Romney, Philly Teacher Go Head-to-Head on Class Size
(PHILADELPHIA) — During a visit to a struggling West Philadelphia charter school Thursday meant to highlight his newly unveiled education platform, Mitt Romney was challenged by teachers at the school on his claim that small class sizes is not key to students’ success. Instructors at the school told the candidate about the struggles of teaching effectively in packed classrooms.
“I heard your position on class size and testing,” said Steven Morris, a teacher at the Universal Bluford Charter School, which serves students in grades K thru sixth grade. “But you know, I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I have been teaching, 13 years, who would say that more students [in the classroom] would benefit.”
Morris was one of eleven teachers and educational leaders who joined Romney in a library in the school for a roundtable discussion.
“And I can’t think of a parent that would say I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher,” Morris continued. “So I’m wondering where this research comes from.”
Romney opened the roundtable with remarks about his own education policy, during which he detailed what he did during his time as governor of Massachusetts, noting that information he gathered across the states found that smaller classroom sizes did not correlate to student performance.
“I came into office and talked to people and said what do we do to improve our schools and a number of folks said we need smaller classroom sizes, that will make the biggest difference,” said Romney. “We had 351 cities and towns and I said let’s compare the average class size from each district with the performance of our students. Let’s test our kids and see if there is a relationship. And there was not.”
“As a matter of fact, the district with the smallest classrooms Cambridge had students performing in the bottom 10 percent,” said Romney. “So just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key.”
Romney went on to say that teacher quality as well having kids raised in stable environments with a mom and a dad and school leadership were found to be “highly correlated with success in schools.”
Another teacher, Ronald Benner, also chimed in on the class size issue at Bluford, remarking, “It’s large enough, actually it’s too large.”
“It varies between classes but anywhere from 23 to 28 somewhere in there,” he said. “And you can give more personalized attention to each student if you have a smaller class size.”
Kenneth Gamble, the founder of the charter school, turned the discussion back to Romney, asking him bluntly, “What’s your view on it?”
“On class size?” Romney responded, before doubling down on his stance that class room size is not the defining factor in school success. “Well if you had a class of five that would be terrific, if you had a class of 50 that’s impossible. So there are points where I think those who have looked at schools in this country and schools around the world, McKenzie for instance, that consulting firm McKenzie Institute, which is a think tank type organization went around the world and looked at schools in Singapore and Finland and South Korea and the United States and looked at differences and said gosh, schools that are the highest performing in the world, their classroom sizes are about the same as in the United States.”
“So it’s not the classroom size that is driving the success of those school systems,” said Romney again. “And then they looked at it and said well what is driving the success of those school systems? It’s parents very involved and the idea of choice means you have chosen to be involved, parents are involved, excellent teachers, drawing teachers from the very best and brightest of graduates. And administrators that are able to guide the school with good policies of discipline and getting the right resources. So it was those things that tended to drive the most successful nations relative to those that were less successful.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio