Mitt Romney's education proposal sounds nice. It is called A Chance for Every Child, [Chance Report] and it is 35 pages long [full text: Mitt Romney, A Chance for Every Child]. It might be just campaign propaganda, like Barack Obama's 2008 promises of hope and world peace, but then again it might become public policy. You should probably read it, but how would you get anything done if you tried to judge political candidates by actually reading 35-page memos or 1600 page bills they have voted for or against?
I read it. I also know about the privatization (really Christianization) efforts already enacted at the state level. I also served on a public school board for a K-12 district for 8 years. Allow me to walk you through the essential points.
Romney characterizes American schools as failures, except private schools. In Jeb Bush's Foreword we are told that the U.S. spends "more on public education than virtually every other nation" which is so close to being a lie we might as well call it that. But he is correct in saying that American children lag behind their global peers, particularly in mathematics and science. Bush attacks Obama's education leadership, even though Obama has mostly just continued the education policies of Jeb's brother, former President George W. Bush.
The key initiative in the Romney education package is providing alternatives for "students trapped in bad schools." "Parents must receive clear information about the performance of their current school," so that they can know if their kid's school is bad. Yep, parents need federal help to know that. Without the guiding hand of the Feds, parents and professional educators are lost in the desert of education, following some half-mad Moses about, waiting for the day they can massacre the Palestinians and enroll the kids in good schools.
Federal funding goes with the child. If the parents take the child out of the public school and into a private school, the new school gets the funds.
Effectively Romney believes education will improve by defunding public schools, putting in their place private schools taught by non-union, untrained, uncredentialed, but cheap teachers. Really, Romney is specific about this: "Eliminate unnecessary certification requirements ... [which] reinforce hurdles that prevent talented individuals from entering the teaching profession." Talented individuals like science teachers who use Genesis as a text book. Or history teachers who say the Holocaust never happened.
This is called "building on the success of charter schools." Even though test results have shown charter schools, while varying greatly in quality, as a whole have done worse at educating children.
Profits for education corporations are also part of the plan: "welcome private sector participation in providing information, financing and education itself." That is, to the extent capitalists like Romney have not moved the formerly American private sector to China. Or maybe he means Chinese state-owned industries could take over teaching civics classes.
This seems to be at odds with another part of the plan: "Repeal confusing and unnecessary regulations." Many of the current batch of regulations were put in place by lobbyists for private industry. Guess which regulations will be repealed? Not the ones that need to be.
Many aspects of the plan, and its underlying analysis, can't even pass the smell test. We are told too many high school graduates who enroll in college require remediation. But because wealthier parents tend to use private schools and have their children attend college in disproportionate numbers, we know that this has to be a failure of the private school system.
The Chance Report laments the poor average outcomes for non-white children. It says that this is because the schools who serve these children are of poor quality. But privatizing ghetto schools is likely to make the situation worse, not better. Given equal pay, the better private school teachers will seek positions in the less difficult middle to upper class private schools, just as they seek the easier jobs within the public school system. The parents of a ghetto private school will still lack friends in high places, the money to create an educationally stimulating home environment, and the high-level education and business skills that the more successful children are exposed to by their privileged parents. If ghetto children infiltrate a "good" private school, middle class parents will flee, taking their children's federal dollars with them.
The real problem is economic and ethnic segregation, and the only real solution is one that directly integrates people from differing income levels and ethnic identities.
Yes, the report directly attacks the right of teachers to be represented by unions. Having been on a school board, I am not overly fond of teachers unions. But I will say the union's occasional abuses of power are nothing in comparison to the abuses of power by private corporations, school administrators, and politicians. Romney hates unions because he hates all workers. He smiles at them because as a politician he needs their votes. As a capitalist he needs their cooperation; he certainly is not going to do any actual, direct contact with clients or products, work himself.
Romney's Chance Report laments the high cost of college and rising burden of student debt. He claims, perhaps correctly, that the recent increases in federal funding (loans, tax deductions and grants) for college have only enabled colleges to raise fees. Yet Romney fails to offer a solution! In 35 pages all he can say is that students should get private loans, not government ones. Perhaps they can put their tuition and expenses on credit cards at 20% interest and spend an entire lifetime in debt to Romney's capitalist cronies.
All this plan really amounts to is a bid to fund religious education. Capitalists like their workers ignorant, and that is the main value of private schools with religious affiliation. Teaching religious ideas requires forcing children to rely on authority, not on their innate ability to think for themselves. Religious private schools are a horror where fiction is taught as fact.
The only horror that could possibly overmatch religious schooling is a for-profit school system. Children pushed by federal dollars and clever marketing would become profit centers. Children would be branded with corporate logos instead of Jesus, Moses, Mohammed or Buddha. They would continue to emerge from schools dazed and confused, not ready to excel in this modern world of evolutionary biology, quantum-physics based electronics, and knowledge-based creativity.
Religious schools teach hate (sorry, no exceptions, just shades of gray). The only reason to force a particular cult view upon a child is to differentiate them from the other cults and from modern, non-religious persons. Telling children what is right about their creed always involves knocking other creeds, and usually verbal and even physical abuse for even bringing up ideas that challenge or differ with those being promulgated by uncredentialed, faith-inspired teachers. We have seen how the capitalist elite has used religious hate over the American centuries to motivate mobs to attack any social or political deviation from the capitalist agenda. That is what Romney and his Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant capitalist cronies are about with their privatization plan: creating the next generation of their army of heavily-indoctrinated, emotionally bent, hateful Tea Party types.
The only realistic path forward in a democracy is to create the best public schools we can. We can't expect schools to truly equalize opportunities between children of working class or impoverished parents (increasingly, the same thing) and middle class or upper class students.
Public schools were invented in the United States. Many of them are actually quite good, regularly turning out better-qualified graduates than most private and religious schools. Those that are not good are sometimes suffering from unmotivated teachers, but in my experience the real problem is usually lack of parental support for the teachers, not the other way around.
The only thing I agree with in the Republican position is that bad teachers should be fired. The teachers unions could do a lot to restore public confidence in teaching if they would police their own members, rather than always working on the assumption that every teacher is a great teacher who needs to be defended by the union lawyers.
Ultimately Romney's Chance Report is just a political ploy, buying religious sectarian votes with public funds.
Disclaimer: I attended Roman Catholic schools K-8, then a private high school and private college.
See also: Romney Calls Education Civil Rights Issue, New York Times, May 23, 2012