Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave this interview with Brian Williams at NBC's "Education Nation" summit in New York on September 26, 2012.
[Editor's Note: Click here for more CFR 2012 campaign resources, which examine the foreign policy and national security dimensions of the presidential race.]
WILLIAMS: We are very grateful that Governor Romney has -- chosen to join us today. We have heard from the president so far today in his interview with Savannah Guthrie as Steve mentioned while he was appearing here on tape, he was at the podium over at the United Nations.
Governor Romney has asked to address you before we begin the Q&A. So he will to that. I will remain off to the side. I'll come up, lead the questioning. And then we will take audience questions from both microphones. So with our thanks for being here with us and addressing this topic that is so dear to us, and without delay, ladies and gentlemen, Governor Mitt Romney.
FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MA, PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Thank you. It's an honor to be here with you and I appreciate the chance that NBC is giving us to come together to talk about a topic as important as the education of our children.
I also enjoy the chance to see Brian Williams, a -- an American hero. A real champion, a man of character and integrity. And it's an honor to be here with him, as well.
Let me take you back to my own experience. And I'm thinking of my children, my five sons. And the experience that I had in watching their education and participating in it. I was lucky to live in the state of Massachusetts because our state has and had at the time very good schools. As a matter of fact, I was pleased that while I was serving as governor, the NAEP exam which, as you know, tests our kids every two years, fourth graders, eight graders, in English and math, the results came back. Our fourth graders came out number one in the nation in English and also number one in math.
And our eighth graders came out number one in English and number one in math. So in all four of the federal measures that evaluate the effectiveness of schools, our kids were number one. That had never happened before. And I looked back to understand why our schools had become so successful. And I think it goes back to 1993 when my predecessors, Governor Weld, and the leaders of the Democratic House and Senate came together to reform education and they made a number of changes that I think are what helped drive our schools to be so successful.
One, they said, that to graduate from high school, a student was going to have to pass a graduation exam in English and math, and while I was governor, by the way, I added science to that, as well, so a graduation exam. Two, they worked on a statewide curriculum. It took a number of years to put that together but they had a series of elements they felt that students needed to learn.
Three, they would evaluate annually the success of various schools. All the schools actually. And if a school consistently fell below a passing grade, then the state had the capacity to step in, take over the school, remove its leadership, and actually remove elements of the union contract if they believed those elements interfered with the education of a child.
Beyond that, I had the chance not just to have this -- if you will, the stick if you can't pass the graduation exam you can't graduate, I also worked to put in place a carrot, if you will, an incentive.
While I was governor, we were able to pass legislation that said that if you took the exam to graduate and you were among the top quarter in your high school in terms of the grade you got on that exam, then you were entitled to the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship, which was four years tuition free at any Massachusetts public institution of higher learning.
Now that's not as generous as you might hope because in Massachusetts fees are a lot more than tuition. But it was nonetheless some help and support for young people to working to get at a higher education.
We also in that 1993 legislation opened the door to far more choice by offering a massive expansion in charter schools. That went along with our Catholic schools which had long offered extensive choice in Massachusetts. And perhaps the most important single thing I think from the education reform effort that went on was an increased focus on the teachers, on hiring the very best and brightest we possibly could, promoting them and giving them opportunities to be successful in the classroom.
Now my experience there was consistent with something I read as I was serving as governor. Because I wanted to find ways to keep our schools as good at least as -- how I'd found them. And I read some work that was done by a group called the McKinsey Institute. McKinsey is a major international consulting firm, but they have a not-for-profit foundation which does research around the world.
And they looked at school systems all over the world, compared nations, which ones were successful, Finland as I recall, Singapore, Korea -- South Korea, as well as places within the United States that were successful. And they looked at the Boston school system, for instance. And looked at all the differences between school districts and systems, and they came to this conclusion.
They said, first of all, within a normal band of population, that the classroom size didn't seem to be driving the quality of education, that -- obviously at some extreme that would figure into it, be a major impact, but within the normal range that exists in schools, it wasn't classroom size that was driving it. Nor was it spending per student. They were surprised by both those things as they look around the world.
Their conclusion was that overwhelming the greatest determination or determiner of the -- of the success of the school system was the quality of the teachers in the system and that the very best nations and districts in terms of education were those that found a way to attract the best and brightest to come in education.
