By Diane Ravitch, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Diane Ravitch was assistant secretary of education in the administration of George H.W. Bush. She is a historian of education and is now a research professor at New York University. She is the author of several books on education, including her latest “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice are Undermining Education.” She blogs daily at dianeravitch.net and can be followed on Twitter at @DianeRavitch.
Schools of Thought will be publishing other views on this topic in the days up to the election.
(CNN) - Over the past three years, I have been an outspoken critic of the education policies of the Obama administration. In my view, Race to the Top is a disastrous program that is almost indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s failed No Child Left Behind legislation. Both programs require teaching to the test, both encourage privatization of our public schools, and both have demoralized the nation’s educators while doing nothing to improve education.
But as bad as the Obama education policies are, they are tolerable in comparison to what Mitt Romney plans. Romney claims credit for the academic successes of Massachusetts, but he had nothing to do with the gains in that state, which were enacted 10 years before he became governor. The Massachusetts education reforms doubled the budget for public schools, increased spending on early childhood education, and raised standards for new teachers, but Romney intends to do none of that if elected President.
If elected president, Romney will curtail spending on everything except privatization of public education. He will lower standards for entering the teaching profession. His policies will devastate our public schools and dismantle the education profession. He supports charters and vouchers and welcomes the takeover of public schools by for-profit entrepreneurs. Unlike the Massachusetts reforms that he wrongly takes credit for, he offers not a single idea to improve public education. Romney nowhere acknowledges that free public education is a public responsibility and an essential institution in a democratic society.
Under a Romney administration, I fear not only for the future of public education but for the future of our society. Presently, nearly 25% of American children are growing up in poverty. We lead the advanced nations of the world in child poverty. Romney offers no proposals to reduce that scandalous number. Only government action can make a dent in a problem of that magnitude, but Romney believes in private charity, not government action.
What frightens me most about the Romney-Ryan ticket is the Republican Party’s rigid ideology. There have been times in recent history when moderate Republicans were in the ascendancy in the party. Today, the moderates are gone; the GOP is dominated by radical anti-government ideologues. The party seems determined to roll back the social policies of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society and to bring our society back to the 1920s. We know what followed the free-market exhilaration of the 1920s.
If Romney has the chance to select one or two or three Supreme Court justices, then women’s rights, voting rights, and the rights of minorities will be imperiled. We can anticipate that a Romney Supreme Court would favor the rights of multinational corporations over consumers and individuals.
One shudders to imagine what will happen to our environment, to our water and air, if its protection is turned over to those who deny the reality of climate change and who despise regulation. We can expect that our precious resources of parks, beaches, and oceans will be handed over to private enterprise to mine for profit—theirs, not ours.
What of the millions of jobs that Romney promises to create? Romney’s private company was known for outsourcing well-paying middle-class jobs to low-wage nations. In the debates, he has expressed admiration for trickle-down economics, his belief that whatever helps the rich and powerful will eventually create jobs further down the food chain. We can expect that jobs of the future created by a Romney administration will be for retail clerks, fast food servers, operators in call centers, and home health aides, none paying the kinds of salaries that lift families into the middle class.
Romney has made clear that he will not pay for early childhood education, despite the fact that an independent survey by The Economist magazine ranked the U.S. 24th in the world in taking care of its youngest citizens. His education platform says that he will not expand any federal aid to college students now drowning in debt. Nor will he increase support for prenatal care for indigent women, even though a survey by the March of Dimes reported last spring that the U.S. ranked 131st among 180 nations in protecting the health of pregnant women; in that respect, we rank shamefully alongside Somalia.
A Romney administration promises a society in which life is very sweet for those at the very top, but hard, mean, and brutish for the growing number of Americans falling out of the middle class and into poverty.
Every successful nation in the world has taken positive steps to reduce income inequality, to reduce poverty, and to protect the environment in which we all live.
I cannot support a candidate who promises to shred the safety net for our most vulnerable citizens. I cannot support a candidate who wants to reward those who are richest and to deny government support to those who need help to survive. I do not want to turn the clock back almost a century.
That is why I will vote to re-elect President Obama.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Diane Ravitch.