Republicans always say they want to get the federal government out of education. This comes in many forms, but usually they say something like "education should be returned to local control" or "I'll eliminate the Department of Education." They always avoid talking about union-busting because union-busting is not always especially popular. Wisconsin's Governor Walker can attest to that.
Romney, in a rare moment of transparency, told Bret Baier that the reason for returning control of education to the states is for one reason: to union-bust.
But the role I see that ought to remain in the president's agenda with regards to education is to push back against the federal teachers unions. Those federal teachers unions have too much power, in some cases, they overwhelm the states, they overwhelm the local school districts. We have got to put the kids first and put these teacher's unions behind.
I'm sick and tired of seeing teacher's unions demonized, and even more tired of seeing teachers shamed and demonized. There's been a theme that Democrats and Republicans alike have adopted where teachers are the reason for problems in the schools. Teachers are not the problem. I would argue that teachers have been the backstop to keeping schools from deteriorating in the face of constant budget cuts, student poverty, larger classroom sizes, and not enough parent involvement. I don't necessarily blame parents for that, by the way. When you're working two jobs to make the house payments it's tough to head down to your kids' school or constantly nag about homework.
The problem in the schools right now is not teachers' unions, either. The problem in the schools is that for ten years, teachers have been forced to teach to a test and "one size fits all" standards. They are accountable for an arbitrarily set baseline, regardless of circumstances in their specific area. As we've all discovered, that baseline does not necessarily reflect reality or the students they're instructing, or the environments they're teaching in. Yet their job hinges on meeting those standards. If they don't, they're out.
Unfortunately, reality never seems to matter to Republicans. Diane Ravitch wrote about the differences between Finnish schools and American schools recently. She points out that Finnish educators do not administer standardized tests until the end of high school. Before that point, they do evaluate students, but based on tests developed for their specific student populations.
Sahlberg speaks directly to the sense of crisis about educational achievement in the United States and many other nations. US policymakers have turned to market-based solutions such as “tougher competition, more data, abolishing teacher unions, opening more charter schools, or employing corporate-world management models.” By contrast, Finland has spent the past forty years developing a different education system, one that is focused on
improving the teaching force, limiting student testing to a necessary minimum, placing responsibility and trust before accountability, and handing over school- and district-level leadership to education professionals.
To an American observer, the most remarkable fact about Finnish education is that students do not take any standardized tests until the end of high school. They do take tests, but the tests are drawn up by their own teachers, not by a multinational testing corporation. The Finnish nine-year comprehensive school is a “standardized testing-free zone,” where children are encouraged “to know, to create, and to sustain natural curiosity.”
Did I mention that Finland's schools finished at the top of world rankings in 2009? They did. It had nothing to do with teachers' unions, or local control. In fact, teachers are highly valued in Finland. When you hear Mitt Romney talk about wrecking teacher's unions, do you have the impression teachers are highly valued?
As my youngest child nears graduation from a rural, public high school, I count myself fortunate to know that she had teachers who were Harvard and Stanford graduates who placed value not only on educating my daughter but caring enough about her to see her strengths and weaknesses and not stop until they addressed the latter and bolstered the former. Unfortunately, my daughter saw the unnecessary struggles that came with their efforts, the constant attacks by parents and politicians alike, and has vowed never to be a teacher.
I hope she changes her mind. She would be a gifted teacher in the right system with the right goals, but if Mitt Romney's dream comes to pass, her vow would remain intact.
Full transcript follows:
BAIER: Governor, one of the standard lines in your stump speech is on spending and the test that you would apply in a Romney administration is a program so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it. At the FOX/Google debate in September, you said without qualification, quote, we need to get the federal government out of education. Does this mean eliminating the Department of Education?
ROMNEY: Not necessarily. It may be combined with other agencies. There will be a rule, meaning that, for instance, the federal government provides funding to local school districts for care of disabled children, that will be maintained.
But the reach of the Department of Education into the states has to be pulled back. Education has to be managed at the state level, not at the federal level. Will there be any flow through of funds to the states? Yes. But the role I see that ought to remain in the president's agenda with regards to education is to push back against the federal teachers unions. Those federal teachers unions have too much power, in some cases, they overwhelm the states, they overwhelm the local school districts. We have got to put the kids first and put these teacher's unions behind.
BAIER: Do you still support No Child Left Behind?
ROMNEY: I support the principle of having states test their kids, and one of the things President Bush did that I supported, and I did support No Child Left Behind and do support continuing to test our kids. I want to know which school districts are succeeding and which ones are failing and where they are failing. I want there to be action taken to get the teacher union's out and to get the kids once again receiving the education they need.
So, I like the idea of testing our kids. No Child Left Behind needs to be changed, I think in some pretty significant ways before it's reauthorized. But I do support the testing that's been associated with that program, and I'm glad that President Bush pushed for that.