While at NBC’s Education Nation conference this past week Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney was on the attack against Teacher’s Unions and by extension, classroom teachers. When confronted with the question from a participant and New York City parent that in New York parents support the United Federation of Teachers Union 3-to-1 over Mayor Bloomberg, Governor Romney was quick to dismiss the poll. Claiming he didn’t believe it for a minute, he quipped “I know something about polls,” to laughter in the audience. He went on to illuminate the audience about how pollsters can ask questions in such a way as to get any answer they like. While there is a great deal of truth to his comment about statistical manipulation, this sentiment is not consistent with his later comments about analyzing data or using standardized testing as a measure and prod for high quality education.
What Mr. Romney knows about public education, it seems to me, could probably leave a thimble parse. While in my own election coverage I try to walk the line, in matters of education I tend to let my bias show as an educator and UFT member. The Governor went on to illustrate how when he was the Big Cheese of Massachusetts he heard often complaints about classroom sizes and about standardized testing. He said that while he was Governor he saw that the numbers from Cambridge, a city that touted the smallest class sizes and the largest per capita spending per student was in the bottom 10% of test scores. Now, I don’t know very much about the city other than the fact that it is the home of several colleges and universities including Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology so it seems to me that a failing public school system in such a city is a crying shame if true. What I will however point out is how Mr. Romney decided to fight one statistic—which he claimed to be easily manipulated—with another statistic immediately. Apparently, statistics mid conversation that he doesn’t agree with are dubious, but ones of his own studies are without spin.
He also went on to state that teachers complained about the standardized exams causing them to “teach to the test”. For those of you who don’t know this particular phrase, teaching to the test is a practice that many public education and educators in general, have to resort to in the face of looming and heavily weighted standardized examinations that require teachers to use specially created test prep books that cater to the specifics of tests. This practice is more about teaching students how to read a test, and limiting their ability to use knowledge to the specific confines of the examination. Anyone who has ever taken a state Regents or standardized exam knows that if you don’t know how to read a test you’ll never pass it. As it stands teachers are having a hard time railroading through content just to get to test prep—whether or not the students can practically apply or actually acquire the knowledge is irrelevant. The only way a state can measure success is through the statistics provided by a standardized test. But then again, Mitt Romney doesn’t care for statistics. They are easily manipulated.