On the campaign trail on Tuesday, President Obama accused Mitt Romney of aloofness in his understanding of the burdens of student debt and touted the utter importance of a college education — and today, the Obama campaign took the education battle down to grade level with a new ad (to air in just Virginia and Ohio) yet again purporting that Romney can’t relate to the concerns of average Americans.
The ad accuses Mitt Romney of supporting larger class sizes and charges that the Ryan budget cuts education spending by 20 percent.
“These are all issues that really he personally cannot relate to. To be able to afford an education, to want the very best public education system for your children,” the ad’s narrator says over a shot of Romney in front of Donald Trump’s plane.
Firstly, just wow — really well done, Team Obama. That shot of Mitt Romney in front of Trump’s plane was about as unsubtle as it gets. I suppose that’s meant to semi-subliminally imply that, because Mitt Romney is wealthy and sent his own sons to private school, he can’t possibly understand or care about the concerns of middle-class parents in sending their own children through the public education system. Yes, because dropping the dimes it takes to send kids to private schools probably does mean that you have zero understanding of the rotten public school system and can’t relate to wanting the best for you children at all.
Secondly, one of President Obama’s more vocal “jobs” platforms has been about injecting more money we don’t have into state and local governments so that they can hire more cops, firefighters, teachers, and etcetera (a.k.a., more unionized public-sector workers). This whole argument about “class size” is just a convenient way to justify preserving the terrible status quo in which teachers’ unions maintain their “it’s for the children” power to frustrate public school reform. As easy as it is to demagogue the heck out of anyone who would dare suggest we impose spending cuts upon the oh-so-noble Department of Education, but we do not need more top-down mandates and federal education initiatives to improve the American education system — we need the competitive, bottom-up solutions that are never going to happen if the federal government just keeps throwing money at the problem. Washington has been doing that for years, but somehow, our education system miraculously fails to yield better results:
Begin with Head Start, a nearly $8 billion program that’s politically untouchable, not only because it deals with education, but it’s for preschool kids. It’s almost tailor-made for demagoguery, with anyone who’d dare trim — much less eliminate — the program practically begging to be declared a rotten so-and-so who hates even the littlest of children.
But the fact is there’s no meaningful evidence the program does any good. In fact, the most recent federal evaluation found that Head Start produces almost no lasting cognitive benefits, and its few lasting social-emotional effects include negative ones. Only the people employed by Head Start money — and the politicians who appear to “care” — are really benefiting.
This is repeated in elementary and secondary education, only with a bigger bill. In 2011 Washington spent almost $79 billion on K-12 education, and the latest federal data show inflation-adjusted federal outlays per pupil ballooning from $446 in 1970-71 to $1,185 in 2008-09. Meanwhile, scores for 17-year-olds on the National Assessment of Educational Progress — the “Nation’s Report Card” — have been stagnant.