They pointed out as I recall that in Finland, I think it was, that the teachers were drawn from the top 5 or 10 percent of college graduates and they pointed out that too often in our country we're not drawing from the very top and they tried to understand why that was. And pointed out that in other nations that drew from the very top, they had better starting salaries for teachers. And they promoted teachers based on their capacity and their skill, the ability they had to change lives in classrooms as opposed to their tenure alone.
They looked at our schools and felt that we were too -- too focused on pensions and post-retirement benefits and tenure and not sufficiently focused on starting salaries and helping people get going in their life as they got a lot of student loans, they need those starting salaries to get going and also a system which promotes teachers based upon their success in the classroom.
I look at the federal level and understand that if I'm the next president of the United States as I hope to be, that I don't want to step in and try to run schools for local school districts or for states. Education is largely run at the state level. But I do believe that there is action I can take at the federal level that will have an impact on improving the quality of education. And it flows from my experience both as governor and from the experience that have studied education such as the McKenzie Institute.
And the proposals that I have are these: first of all, I would take IDEA and Title 1 money. You see, those are the federal funds that go to follow those special needs kids and low income kids. And that's about half the kids in America, receive federal funding from those two sources, one or the other of those two sources. I would link that money not to the school districts or to the state, but to the student, and say to the student you can take that money to the school of your choice. So you and your parents can decide what school you want to go to.
And that of course will drive a very different level of school choice than we have today. To help the parents make the choice of which school to send their child to, I would insist that schools are graded on a simple basis that parents can understand, A through F. The way Florida is done.
Florida has actually done quite a job in saying, how can we evaluate the success of schools and then give to students the opportunity to make the choice of which school they'd like to go to. I'm impressed -- you know some of the statistics from Florida. Some have said, well, it's going to be hard for Hispanic students to be able to keep up with the rest of the population.
Not so. In Florida, by virtue of those two changes, if you had a state that was just comprised of the Hispanic students of Florida, well, that state would fall right in the middle, about rank number 25 of American states. And that's been in part because of these extraordinary improvements that have been brought into the school system in Florida.
So those are two things I would do at the federal level. Give students more choice, allow parents to have access of information about the quality of schools. And also to make sure that we create incentives for school districts and for states to offer more choice in schools, to take away the barriers to charter schools, to take away the barriers to cyber learning, to allow students to choose public schools, public charter schools, where it's allowed by law private schools, or cyber learning or even tutorial type sessions.
I want to provide incentive at the federal level to encourage states, to encourage new choice and new information for our parents.
Let me just make a comment about higher education, as well. Higher education is also essential to the success of our economy and to the wellbeing of so many of our fellow citizens. And we have excellent institutions of higher learning. I mean, it's -- we're a model for the world.
But one trend in higher education gives me great concern and that's the rapid growth in the cost of tuition, the cost of higher education. And we're on an unsustainable path there. You can't continue to have higher education tuition grow at a multiple of the rate of inflation.
At some point something has to give. And we're going to have to find a solution. I have ideas myself in that regard, but I do believe this is something that just can't go on.
And related to that is the fact that people coming out of institutions of higher learning can't find jobs. And the combination of more and more expensive tuition and fewer and fewer job opportunities this last year with half of our kids graduating without being able to have a full-time job or one consistent with their degree, that's a real problem.
And those two combined must end or we'll have a real threat to our higher education system.
So I applaud the chance to be able to speak with you today, your willingness to be here. I am -- I'm absolutely convinced that for us to maintain our leadership of the world economically, morally, militarily, diplomatically, that America must be the have the best schools in the world and today, with our kids performing at the bottom third or bottom quartile in science and math, that's simply not the case.
And I think we know the answer as to what it takes to fix our schools, is to invest in great teachers. Teachers are the answer. Thank you.
WILLIAMS: You've already have one, and a little bit of a luxury, I've asked for water for both of us.
ROMNEY: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: Thank you again for appearing here at our forum.
Let's begin with a story that was just in the news a few days ago from the city of Chicago and something very basic about education and labor.
In your view, should teachers be allowed to strike?
ROMNEY: I don't know that I would prevent teachers from being able to strike. I just think the most important aspect in being able to have a productive relationship between the teachers unions and the districts and the states that they're dealing with is that the person sitting across the table from them should not have received the largest campaign contributions from the teachers union itself.
We have a very unusual system in this country. It's not just related to teachers unions. It relates more broadly. But people are able to give -- in the case of the Democratic Party, I don't mean to be terribly partisan, but I kind of am -- in case of the Democratic Party, the largest contributors to the Democratic Party are the teachers unions, the federal teachers unions.
