Today, we're going to talk about Mitt Romney's education speech.
Whoa! Calm down. Of course, it's exciting policy, Mitt Romney, education, speeches.
This was Romney's first foray into education since he became the presumptive nominee, but it had a quality of mushiness seldom seen outside of a 6-week-old pumpkin. At one point, in a tribute to American entrepreneurs, Romney announced that "if every one of our small businesses added just two employees, Americans could pay more mortgages and buy more groceries and fill their gas tanks."
Or, you know, if they each added one. Or if the guys in the third row each hired 46.
But about the schools. Romney laced into President Barack Obama for failing to resolve the nation's "education crisis," after he took over. "Wouldn't it be great if we could look back on the last four years with confidence that the crisis had been confronted and we'd turned the corner toward a brighter future?" he asked.
Now this was interesting. Remember No Child Left Behind, George W. Bush's enormous education reform law that became the domestic hallmark of his administration, if you want to be generous and not count the deficits? Bush spent eight years rolling it out, tweaking it and cheerleading for it. Also underfunding it, but you can't say the attention wasn't there.
The result, apparently, was an "education crisis" that Romney put right up there with the "jobs crisis" and "spending crisis" all of which he said Obama inherited and then failed to solve. The president often complains about the mess Bush left for him to clean up, but you don't often hear Republicans singing this song.
What do you think's going on here? So far, W.'s presidential endorsement has consisted of saying: "I'm for Mitt Romney" as an elevator door closed between him and a persistent reporter. Do you think there's a connection?
The Tea Party folk hate hate hate No Child Left Behind as a federal intrusion on states' rights to screw up their schools in whatever way they see fit. Romney vaguely referred to it as not being "without some weaknesses," then promised to end "that political logjam that has prevented successful reform of that law." Are you with me so far? I kind of like the logjam. I am seeing Mitt, in lumberjack garb, in the middle of a river full of downed trees and the occasional committee chairman. Perhaps the Romney boys are along, singing family songs. Maybe the dog is strapped to a fallen sycamore.
If there's an education crisis, it's one of at least 50 years duration. By the best national assessment we have available, it appears that the math skills of American fourth- and eighth-graders have been going up slowly but steadily for decades. Reading scores are also a tad better, although pretty flat. We need to do much better, and the fight over what to do next is mainly between people who think the big problem is a lack of resources and those who think it's all about accountability and standards and tests. Romney is definitely way over in camp two.
Also, Mitt is going for "bold policy changes." He said "bold" almost as many times as "education crisis," even though the Romney verbiage was un-bold in the extreme. Did he want vouchers so kids could use public money for private school tuition? The one brief mention in the prepared text of "private school where permitted" vanished in Mitt-speak.
Here, in total, were his thoughts on the terrible problem of college costs: "We got to stop fueling skyrocketing tuition prices that putÂ education out of the reach of way too many of our kids and leave others with crushing debt. Now, these are bold initiatives. ..."
But about school reform. Three big ideas: First, Romney is going to make the states provide "ample school choice." Unless we're talking, mushily, about vouchers, this one sounded exactly like the Bush law that allows parents whose children are in failing schools to move them elsewhere. It hasn't really worked well. It turns out the parents wanted their local school to be better, not to ship their children out of the neighborhood. The magic of the marketplace works great for iPods, but not apparently for fourth-graders.
Second, Romney wants the schools to have "report cards" on student performance so parents can make good decisions about choice. The only problems with this plan are: A) The parents don't want that kind of choice; and B) the schools already have report cards.
Finally, he vowed to encourage teacher evaluation and accountability. This is something the Obama administration has been doing through its Race to the Top initiatives, much to the dismay of some teachers' unions.
Romney then concluded with a long attack on Obama for being in the pocket of teachers' unions.