Romney tells Philly teachers that class size doesn’t matter
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney greets students in a computer class at Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia. (Clem Murray/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney brought his plan to improve the American educational system to a West Philadelphia charter school on May 24, and he suggested that class size mattered little to pupils’ achievement—whereupon the teachers in the room immediately questioned his stance.
Calling the gap in education performance between black and white students “the civil rights issue of our time,” Romney said high-quality teaching and parental involvement were the keys to classroom success.
He made his comments during a roundtable discussion in the library at Universal Bluford Charter School, an elementary school named for astronaut Guion Bluford and one of five schools run by a nonprofit organization founded by music mogul Kenny Gamble.
To a group of a dozen listeners that included Gamble, school administrators, and two teachers, Romney recalled how, as governor of Massachusetts, he studied what boosts test scores and what doesn’t. His team analyzed results at schools in 351 cities and towns in his home state and found no correlation between the number of students in a classroom and performance, he said.
“As a matter of fact, the district with the smallest classrooms, Cambridge, had students performing in the bottom 10 percent,” Romney told the Bluford group. “So just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key.”
He also cited a study by the McKinsey Global Institute, research arm of the global management consulting company McKinsey & Co., that found teachers’ and parents’ involvement mattered most.
In essence, Romney was differing with one of the givens of modern American elementary and secondary education: that smaller class size produces better results.
That was when two teachers at the table spoke up, albeit in civil tones.
“I heard your position on class size and testing,” music teacher Steven Morris said. “I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, over 10 years, 13 years, who would say … that they would love—that more students would benefit. And I can’t think of a parent who would say, ‘I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.’”
Morris then turned to Ronald Benner, who teaches technology at Bluford, and asked if he would want more students in his class.
“No,” Benner replied.
Another person at the table, David Hardy, chief executive of Boys Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, jumped into the discussion. Hardy, whose school is highly regarded for academics, pointed to a University of Tennessee study that found small class size crucial to pupils’ success, especially in the early grades.