And so, if they can elect someone, then that person is supposed to be representing the public vis-a-vis the teachers union, but actually most of the money came from the teachers union. It's an extraordinary conflict of interest. That's something I think is a problem and should be addressed.
But allowing teachers to strike on matters such as compensation is a right that exists in this country, but I do believe we have to have a recognition that the person sitting across the table is representing the public and the students. Not the teachers union.
WILLIAMS: Another issue that came out of Chicago, Governor, in your view, what percentage of a teacher's salary should be determined by test scores?
ROMNEY: I don't know that there is a fixed percentage, but I do believe there should be some connection between the capacity of the teacher to move students grade level to grade level and their compensation. And how you measure that I'm sure we could learn from the experiences of different schools.
I saw a study that was done in Boston where they looked at a student in a classroom and how many of those students actually improved a full grade by the end of the year and there were some teachers that regularly moved virtually all of their students a full grade level or more. And there were other teachers who regularly were unable to do that.
My view is those that are able to do that should be able to be more highly compensated. And should also potentially become mentor teachers with additional compensation and those that are unable to do that should either develop that skill or perhaps find another path in the education world or another career all together. That's going to be few and far between that can't make it in the profession they've chosen.
But I do believe those that perform the best, however you determine is the most effective way to measure that, should have an opportunity for better compensation.
WILLIAMS: This is our third year outing, a third year a row for this conference. Early childhood education looms large as you might imagine in this conversation every year. And you know the stats about the achievement gap. You know all that can happen or doesn't happen in a child's life before kindergarten wraps their arms around the child, summer slide is a dynamic that puts kids behind. So, as a result, kids turn 6, 7 years old, they're already falling behind.
Any initiatives you would bring to early childhood education?
ROMNEY: Well, let me note something which I think almost goes without saying, but I will say it nonetheless, I remember being with a group of teaches again in Boston and I said, can you predict which students will stay in school and be successful and those that will drop out? And how early can you predict that? And the teachers all began nodding their heads.
And I said, well, you know, tell me what you have to say. They said, well, I don't know that I want to have this on camera. We had a camera in the room at the time. So the camera left.
And one said this, if a teacher/parent night, a parent/teacher night rather, if the parents show up, then the child will be just fine. If the parents don't show up night after night of parent/teacher conference, that kid probably won't make it through high school. The involvement of parents, and particularly where there could be two parents, is an enormous advantage for the child.
So both in terms of early education and continuing throughout their career having certainly an advantage to have two parents, but even then to have one parent that stays closely involved with the education of the child and can be at home in those early years of education can be extraordinarily important.
I also do believe that there are many programs that have been highly effective in early education. Right here in New York City, Geoffrey Canada has a program in Harlem that's been just remarkably successful in helping bring young people to a posture where they're ready to learn by the time school starts. And those types of efforts I think should be evaluated one by one, and we should encourage and support those that are most effective.
WILLIAMS: You were lucky enough to attend Cranbrook in suburban Detroit. As of this year, the cost of a full-ride year tuition is $38,900. Do you think we owe as a nation every pupil in America the equivalent of a $38,900 education every year?
ROMNEY: I don't know that a dollar number always equates to how effective the teacher is. I was delighted to have a terrific education at what was a private institution. That's not going to be available for the entire nation, but I know that there are teachers in the public system that are every bit as good, as those that are in the private system.
I remember my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Clouse. She may have been the best teacher I ever had. And she was a person dedicated to helping her children develop the skills that they needed to succeed. And those helped me as I went on through school.
I don't know that I place a dollar figure upon it because, in fact, as I look at my own experience in my state of Massachusetts, dollar spending per pupil wasn't a very good determining factor of how well the student would do.
I remember at one point I looked at all the school districts in Massachusetts. We have 351 cities and towns. And I plotted spending per student against the achievement of the average student in each district. And because we test our kids every year, we could see which were the kids doing best in math, English and science.
And there was no relationship at all, interestingly, and as a matter of fact, the district that spent the most per pupil and had the smallest classrooms, Cambridge, Massachusetts, their kids were in the bottom 10 percent of our state performers.
So I realized it's not just money, that it is instead a focus in how you spend the money, attracting the best and brightest in the profession, promoting the very best, measuring the performance of students, giving the students the incentives to excel -- that's why we put in place the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship.
So I reject the idea that everybody has to have a, if you will, a Harvard expense level degree in order to be successful. I find a lot of people have degrees from a lot of different places, public and private, that are highly successful.
Some of the most successful in our nation, didn't even complete high school. That's a remarkable thing. But the key for me is -- relates to great teachers and creating families that can support their child in education.
