COMMENTARY | The week leading into Memorial Day was not a good one for Mitt Romney as he managed to turn the "dry subject" of education into a prairie fire. His assertion at a Philadelphia charter school Thursday that class size means less to quality education than many think drew immediate, heavy fire.
At the Universal Bluford Charter School, the Republican presidential contender had to handle a number of objections from teachers and administrators at a roundtable on education when he stated a study by the McKinsey Global Institute "proved" class size was not a key to student success. Romney suggested, not without merit, that parental involvement and teacher/administrator quality dictated success.
The argument struck his listeners as likening education to a three-legged stool missing one leg. Steven Morris, a Bluford teacher, asserted he couldn't think of any teacher he'd encountered professionally who would prefer larger classes. Another teacher cited a University of Tennessee study finding smaller class sizes were very important for first through third-graders.
Frederick Mosteller, a Harvard statistician who has written about that study, verified its general findings and also noted "that the effect of small class size on the achievement of minority children was initially about double that observed for majority children, but in later years, it was about the same."
In fact, the McKinsey study also came to the same conclusion about early learners, a nicety that probably struck the production-focused, former take-over artist as merely details -- if he remembered it at all.
Romney likely felt safe in suggesting the two-legged stool was just fine. I have taught at an inner-city high school handicapped by a lack of parental oversight. It does matter. And a quality teacher is preferable to a poor teacher. But suggesting class size is borderline irrelevant is just silly.
Take a hypothetical teacher with four classes of 25 as opposed to 20. Assume that in a given semester each class produces five major papers and 20 other assignments, by which the teacher must evaluate students and make decisions about individual help. That's 100 more major papers to handle and 400 more minor assignments.Do you see quality suffering there? Do you see the GOP losing every voting teacher in November?
- Mitt Romney