated as a student in a classroom of students from the challenged demographics common in urban schools. Both his academic and business lives have been lived in a sheltered, orderly environment. In short, Mr. Romney really doesn’t understand. He should adopt a learner’s posture in academic matters.

    Reply
  12. Gottmilk

    Perhaps people should look closer at the school were Mr. Romney attended high school; a private school — where class sizes were small — where the student population was known as a highly selective boys school with small classes.

    He once agains is demonstrating how “out of touch” he is with reality, with representing all of America.

    Reply
  13. Larry Wiener

    Romney is totally in La La Land if he believes class size does not matter.

    Students in smaller classes get more teacher time which is valuable.

    I wonder if he would want his children in a school where class sizes were 40, especially in an area with a lot of high needs students.

    We don’t need a President who is in La La Land.

    Reply
  14. Ann

    Honestly, I don’t think Mitt Romney is dealing with reality, but then unfortunately from my experience some high school administrators aren’t either in public schools.Actuallly, until last semester I taught in a large MPS school in Milwaukee, I had 50 students in two classes and about 35 to 40 in 3 others, numbers started to decline later. But guess what about 15 to 20 percent of the students in those classes made it hell for the other 80 percent. I tried to work on classroom management to help discipline (meaning teach) these off students some of who were 19 years old, but when an administrator doesn’t come when you have an instrument like an ice pick in the room and a security guard, who is supposed to take the student down to the hall of justice room with homework, but argues with you that you shouldn’t write him – this student because he probably didn’t bring the instrument into the room, but still refused to give it to me – do you see what teachers deal with in some urban schools. I never said he brought it in he room. My job was to get that instrument, which could have taken someone’s eye out and that student out of the room asap. It was unbelievable too me. This is just one incident. Again, Romeny is not dealing with reality at all. I think he and administrators need to be required to teach at least 2 weeks a year in a classroom with at least 40 students and make sure they stay late like I did to get all the grades in on essays and then try to make it to daily collaborative meetings each day. Can you see why teachers have been demoralized and we are on the front lines. I loved teaching my students, but it is my firm belief and I would have never used this word until I was in this large system for nearly five years- that students in high school should not “be entitled” to anything unless they earn it. Unfortunatly some teacherw do entitle them to win favor with the administorators, but that is another issue. Yes, they may need some help if they are homeless or going through a traumatic experince, but then we move on. Isn’t that what some of the Jewish Holocaust survivors did? Once Romney and administrators really get into the classroom with no aides, maybe they’ll also get back to reality and the make comments. I don’t mean to say all adminstrators are like this, but I had friends at other large city high schools in Milwaukee, WI and some said they never could get the support of adminisrators and were doing all they coudl to hang on with so many students. Already, we’ve had rioting at one of the high schools this year with 11 people arrested. One of my friends left that school last year and said she was so glad to be out of a “corrupt system”.
    Class size means a lot, come on when I had a teacher with advanced placement kids and 11 in a class down the hall, and one next door to me with an aide doing most of her work as she sat at her desk, (No demeaning intended but it was the case0that’s a piece of cake. I know because I’ve had wonderful experiences since I’ve left this school. i have been embraced by administrators who lay down the law and support all the staff not just a few. I have wonderful teachers, such as some of my close friends who were teachers at thsi school, who ask every day how I’m doing, what do I need, ami I surviving. This can happen in these public schoolsl too, b ut i think some people are just too lazy or perhaps overwhelmed and need to be in other field. I still have fond memories of all my on task students, but the lack of administratove support for the most part was deplorable. The union officials I have to say did help, so did another person who gave me ideas on managing students, but we never really got to talk to the principal about this she was always too busy. I do remember one adminstrator, who was really on the ball, the first 3 years I was in the system, he was always in the hallways, he even came into my classroom to talk to the students At the time I didn’t think much of it, I expected that help- now i see it as amazing and that’s sad.
    Last year we had chaos in the hallways again, when we all thought it would be better, some teachers had aides, but this depended often on the interim principal who during the summer redid the entire schedule from what I understand. So, Romney is way off base.
    When I handed my own children over to teachers and administrators, I hoped and expected them to be cared for but also disciplined them and taught values, and call me if there were problems. That’s exactly what happened. But I will say that we went the private school route due to our religion and the high academic requirements. We sacrified a lot for that and I have no regrets just as I have no regrets teacing at this public school, though it certainly was time to move on.
    What I see really lacking – and Romney doesnt’ get this are some type of values in public schools, yes many of my on task students had this- they kept me going, but just visit some of these urban high school and see how many students stand up for the Pledge of Allegiance – it’s deplorable. But then again, I never could blame the students on task who might be bullied or teased by the off task students for not standing up every day. I am again grateful to leaders in the union, who were very ethical and supported me and other colleagues. So, Romney, please go back to school, until you really know what you are talking about- I do I was in this system for nearly 5 years. and I stayed every Friday until midnight correcting papers to get grades in. One night a daughter called me and said she wouldn’t get off the phone until I left, she felt I was in danger. My response was that I was fine, most students were bused in and guess who watched out for me 3 wonderful custodians, A Serbian custodian, An African- American and A caucasian. But that night I heeded my daughters warning and half asleep I drove to my rented apartment ( i did follow MPS rules) and on the way there I ran a red light. it was shortly before the holidays and I was defintely like several of my good friends not geting enought sleep. Nothing happened, but it was a major wake up call for me- what if I had killed someone, what if I had died – I had a husband , 4 beautiful children and one had grandchildren. I realized I had given all I could and that was enough– it just wasn’t worth it. Actually, my dream as a teacher and also writer now is to one day teach on the pine Ridge Indian reservation where I volunteered two summers. it’s probably the poorest place or almost hte poorest place in the U.S. But when I was there I was respected. AC Milwaukee

