In Denver, Romney touts free-market education reform

DENVER– Yesterday all but certain GOP candidate for president Mitt Romney, speaking at the Alliance for Choice in Education’s (ACE) 10th Anniversary Luncheon , stressed the importance of choice and free-market principles in K-12 education. He condemned politicians for not looking at data and analysis before making decisions on such vital policy decisions as class size. But Romney argued that class size has no effect on student scores even though studies show that in schools where 1st through 3rd grade class size was limited to 18 students and where teachers shifted their teaching behaviors to reflect those smaller class sizes, there is considerable improvement in performance.

Romney said class size was a red herring as celebrated the charter school movement as a victory of market principles. He said teacher skill was the most important predictor of students success, citing analysis done by McKinsey and Company. He said research found that of 112 studies on class size, no significant relationship existed. “In fact,” Romney said, in 103 of those studies they found “a negative relationship or not at all.”

“What does work?” asked. High performing teachers, that’s what, he said. Leaning on the McKinsey and Company California report, Romney said that choosing teachers from the top tier of college graduates is the best way to improve education.

The same McKinsey report noted that classroom size has been found to produce positive impacts in lower grade levels.

Similar studies conducted for the Department of Education report that although some studies have shown no relationship between class size and student improvement, when teachers in 1st to 3rd grades changed their teaching practices to match class sizes below 18 students, they registered significant improvements.

Tennessee’s Project STAR compared students in classrooms of 13 to 17 students against classrooms of 22 to 26 students. “Smaller class students substantially outperformed larger class students on both standardized (Stanford Achievement Tests) and curriculum-based tests (Basic Skills First),” STAR reported. “This was true for both white and minority students in smaller classes, and for smaller class students from inner city, urban, suburban, and rural schools.”

The state implemented the program in their lower-performing school districts kindergarten to 3rd grade programs. The result was that “districts moved from near the bottom of school district performance in Tennessee to near the middle in both reading and mathematics for second grade.”

“This is a model for the nation,” Romney told the Alliance for Choice crowd. “What you have accomplished here and the record of achievement is really just a remarkable thing.”

ACE, whose board of trustees includes former Gov. Bill Owens, Will Armstrong, and Charlie Gallagher provides scholarships to low-income families who wish but can not afford to send their children to charter schools. Over the last 10 years the program has provided 6,000 scholarships and currently has $12 million dollars in scholarship commitments. The organization also has spent over $15 million in school choice advocacy.

Scholarship recipients show graduation rates of 90 percent, according to ACE statistics. Colorado graduation rates are currently at 61 percent according to Colorado Department of Education 2008-2009 figures. In addition the organization showed that while 63 percent of students in Colorado attend college, 100 percent of ACE student in 2009 did so.

Romney told the room of close to a 1,000 people that when he came in as governor of Massachusetts and conducted audits of the school system, people questioned how charter schools could be more effective than the public school system. “There was a failure to understand how competition works… and how powerful competition is in our society,” he said.

The McKinsey study cited by Romney, however, gave charter schools mixed results. The study said that although some charter schools “demonstrated significant improvements in student outcomes,” on the whole, charter schools did not outperform traditional public schools. In fact, as scored by a National Assessment of Education Progress, students in charter schools underperformed compared to public school students.

A recent study by Stanford found similar results.

During the speech Romney said that the time for innovation was at hand. “Productivity is a bad word in the public sector,” he said.

View the speech on YouTube here, here, here and here.

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