During his Thursday visit to the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney espoused the merits of two-parent families and a theory that class size matters little to student success. It was a rare foray into an inner-city community that may have been planned more to impress key independent voters than African-Americans.
Mayor Michael Nutter, who joined a group of protesters outside of the school during Romney's visit, suggested that the former Massachusetts governor wants to apply a Bain Capital theory of economics to education by spending as little as possible and still expecting to maximize the results. Bain is a Boston-based private equity firm Romney formally headed that critics, including President Obama, say focused more on making millions for investors during its takeover of various firms than it did on saving jobs. Nutter also suggested that the candidate knows less about the issue than a second grader.
In an appearance on MSNBC's Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell Thursday, Nutter said that "every second grader knows that having fewer students in the class is going to be better for that student, you get more attention from your teacher and the specialized kind of services that elementary school students need to perform at a high level." Nutter, who "strongly supports" President Obama and his administration's education reforms, also said that he's not going to allow Romney to come to his town and "try to dupe people into thinking that he actually knows something about education."
During a panel discussion with educators at the charter school, teachers challenged Romney's assertion that class size is not important.
"I can't think of any teacher in the whole time I have been teaching, 13 years, who would say that more students [in the classroom] would benefit. And I can't think of a parent that would say I would like my teacher to be in a room with a lot of kids and only one teacher," said Steven Morris, who teaches at the school.
The National Education Association considers 15 students to be the optimum class size, especially in kindergarten and first grade.
David Hardy, another teacher, pointed out that if the class size in first through third grades is under 18, the students stay ahead of other classrooms through grade 12, including those with 25 students and co-teachers.
Another panelist at the school's roundtable brought up calls by Romney and others for voucher programs that would take money out of the local public school system that families can use to have their children educated outside of the neighborhoods in which they live.
"Why can't why we have good schools in this neighborhood?" he asked the candidate, who didn't provide an answer.
"Mitt Romney running his financial services firm put people out of work, damaged Americans, damaged families, caused people to lose their jobs, possibly losing their homes and all of that," Nutter said outside the school. "So let's talk about that. 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."
In a Friday morning conference call hosted by Obama's re-election campaign, Nutter said that Romney has the same "backward" view of education that he had during his time as governor.
"Massachusetts students suffered through larger class sizes, laid off teachers and in one year alone the second-largest per pupil cut in the United States of America," the mayor said. "Now he's promising to make deep cuts to education leading to larger class sizes and fewer teachers in order to fund his budget-busting tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires."
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(Photos from left: Mario Tama/Getty Images, Courtesy MSNBC)