    Reply
    • Gottmilk

      You have spoken so elequently… as only a teacher – an educator, who truly cares about the welfare and education of every student in her class (I know, I have walked similar steps as you).

      I also know that it takes every one working in a school system — it does take a village to educate a student (especially in today’s society). How many students have survived because of the morning custodian who is there to let the student in the building when he arrives at 6 am because that is when their parent drops them off on their way to work because they don’t live where a bus route goes and this might be the only time a parent has with their child.

      Or the cafeteria worker who slips the student an extra carton of milk and then pays for it herself.

      How many school lunches have I bought over the years for students who would have gone without or the times I have stayed hours past the end of a high school dance because their parent forgot to come pick them up (or have passed out on the couch).

      Until a non-educator or works in the system…. and I mean work, not just stop by for lunch or walk the halls between classes… but work they have no clue. Romney has NO clue.

      Reply
  15. TJ O'Connor

    Hm. I missed the part where Romney said he’d be a good teacher. Isn’t his claim to success about making businesses profitable, saving the Olympics from embarrassing catastrophe, and leaving a state better than he found it? Pretty sure he never claimed he would be a good teacher.

    47th in job growth, created zero jobs- as he made quite a profit as a corporate raider ( which is totally legal- but don’t call it creating jobs), flip flop on abortion, health care, foreign policy. Romney didn’t invent the Olympics- lets’s not give him the keys to the kingdom for that. I’ve heard NOTHING substantial, specific, or new. Just Romney saying mark me down for whatever is opposite of the president. “You’re out of touch, you’re out of time.” Sorry, Hall and Oates.

    Reply
  16. Richard

    Class size doesn’t matter???? Try teaching a class of 37 high school students from different demographic back grounds and then tell me what you think. Being from a buisiness world does not even come close to working in public education. No wonder he is so out of touch with Teachers, Students and the needs of schools all across our country

    Reply
  17. TJ O'Connor

    Thanks for another gem, Mitt. You and your tea party maniacs have been outed as the class dunces again. Keep it up and you’ll lose in a landslide. I’m surprised that teacher’s unions haven’t been blamed for 9-11 yet. Oops, just gave Fox “News” an idea:(

    Reply
  18. Shelly

    How long would he survive in a Kindergarten classroom of 25 students? They ALL need to be reading at the end of the year as well.

    Reply
    • Aris Wilson

      I WISH I only had 25 kids. I have 31 kindergarten children with an aide to help only 1.5 hours out of the 6 hour full day kindergarten day. 6 of my children are English Language learners and another 4 came to me with behaviors so extreme they are all on individual behavior contracts designed to fit their social/emotional needs. I am also required to teach a 21 century inquiry based curriculum (designed by textbook companies which assume every teacher teaches in small groups) that expects all of my kiddos to be able to read and write at the end of the year. If Mr. Romney thinks this is a cake walk, let him try to teach, engage, entertain, tie shoes, comfort, reassure, and keep safe so many little egocentric whirling tops at the same time. It’s like the old vaudeville show with the man spinning plates. We need SMALLER CLASSES to accomplish all that is expected for the future of our nation.

      Reply
  19. Rick

    He went to Cranbrook. Average class size is 16 students. But class size makes no difference. Bloody hypocrite.

    Reply
    • Emerson Gravely

      If you want a good education, just have your parents buy you one.

      Reply
  20. Wyndham TraxlerCarter

    At approximately 40 minutes, Mr. Rommey is more insulting to the student question than he is to the parent! Amazingly tone deaf.

    Reply
  21. Allen Hayes

    I am an avid supporter of public education—started with thirty-six 6th graders in the 1960′s, never had less than 28 children. Mostly between 34-37. I know for certain: The number of children one teaches makes a BIG difference. Of course, when class size is kept low (I have been a principal, too) the necessary expense for more teachers is significant. On the issue of class size, there has been a lot thought. Can anybody make for us here a good summary of the research?

    Reply
  22. Kelly Evans

    James, I would love to know where and what you taught. In many California schools, the only classes with so few students are typically found in Special Ed classrooms.

    Reply
    • James Heath

      Regular education classes. In a junior boarding school in Connecticut, a boarding school in Massachusetts, and a public high school in a suburb of Hartford, Connecticut. All of which has nothing to do with the point that the writer of the article stretched the truth beyond recognition.

      Reply
  23. John Orcutt

    Budget cuts in California have left me with classes of forty 8th graders. Each of my students is an individual that needs praise, guidance and discipline. Yes, there is a monetary cost to reducing class size but as class size increases we get diminishing marginal returns and are left with students who can bubble in correct answers but have not tapped into the creativity and civic virtue that will sustain our nation.

    Reply
  24. Malita Brown

    Public School is a lot different than college. In college the onus is on the student. He is paying and if he is in a lecture hall of 200 students, he has tp try extra hard to hear and understand everything. He wants to pass and get credit for the course.
    The professor delivers his lecture and prepares the test and can then let the students pass or fail as they will.
    In public school the onus is on the teacher. The student is not paying (that he can see) may not want to be there an dhave no interest in learning. The teacher must motivate each student and keep each one connected and up to date. This is impossible with a large class. Then when some fall behind, they blame the teacher.

    Reply
  25. Adrian Sebborn

    I’d like to see Mr. Romney teach a class of 50 typical public school 11th or 12th graders . That would of course include about a third with attention deficit disorder and other learning disabilities. Let’s see if he can keep order, let alone teach anything.

    Oh yes, we’ll also test those kids 3 months later and see if they retained anything of what he said.

    Reply
    • James Heath

      Hm. I missed the part where Romney said he’d be a good teacher. Isn’t his claim to success about making businesses profitable, saving the Olympics from embarrassing catastrophe, and leaving a state better than he found it? Pretty sure he never claimed he would be a good teacher.

      Reply
  26. Kate Campbell

    I love it when they compare public school to college and say that college professors teach classes of a hundred or more and that “a good teacher can teach 50 as well as 20.” Yes, I can LECTURE or PRESENT something to 50 kids, but in high school we are supposed to individually differentiate and engage ALL our students, not to mention assess their performance MANY TIMES MORE OFTEN than college students. A college class of 200 probably is lecture-driven with maybe three papers and an exam ALL GRADED BY GRAD STUDENTS. Only a fool (or someone who has had the luxury of a private school education) would think that a student in a class of 35 will get the same benefit as one in a class of 20.

    Reply
  27. James Heath

    Felix Perez is not telling the truth. He provides a link where Romeny’s speech is quoted in its entirety. Here is the relevant portion: “They [the McKinsey Institute] said, first of all, within a normal band of population, that the classroom size didn’t seem to be driving the quality of education, that — obviously at some extreme that would figure into it, be a major impact, but within the normal range that exists in schools, it wasn’t classroom size that was driving it.”
    Now I get disagreeing with philosophy or ideology or theory, but the NEA cannot seem to be satisfied making a cogent argument for its approach to education (perhaps because there isn’t one?). Instead, it has to disguise a propaganda screed with the appearance of news story.
    Really, I’m sure you all can find lots of things Gov, Romney says that you disagree with, but why make things up? You just make yourselves look like the worst behaving students you purport to care so much about.
    Check out my blog – cornvillenutmeg.wordpress.com.

    Reply
    • B Roberts

      That Romney thinks the amount of class size reduction necessary is an extreme is the problem. The research shows small class size works. It’s not an extreme, just a change. 35 is the extreme. 23 works, 18 even better.

      Reply
  28. Anne Agard

    We can easily see what works in education by looking at what is already available for kids with parents who place a high value on their schooling and can afford to pay for whatever will work. Class size at those private schools is around 12.

    Reply
    • James Heath

      No, Anne, it’s not. It is sometimes twelve. It is sometimes as high as twenty-five. At least that was true when I taught in independent education. Then when I move to public school, sometimes I had classes with as few as eight. Sometimes with as many as twenty-five.

      Reply
  29. Douglas

    ” And I do know this, that having looked at schools, I know that the teachers’ union has a responsibility to care for the interests of the teachers.”

    but of course it is!

    analogy — a garden.

    The children – the plants
    the teachers – the gardeners.
    The union — those like doctors, the garden shop, etc, who keep the gardener well and supplied.

    sick, supply-less gardener = dead and dying plants.

    stop killing the gardeners — the teachers — for in so doing you kill the students, never allowing them to grow and bloom.

    Reply
  30. Pamela Eiker

    I’m sorry to disagree, Mr. Romney, but class size does make a difference from a 40 year veteran of the educational system. I began teaching in 1972 with a class of 35 students, and it is extremely important that teachers do not have to teach with classes of this size. With continuing demands by parents and various government programs, it is impossible to meet the needs of all with more than 25 students in a classroom.

    Reply
    • GCD

      I agree, Pamela. Even a class size as small as 20 can be a challenge if the majority come to you behind. It is no longer about just the QUANTITY of students, but also the QUALITY. You can’t blame the teachers. You can’t even blame the students themselves. Some come from such disadvantaged backgrounds, that educators are left to fill in all the gaps themselves. Saying that class size doesn’t matter is irresponsible and extremely inaccurate. If Romney knows so much, I would LOVE for him to come in my classroom for a day and do my job. I doubt he’d make it to lunch time.

      Reply

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