On Thursday, GOP nominee Mitt Romney robot-walked his exoskeleton into a West Philly charter school and proclaimed to teachers and administrators that class size has no influence on student performance. As you might expect, this went over about as well as… a Mitt Romney PR stop in the heart of West Philly.
Romney’s campaign contacted Universal Bluford, a local elementary school run by Kenny Gamble, to arrange the open discussion on education. While he framed the disparate performances of black and white students as the “the civil rights issue of our time,” Romney went on to cite a Massachusetts study that apparently found no relationship between class size and student performance. “As a matter of fact, the district with the smallest classrooms, Cambridge, had students performing in the bottom 10 percent. So just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key.”
Steven Morris, a quite ballsy music teacher at the school, responded to Romney, “I can’t think of any teacher in the whole time I’ve been teaching, over 10 years, 13 years, who would say . . . that more students would benefit [from larger classes]. And I can’t think of a parent who would say, ‘I would like my kid to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher.’ “
We happen to agree and, despite any evidence to the contrary, it was sort of stupid thing for a presidential nominee to say, especially at a charter school in Philadelphia. Class size has been at the center of the education debate since 2000. While common sense dictates that more one-on-one time with teachers and less distractions in the classroom are a good thing, there actually are a few studies that show no correlation. However, according to Education Week, “most [studies] have linked smaller classes to improvements in achievement.”
Mayor Nutter has since responded to Romney’s West Philly visit, saying, “I don’t know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America.” He later added, “You want to have an urban experience? You want to have a West Philly experience? Then come out here and talk to somebody in West Philly.”
Photos courtesy of Clem Murray via Philly.com