Get Ready: Conservatives Are About to Support the Federal Takeover of Schools

After Mitt Romney attacked Rick Perry for joining Milton Friedman in calling social security a “ponzi scheme”, conservative intellectuals in the DC-NY corridor suddenly began treating Friedman as John Maynard Keynes’ bastard love child with Karl Marx and rejecting all calls to reform social security because Rick Perry dared to call it a ponzi scheme.Considering the behavior of conservative intellectuals in Washington and New York on that issue, get ready for them to support a federal take over of elementary and secondary schools because Mitt Romney today came out in favor of Barack Obama’s Race to the Top and Arne Duncan’s education reforms.This is more than a subtle dig at Rick Perry.


Perry rejected Race to the Top (“RTTT”) funding claiming it would amount to a federal incursion into education standards in Texas and possibly lead to a federal take over of schools that underperform on RTTT standards, which had not actually even been set at the time Perry rejected funding.

Considering Texas is among the nation’s leaders in standards, I imagine whatever federal standards are eventually agreed upon will be weaker than the ones we have now.Adding injury to insult, the price tag to change all our text books and instructional materials to comply with Washington’s vision for public education would be about $3 billion.In return, Texas could expect to get back from Race To The Top as little as $75 a student, barely enough to fund our state’s educational system for two days.So turning down the strings-attached stimulus money was an easy call — in terms of ensuring our children get the best education possible and in simple matters of dollars and cents.A few days after I made that announcement, the president said he wanted another $1.35 billion in borrowed dollars to expand RTTT so he could sidestep states and appeal directly to individual school districts that might be willing to sign away their authority in return for a quick infusion of some federal cash.

In recent days, that led Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who Romney says “has done some good things,” to attack Perry and Texas’s education record. That led to a rebuke of Duncan by Robert Scott, head of the Texas Education Agency. Rodger Jones at the Dallas Morning News says the rebuke of Duncan is justified. Duncan, in a politically motivated attack on Perry, said Texas schools have “really struggled” under Perry. But the Dallas Morning News went so far as to call Duncan’s statement “a lie.”


TEA Commissioner Robert Scott emailed Duncan a sharp response last night (keep reading for text), and I’m glad he did.The tipoff that Duncan doesn’t care about facts was his statement about “massive increases in class size in Texas” during Rick Perry’s time in the governor’s office.Does that sound right to you — considering the fact that the 22-1 class-size cap has been in place that whole time for primary grades?I checked TEA records on statewide class size averages. Primary grades held steady, of course, while most secondary class averages went down during the Perry years.Examples: Secondary math classes averaged 20.3 students in 2000-01 and dropped to 18.5 by last year. Average size of secondary English/language arts classes fell from 20.2 students in 2000-01 to 17.8 by last year.Anybody could look this stuff up. It’s right there on the TEA website. Duncan surely has a few thousand employees who could help him find it.

Even Time Magazine had to issue a corrective on Arne Duncan’s statement. As Time’s Andrew J. Rotherham pointed out, Texas schools outpace the Chicago schools Arne Duncan had once overseen.Ross Douthat at the New York Times pointed out that “When a 2009 McKinsey study contrasted Perry’s home state to the similarly sized and situated California, it found that Texas students were ‘one to two years of learning ahead of California students of the same age, even though Texas has less income per capita and spends less per pupil than California.'”But Romney is cool with RTTT and Arne Duncan. And I find it impossible to believe his mentioning Duncan this week is not tied to Duncan’s lies about Texas. Romney’s own record on education doesn’t leave one with a good feeling. He supported No Child Left Behind. According to an August 31, 2006, Associated Press report,


Massachusetts has not been impacted by the federal No Child Left Behind law because it was testing public school students before it was enacted, Gov. Mitt Romney said Thursday, but he supports it because such measurement is necessary to improve schools.

Then there’s his 2002 gubernatorial bid in which Romney came out opposed to school vouchers after aggressively supporting them in his 1994 campaign against Teddy Kennedy. In fact, though Romney supported No Child Left Behind and now seemingly supports Race to the Top, in 2002 he said vouchers “are not a good idea for Massachusetts.”By 2007, Romney had moved on to supporting Charer Schools.

“On education, Romney boasted of student performance on federal testing on English and math, growth of charter schools, state funded college scholarships and approval of a ballot initiative that ended bilingual education.” (Todd Dvorak, “Romney Touts Conservative Views In Waterloo,” The Associated Press, 1/26/07)

But there was a hitch. As Governor of Massachusetts he refused to ever meet with the head of the Massachusetts Charter School Association.

. “Even his local supporters are cringing. Few issues are as important as school choice but Marc Kenen, head of the Massachusetts Charter School Association, wasn’t able to get a single meeting with the governor in four years. ‘We never had an opportunity to sit down with him, we never had a one-on-one conversation,’ Kenen said. ‘He wasn’t the most accessible guy.’” (Brett Arends, Op-Ed, “Mitt Shoots Holes In His Credibility,” The Boston Herald, 4/11/07)


In other words, Mitt Romney is on the record supporting No Child Left Behind and Arne Duncan’s reforms geared toward discrediting Texas, but he would not support school choice and while he said he’d support charter schools he’d never meet with charter schools leaders.What the hell does Mitt Romney believe in other than saying or doing anything right now to hurt Team Perry, including tacking to the left? But hey! At least in 1994 Mitt Romney supported the elimination of the U.S. Department of Education. Like Obama though, I suspect this statement of his comes with an expiration date tied to what he now considers electability as a moderate.


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