WILLIAMS: Let's talk about your school choice initiative. You and I last talked about it during our last interview in London, just prior to the Olympics. Maybe the antithesis of Cranbrook in Detroit is Denby High School, zip code 48224, highest number of returning prisoners into society of any place in the nation in that zip code. Among the highest in gang activity.
Until it was taken over, it had a 20 percent success in graduation rate. The kids in Denby who qualify to go to Cranbrook, if they've got a ride, if they've got a way to get there, let's assume they're going to jump at it.
Who is going to worry about Denby? Who is going to support Denby High School, say nothing of the physical plant -- and so many of our schools are crumbling. What's your solution for Denby after the kids leave for better options?
ROMNEY: Well, I don't know Denby terribly well, but I was in Philadelphia and I saw a school in the inner city of Philadelphia, it looked like it had been built in the last five or 10 years. I think it was K through eighth grade. And I understand that the school was closed down, that 90 percent of the kids in that school were not reading at grade level. And so the school was unsuccessful. The city closed it down.
A guy named Kenny Gamble, African-American songwriter, got -- took the school over. Put in place a charter school. And I went and toured the school with him. Saw the students there.
I went to a classroom where they were learning to use computers and became computer literate. I went to a room where they were singing and they were in a glee club. He said all the kids learn to sing and participate in glee club.
I said, wait a second, how do you afford music teachers, art teachers, computer classes? How do you do all this? He said, well, I run this like a business. This isn't impossible. As I recall, almost 90 percent of the students there now are reading at grade level. And it's the same students.
In my view, this is not a matter of saying just where can we send a lot of money. We have proven that sending a lot of money to failed schools to pay the same teachers to do the same things will not make any difference.
The real key is leadership in drawing the best and brightest of the profession, giving them the right incentives, promoting the very best, helping our students have discipline in the classroom, insisting on the participation of parents.
When I was governor of Massachusetts, I fought very hard to insist that parents -- I wanted them to have a training class before they sent their kids to school. I wanted parents to have to go to a class to learn about education, to learn about the culture of education, to support their child. I got some resistance from folks who said, well, the poor don't have time to go to your class.
I said I'll hold them on Sundays, hold them on weekends. I want people to understand the importance of parental involvement.
Geoffrey Canada, here in New York City, has proven that an area that is economically depressed, the schools can be among the best in the nation. Look, this is a matter of the leadership of the schools, the quality of the teachers and the incentives that exist on the part of both parents and teachers for excellence in education.
And I -- there's no question in my mind. You take the very worst school districts in America with the most troubled student bodies and you put in some of the best administrators and faculty members and those schools will turn around.
And a guy like Kenny Guinn has proven it. He's got five charter schools. They're succeeding. And if the regular public school can't succeed, put a charter school in there and let them take a try at it.
WILLIAMS: You have said some things about Secretary Duncan that are so complimentary, you've had to apologize in front of some Republican groups. The question is, under a Romney administration, would you ask Secretary Duncan to stay on?
ROMNEY: Oh, I haven't chosen Cabinet secretaries, but I'll tell you, what I liked about and like about Secretary Duncan --
WILLIAMS: Would you consider it?
ROMNEY: I'm not putting anybody on my Cabinet right now, Brian.
ROMNEY: It's a little presumptuous of me, but just a little. But what I like about him is he said, look, I want to have this Race to the Top program which will give grants to states to encourage innovation and specifically that say we're going to compensate teachers, based upon their performance, which I think is the right thing. We're going to insist on more school choice. I think that's the right thing.
So I like the fact that he encouraged those things. I think there are some other things I don't go along with. He wants to promote at the same time a national curriculum; I prefer to let states and communities decide what their own curriculum will be. But that's his choice. But I do believe that his focus on more choice and creating opportunities for the best teachers to be better compensated is a good idea.
Teaching is a profession. I understand the interest of the teachers' union and I -- I mean, the teachers' union has every right to represent their members in the way they think is best for their members. But we have every right to, in fact, say, no, this is what we want to do, which is in the best interests of our children.
And I believe in the best interests of our children is to recognize that teaching is a profession, like your profession, like my profession, like lawyers, like doctors. And that the very best are more highly compensated and rewarded and measured. We don't just presume that because we've been here for a certain number of years we should get more and more pay every year. Instead, we get measured.
And if teachers say, well, there's no good measurement system, we say, well, let's get, let's look for one. Let's see what does work. Let's see if we can agree on some kinds of measures and learn from those things.
