Taking on the educational establishment is like picking a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel—it simply isn’t done.
Mitt Romney apparently never got that memo.
As governor of Massachusetts and on the presidential campaign trail this year, Romney has bucked the establishment by supporting much-needed reforms such as school choice and rightly labeling the failure of so many of our inner-city schools the “civil rights issue of our time.”
Leadership on civil rights and education runs in the Romney family. Mitt’s father, George Romney, served as governor of Michigan in the 1960s and earned a reputation as a civil rights pioneer and proponent of local control of education. In The Rise and Fall of an Urban School System: Detroit, 1907-81, Jeffrey Mirel notes that George Romney helped grant the Detroit school board full financial independence from the city, a move that streamlined the bond issuing process and enabled “school leaders to borrow funds for capital improvements.”
Some forty years later, Mitt Romney has inherited this mantle of leadership from his father. It couldn’t come at a better time for America’s schools.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently found that one in ten high schools are “dropout factories” where less than 60 percent of students who enroll as freshman continue through their senior year. Meanwhile, the Associated Press found this year that the on-time high school graduation rate among minorities stands at about 50 percent. The situation in some urban areas is even worse—much worse. According to Walter Williams, just 21.7 percent of students in Detroit’s public schools graduate. All this despite the fact that education spending has increased by more than 100 percent since 1971.
As a business leader, Romney understands that competition breeds success. He understands that in order to improve, schools need to compete with other schools and teachers need to compete with other teachers. This type of healthy competition is the lifeblood of the American economy, as it fosters innovation, efficiency and prosperity. Likewise, introducing competition into our school system will cultivate a culture which rewards excellence, and improves quality from top to bottom.
Romney has a record of advancing substantive educational change. During his tenure in Massachusetts, Romney increased the number of charter schools and the number of students attending them, even against the opposition of a hostile legislature. Romney proposed a plan to provide $68 million per year in performance-based bonuses for 25,000 qualifying teachers. He also oversaw the hiring of 1,000 additional math and science teachers, helped put laptops in the hands of thousands of middle school and high school students, and initiated a scholarship program which rewards successful high school graduates with four-year, tuition free college scholarships. Romney has also proposed a tax credit for families who home-school their children.
While nearly every student, every school district would benefit from the various reforms mentioned, minority students in urban school districts stand to gain the most. That’s why Romney calls education the civil rights issue of our time.
We can no longer afford, can no longer tolerate, the achievement gap between whites and minorities in our schools. Reasonable people will differ as to how to fix the problem, but we have forty years of evidence which shows that money—and more and more of it—is anything but a panacea. Minority parents and their children know the truth of this, perhaps more than anyone else. They sense the need for change; they sense that their schools are at a tipping point. Romney agrees.
“At some point,” Romney has said, “I think America—and more important, the minority communities—are going to say, ‘It’s time to split with our friends, the unions and the Democratic Party, and put our kids first here. “
With Mitt Romney at the helm, that time may be now.