Obama ad: Romney agrees with Duncan on class size

President Obama’s new ad hit accuses challenger Mitt Romney of believing class size doesn’t matter:  “Some of our children’s greater experiences have been in smaller classrooms … but Mitt Romney says class sizes don’t matter, and he supports Paul Ryan’s budget, which could cut education by 20 percent,” the ad says.

Romney never said class size doesn’t matter, reports CNN.

Talking to a group of Philadelphia teachers  in May, Romney said, “If you had a class size of five, that would be terrific. If you have a class size of 50, that would be impossible.”

But Romney cited a McKinsey Global Institute Study that showed sometimes schools with small classes fail and sometimes schools with big classes succeed. Therefore, he said, class size should not be given excessive weight in efforts to improve schools.

Obama’s Education secretary, Arne Duncan, agrees.  Class size might matter up to third grade, but “but in secondary schools, districts may be able to save money without hurting students, while allowing modest but smartly targeted increases in class size,”  Duncan said in 2010. “In fact, teachers in Asia sometimes request larger class sizes because they think a broad distribution of students and skill levels can accelerate learning.”

Romney’s K-12 education plan “contains some interesting ideas and some problematic ones,” writes Matthew Yglesias, who also notes that Duncan and Romney agree on class size.

At “the very Obama-friendly Center for American Progress,” where Yglesias used to work, the education team also holds the Romney-Duncan position:

It’s not that “class size doesn’t matter” exactly. It’s that at most plausible margins, it makes more sense to invest money in hiring and retaining the most effective teachers rather than in simply adding more teachers. The fact that Obama agrees with Romney about this is presumably why Obama’s education policies have focused on investing money in teacher quality rather than in maximizing the number of teachers.

Romney’s “budget won’t leave much money for anything,” including K-12 education, writes Yglesias.

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  1. All these folks, and pretty much all of the so-called “reformers,” send their kids to private schools that boast of their small class sizes. The high-end suburban districts also spend their fundraising proceeds on reducing class sizes.

    Then the elites turn around and tell the peons that class size doesn’t matter.

    • That would of course include Obama. The elites turn around and tell the peons that school choice doesn’t matter.

  2. Why are we expecting k-12 education to be a federal issue?

    The feds might cut a percentage of the federal education budget but at most schools that’s, correctly if you ask me, a fraction of a fraction of the overall budget.

    • I think it’s just CARING about K-12 education that’s a federal issue. Either that, or the 50 States might as well be renamed ‘administrative divisions’ at this point…

  3. So that means if Romney replaces Obama, we get his education policies but Romney’s energy, foreign and domestic policies?

    Sounds like a good deal to me.

    Thanks DNC for pointing that out.

  4. It’s a lot easier for teachers to handle larger classes well if the classes are homogeneously grouped such that all kids have similar academic needs. I think the number of teachers who can do “differentiated instruction” even adequately is vanishingly small, particularly when the ability/preparation range of kids is large – and most particularly when full/radical mainstreaming is involved. It is also necessary to remove disruptive kids, even of the class-clown variety. My older kids’ outstanding AP science classes all had 36 kids and would have had more, if not for the room size/lab stations issue. In fact, most/all of the APs were about that size, with the exception of the two Spanish APs (language, lit) – I think those had 25+ (no more kids requested). The honors classes (all APs had honors prereqs) also tended to be similar – again, with foreign language exceptions.

    I can see the need for “smaller” foreign language classes (as above) and the first few ES grades would likely benefit from a somewhat smaller size, but I think the first and easiest step should be grouping by academic preparation/need, by subject. Few teachers are able to control, let alone teach, a 4th-grade class of 25 with kids’ functioning from grades 1 to 6, including (for ex) a moderately-functioning ASD kid, a cerebral palsy kid, 2 LDs and 2 ADD/ADHD – and they shouldn’t be expected to do it.

  5. All classes, with the exception of one third grade class and one fourth grade class, have team teachers. Individual class sizes range from one teacher for every ten students in the lower grades to one teacher for every sixteen students in some fourth grade classes.

    From the Sidwell Friends School, where Obama sends his kids.


    Small classes are good enough for the children of the elite, but the commoners are SOL.

  6. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    As a veteran teacher, I can tell you that the only reason class size matters is student BEHAVIOR. Give me 50 well-behaved, respectful and cooperative students over 25, of which at least half will be rude, disrespecful, unmotivated and coming from families whose thinks a school’s raison d’etre is taxpayer-funded babysitting/daycare. Adding insult to injury, teachers’ authority–if it exists at all in most schools today–is constantly undermined by weak administrators, negligent or helicopter parents and their lack of instilling the values of respect, hard work and decency, a school district”s inane, politically correct anti-discipline policies, and the convenient scapegoating of the teaching profession for society’s ills. In more homogenous, communal societies ie. Japan, large class size is more successful. If public schools could expel disruptive, unmotivated students who are unwilling to cooperate, class size would cease to be a concern. When I differentiate instruction in a class of 30, I shouldn’t have to worry about working with smaller groups, or even one-on-one…other students will be on task and won’t be constantly interrupting or disrupting. One of my teacher colleagues attended Catholic schools, which routinely had large classes of 50-60 students; through corporal punishment (which I am against) or expulsion of malfeasant students, class size wasn’t a problem–even low ability students achieved. Behavior is the decisive factor—and the elephant in the room that neither Right nor Left want to discuss.

  7. nailsagainsttheboard says:

    Oops..change “families whose thinks” to “families who think”…my fingers typed faster than my willingness to proofread before submitting, LOL. Embarrassing teacher faux pas.

  8. “Behavior is the decisive factor—and the elephant in the room that neither Right nor Left want to discuss.”

    I once walked into an AP English III class that had 42 students in it. They were sitting on the floor, the window sills, and on any available space. You could have heard a pin drop in that room. I was doing an observation on a student, and when I talked to the teacher after class, I noted that she never spoke above her normal speaking voice. She told me that all of the students wanted to be there, and while she occasionally had disruptive students, they were easily moved to a less rigorous class.

    I then left to visit a more mainstream class, and saw a hoarse voiced teacher who really worked hard to control the 22 students in her class.

    Does behavior matter? You betcha!!