Romney’s half-hearted education efforts
“Romney education record was mixed” reads the headline on today’s front-page Boston Globe story. It’s a look at Mitt Romney’s track record on education issues while Massachusetts governor, and the headline is probably more generous than the story, which generally pans Romney’s record from his four years in office.
Some Romney-backed policies clearly were an overhyped bust. The Adams Scholarship covers tuition at state colleges for high-performing Massachusetts students, but fees make-up 80 percent of student charges under our wacky state system. And Romney strongly supported a successful 2002 ballot question mandating English immersion for all non-native speakers, the implementation of which has been widely seen as an abysmal failure.
But in many ways the Romney report card is mixed because he advocated serious reform policies but didn’t seem serious about actually trying to get them adopted. With enough support in the Legislature, he managed to stave off an attempt to impose a moratorium on charter school growth. But much more sweeping proposals to hold teachers more accountable went nowhere. “His impact was inconsequential,” Glenn Koocher, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, sniffs to the Globe’s Tracy Jan. “People viewed his proposals as political talking points, and no one took Romney seriously.”
As the story recounts, Romney collided head-first with a Democratic Legislature and hostile teachers unions, which together formed an unshakable obstacle to his plans. Those plan were easily dismissed as the anti-labor bluster of a corporate Republican. A decade later, however, some of the same positions have become the talking points of liberal Democrats like Deval Patrick. Just days ago, Patrick signed legislation that will elevate the role of teacher evaluations over seniority in staffing decisions.
Romney’s tenure as governor was often marked by an aloof style and seeming indifference toward others in government with whom he would need to work in order to get anything done. But it’s unfair to compare his inability to make progress on teacher reforms with the strides that are now being taken. The time is now ripe for the sort of changes Massachusetts is adopting — and having a Democrat in the governor’s office saying so has been part of the reason. At the time Romney was in office, there was no broad-based support for such reforms.
Perhaps he was half-hearted in pushing such changes because, as the broader critique of his tenure has it, he always viewed the governor’s post as a stepping stone to be exploited on the way to a White House run. “He didn’t want to do the groundwork. He was here to look for his next job,” state Rep. Patricia Haddad tells the Globe.
But some of the school reform positions Romney supported were destined not to get much traction seven or eight years ago no matter what he did. In that way, Romney can say that at least some of the shortcomings of his education record are the mark of someone who was ahead of the curve.
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