Romney Likes to Fire People, But Will He Fire Teachers?

A look at the education planks in the two party platforms

If you've been watching the Democratic National Convention this week, you may have heard that Mitt Romney likes to fire people. About a million times.

The full Romney quote, from a January speech, is "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me. You know, if someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say, 'I'm going to go get someone else to provide that service to me.’" He was talking about health insurance, but he could just as well have been talking about education.

But when it comes to firing teachers, how much daylight is there between the two parties?

In the Democratic platform, the education plank boasts that under Obama our "economy [will] out-educate the world," and goes to great lengths to highlight all the teaching jobs the president has shielded from the economic downturn. "Because there is no substitute for a great teacher at the head of a classroom, the President helped school districts save more than 400,000 educator jobs."

Alert readers will note that the two parts of that sentence have little to do with each other. Spending billions to keep existing teachers on state payrolls—primarily money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus) as well as the Education Jobs Fund—is mostly unrelated to the process of putting great teachers in front of kids. The relationship only works if public schools are stocked with top teachers and operating like well-oiled machines. But the rest of the Democratic platform is littered with phrases like "achievement gap," "dropout crisis," and "struggling public schools," which suggest that there is room for improvement.

But Democrats want to bring about that improvement with carrot alone: "We Democrats honor our nation's teachers, who do a heroic job for their students every day....The President has laid out a plan to prevent more teacher layoffs while attracting and rewarding great teachers. This includes raising standards for the programs that prepare our teachers, recognizing and rewarding good teaching, and retaining good teachers." No one gets fired! Raises! Job security!

In the Democratic platform, the ying of retaining and rewarding good teachers has no yang of firing the bad ones, or even allowing them to be laid off in times of economic crisis. Of course, in most districts it isn’t the lowest-performing teachers who get the boot when the budget gets tight, it’s the youngest, thanks to union-inspired seniority policies.

The closest the platform gets to admitting the existence of sucky or even ok-ish instructors is this carefully crafted passage: "We also believe in carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom." But closer inspection reveals that this is actually a sop to teachers unions. The message: We believe in rigging any evaluation system to allow maximum wiggle room and opportunities for union appeals.

Democrats don’t get (or choose to ignore) the fact that stocking the nation’s public school classrooms with great teachers necessarily requires clearing out the bad and middling ones. Some teachers are heroic, but most aren’t. Teaching is a job. An important job, to be sure. But so is telephone sanitzer. And one thing about a job is that you can get fired from it. 

So does the GOP platform reveal more willingness to talk about booting some teachers from the classroom? A little.

Republicans do their share of sucking up to teachers and eliding the different between great teachers and all teachers in their education plank, declaring that "We applaud America’s great teachers" and backing "merit pay for good teachers." The platform hints at getting rid of subpar educators with the phrase "hold teachers and administrators responsible for student performance," but doesn't quite come out and argue for trimming the dead wood.

Republicans are more direct in their platform's discussion of the overall failures of the current system. In fact, the word failing even shows up in the section on school choice: "School choice—whether through charter schools, open enrollment requests, college lab schools, virtual schools, career and technical education programs, vouchers, or tax credits—is important for all children, especially for families with children trapped in failing schools." 

And they're willing to point the finger of blame at unions for some of those problems: "We support legislation that will correct the current law provision which defines a 'Highly Qualified Teacher' merely by his or her credentials, not results in the classroom...Rigid tenure systems based on the ‘last in, first out’ policy should be replaced with a merit-based approach that can attract fresh talent and dedication to the classroom."

But in the end, no one wants their education plank to be a downer, and Romney hasn't exactly embraced his reputation as axman-in-chief. When it comes to party platforms, it seems, all the teachers are above average.

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  • Paleo-ConAvenger||

    MOAR TEACHERZ! NO PRIVATE SCHOOLZ! NO HOME OR ONLINEZ SCHOOLZ! PUBLIC SKOOLZ ONLY!

  • califernian||

    I actually know people who think this way. Explicitly admit to wanting to ban private schools. Homeschool of course is the worst possible thing to allow in our society but private schools are a close second. Only public schools for all.

