The fallout from Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s murky visit to Philadelphia last Thursday came swiftly, with the American Federation of Labor and Congress of International Organizations one of the first to assail Romney, not just for his clandestine drop-in, but for his stances on public education as well.
“Romney hasn’t offered any ideas that would help kids succeed in the classroom.” said Philadelphia AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Liz McElroy in a statement released by her office. “Blaming teachers is not an education policy.”
The AFL-CIO contends that Romney’s plan essentially revolves around blaming teachers and their unions for the struggles of school districts nationwide. The union organization also feels that Romney is entirely out of touch with the complex fiscal and academic issues facing the School District of Philadelphia.
As examples, the AFL-CIO outlined comments from Romney that seem to contradict the needs of various struggling school districts. Romney is often quoted saying smaller classrooms may hurt students and that teacher unions are standing in the way of education reform.
That flies counter to the classroom sizes at Cranbrook, Romney’s prestigious private school. According to the AFL-CIO, the average class size at Cranbrook is 14; the average class size in Pennsylvania public schools is 22.4.
The AFL-CIO also points to a damning report from the Boston Globe, that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney’s leadership led to the elimination of 14,500 teachers, police officers, librarians and other service provider positions.
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan dismissed Romney out-of-hand for not understanding the unique problems facing Philadelphia public education, and for echoing the merits of the general cuts to education found in Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal.
“At a time when school budgets have been cut to the bone, Mitt Romney wants to take money out of our neighborhood public schools to spend on vouchers, private schools, charters and other gimmicks,” Jordan said. “Our schools need equitable and stable funding to improve student outcomes. They need collaboration, and not conflict, between teachers, parents and community leaders to improve achievement.”
Local elected officials remained outraged at the nature and scope of Romney’s visit.
Mayor Michael Nutter said it is “clear that Mitt Romney is out of touch with reality.” Nutter made those comments during Friday’s media session, helmed by the Obama for America-Pennsylvania. Nutter, along with District Attorney Seth Williams, led a protest outside Bluford Elementary School during Romney’s visit there.
“Romney visited our city where he continued to, for some reason, push his backwards and completely baffling ideas on public education,” Nutter said. “It is true that he wrote that smaller classes wouldn’t help. I don’t know what universe he’s operating in, but everyone knows small class sizes are preferable to larger ones — everybody knows that except Mitt Romney.
“And even confronted by people who do this for a living, he continues to argue with teachers, saying small class sizes are not the solution.”
District Attorney Seth Williams — who joined Nutter for Thursday’s rally and who also took part in the media session, said the correlation between crime and faulty education is real.
“I see daily as district attorney, the results of failed education policies… [Neighbors] were mad because they know the history of the Republicans who reduced Head Start programs,” Williams said. “Now we can debate on how to fund better teachers, but it’s nonsensical that larger class sizes would be better.”
Nutter didn’t want to guess at Romney’s reasons for coming to Philadelphia, but if Romney was trying to cull any favor with the residents of that hardscrabble and poverty-stricken neighborhood, chances are he failed mightily.
“I tend not to get into what [Romney’s] motivations are. He came, he saw, and did whatever he did. I don’t know what his strategy was, but the end result was he went to the school, took nice pictures and probably moved on,” Nutter said. “I don’t know what the motivation was, but he certainly left an impression in this city that he has no idea what he’s talking about.
“Ask a bunch of parents in virtually any city across America: no one is going to say, ‘I’d rather my kids be in a classroom with one teacher and 50 kids, as opposed to one teacher and 20 kids,’” Nutter continued. “You don’t need to be an education expert to figure that out. Some of this is just common sense.”