Mitt Romney’s campaign is crying foul over a new Obama ad accusing him of promoting bigger class sizes, noting that the president’s own education secretary has also expressed skepticism on the importance of small classes.
The ad, titled “Children,” features parents criticizing Romney on education and a narrator who says that “Mitt Romney says class sizes don’t matter.”
Romney has indeed said in speeches and debates that his administration would not prioritize class size over other measures designed to increase teacher accountability, claiming he found “no correlation” between student-to-teacher ratios and student performance as governor of Massachusetts.
On this particular issue, however, Romney has some company in the White House. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has called class size “a sacred cow” and suggested school districts consider “modest but smartly targeted increases in class size” if it means offsetting more damaging cuts elsewhere. Duncan hasn’t gone quite as far as Romney in suggesting there’s zero benefits from small classes — he’s warned a “skyrocket” in student/teacher ratios would be damaging — but he’s made clear that educators often over-emphasize the issue.
“President Obama’s latest ad puts him directly at odds with his own education secretary, who has promoted teacher quality — not class size — as the most important factor in a good education,” Romney spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said in a statement. “President Obama and his campaign have put misleading and hypocritical attacks ahead of a real discussion about education policy.”
While the class-size debate is a nuanced one, Obama and Romney have indicated sharper differences elsewhere in their overall take on education. Obama has made his proposal to use federal funding to reverse teacher layoffs at the state level a key plank of his campaign, for example, and is also attacking Paul Ryan’s budgets for potentially requiring significant education cuts.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.