  • ||

    speaking of that, californian, the record of california teacher's unions fighting homeschooling in that state is atrocious and plain evil. they did everything possible to try to prevent homeschoolers from being able to operate in that state by lobbying etc. for all sorts of restrictions, red tape, etc. eventually, they lost, but not for lack of trying.

    there is definitely some credentialism/elitism going on, as well as the fear of lost jobs/$$$.

    HOW DARE some SOCCER MOM with no TEACHING CERTIFICATE dare think she could TEACH!!!!

    that's UNpossible!

  • Red Viper||

    califernian, please go die in fire. I am sick of you inbreds and your class-warfare/welfare-for-all craps.

  • Calidissident||

    WTF are you talking about Red Viper? Califernian clearly said he/she was talking about other people

  • SKR||

    Fucking reading comprehension, how does it work?

  • Red Viper||

    califernian and california teacher's unions: They took jerbs!

  • califernian||

    it's ok I"ve done it before myself.

    red viper, I was talking about OTHER californians, not myself, and their viewpoints, not mine.

  • ||

    I don't see how Romney can't turn that quote to his advantage.

    All he has to do is say "yes, I like to fire people. For instance, I like to fire some federal bureaucrats. I think the federal government is too big, has too many employees, and we ought to lay some of them off. I think that goverment is there to provide services not jobs. My opponent thinks we have teachers and firefighters to keep unemployment numbers down. I think we have them to teach children and fight fires."

  • gigarath6||

    That would be too smart for mittens.

  • AlmightyJB||

    That's some pretty skilled reading between the lines there KMW.

  • Lisa||

    Unfortunately, even if Romney is willing..I'm not sure he can do very much to teacher's unions since that is mostly decided at the state level. Cutting funding would be a start, though.

  • ||

    "the ying of retaining and rewarding good teachers has no yang of firing the bad ones"

    um, lol.

    for the record it's YIN and YANG not YINg and YANG

    unless they actually meant...

    http://www.urbandictionary.com.....=ying-yang

    i just thought it was funny especially because the author italicized the words, as is often done with foreign language words used in another language, but spelled one of them wrong.

  • SKR||

    You don't have to be for firing teachers. You just have to be for vouchers that weaken unions and cause shitty teachers to get fired due to market forces. Unless of course the vouchers end up with all the bureaucratic red tape seen in Holland which is of course possible if enacted at a federal level.

  • George26||

    I think merit-pay systems and firig bad teachers will help our education system, but it certanly will not allow us to "out-educate" the world any time in the forseeable future. Why? Becuase the education system is not just a system whereby the children come in and have there heads filled with knowlege by highly trained professionals. It is dependent on the kids themsleves, and their parents, to actually be willing to learn. To not throw paper airplanes in class, to not get high when they should be doing their homework, of course, you all went to school, I think that maby even tony knows what I'm talking about.

  • Francisco||

    The relationship only works if public schools are stocked with top teachers and operating like well-oiled machines. But the rest of the Democratic platform is littered with phrases like "achievement gap," "dropout crisis," and "struggling public schools," which suggest that there is room for improvement.

  • Ardelle||

    An important job, to be sure. But so is telephone sanitzer. And one thing about a job is that you can get fired from it.

  • jason||

    These entire dialogs are just political and going to be so famous in the election time and that is what Mitt is trying to do.

  • InlineSkate||

    Back when I was in high school about 3 years ago we had teachers who would get angry and grip students up. What were the consequences of these actions? A week suspension(probably paid). Now I understand teenagers can be little shits, but under no circumstance should it get to that point.

    What was the consequence of a student fighting? 2 week suspensions.

    Among other abhorrent policies like forcing a student to miss a whole class if they're 5 mins late or suspending them if they do it 10 times over a semester. Solving tardiness problems by creating more tardiness. What a genius solution!

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  • Bruce Hall||

    Another red herring among many:

    http://hallofrecord.blogspot.c.....issue.html

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