But I want the best teachers to be highly compensated. I want starting teaches, particularly those that have extraordinary records, who have a track record in school of excellence in learning, I want them to be well compensated, to be drawn into the profession.
Education is about teachers, great leadership and parents. And the union has a different objective. I understand; it's fine for them to promote it. It's not fine for us just to go along with it.
WILLIAMS: One or two more questions from me and then we'll go to the audience.
Secretary Duncan does talk about identifying and borrowing best practices, to use an expression in your world, from all over the world, whether it's Finland or Singapore -- you mentioned South Korea. Do you have any fear? It is true that in the past some American educators have been a little arrogant, a little bullheaded about not taking on what works overseas.
Would you embrace best practices from other countries?
ROMNEY: Oh, of course, recognizing that there are differences between different nations and the cultures of different people. There are differences between different states. That's one reason why I wouldn't impose what we did in Massachusetts on the entire nation. People can learn from our experience.
We learned from the Florida experience. I think that's one of the most relevant experiences of the most recent years is to see the reforms Jeb Bush and his legislature put in place and the positive impact that's had on the performance of students in that state. We learn from various states, from various school districts. We learn from nations around the world. They learn from us. And cataloging those things.
But we have -- I mean, I remember back in the business world I was in, if we were making wheels, we had a business that made wheels for trucks. I would have loved to have been able to look at all the truck wheel manufacturers in the world and go through their factories and see what they were doing differently than us. We would have learned.
But we didn't have a lot of truck wheel factories to go tour. And so best practices were limited to the handful of places we could visit. With schools we have got thousands, tens of thousands of different districts around the world we can learn from. We test our kids.
That's what why I learned, for instance, in my state, when I looked at the performance of different school districts, it's like, wow. This isn't at all what I thought. I thought classroom size was the only thing that I could do to make our schools better. It turned out to be a factor, but not the big one. The big factor was the quality of teachers and how to reward the very best and give people more choice.
So I -- yes, do I want to open up our ears to what's being said around the world, the lessons that are being learned around the world? Yes, there's nothing but good that can come from that.
WILLIAMS: I want to go ahead and tell the audience, be free to queue up at the microphones. We'll come to you shortly. Just to confirm, you didn't just claim credit for inventing the wheel, just manufacturing?
WILLIAMS: Yes. OK.
Governor, what do you make of 'Common Core'?
ROMNEY: You know, I think it's fine for people to lay out what they think core subjects might be and to suggest a pedagogy and being able to provide that learning to our kids. I don't subscribe to the idea of the federal government trying to push a common core on various states.
It's one thing to put it out as a model and let people adopt it as they will, but to financially reward states based upon accepting the federal government's idea of a curriculum, I think, is a mistake. And the reason I say that is that there may be a time when the government has an agenda that it wants to promote.
And I'm not wild about the federal government having some kind of agenda that it then compensates states to teach their kids. I'd rather let education and what is taught state by state be determined state by state, not by the federal government.
WILLIAMS: Last question from me and then I see more than a few people have lined up with questions for you.
Your dad went on a poverty tour of 17 cities, back when the need was absolutely acute in this country. And yet at this conference, what's coming up more and more is poverty -- again --
ROMNEY: Ah, yes.
WILLIAMS: -- and what a component it is in education, and how many teachers have to worry about poverty at home while trying to educate children. Would you consider something akin to what your father did?
ROMNEY: Not only would I consider that, but in fact, I get the chance to do that from time to time and that's why, for instance, I was at Kenny Gamble's school in Philadelphia, was seeing what's happening there, why I was at Geoffrey Canada's preschool program in Harlem to understand what's happening there and the impact of poverty.
And with Geoffrey Canada for instance -- and you've seen this film "Waiting for Superman" that he figures in quite prominently, he goes back to talking not just about the school, but the home where the children are coming from and how -- and he has a program for parents that are getting ready to have a child to prepare that parent to help the child be able to learn.
We have to start -- I mean, we have to start very early. So I do, in fact, embrace the approach that my dad took. Take that to a great degree myself. Did when I was governor and will continue doing that if and when I'm president.
WILLIAMS: All right. Governor, thank you. We're going to go to questions with the explanation that this audience is diverse, there are teachers, there are students, there are policymakers, there are even people who, God forbid, might be pushing a certain agenda. So we'll see what we get.
WILLIAMS: Yes, sir, go ahead.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 1: Governor, first of all, thanks for being here. Brian Williams asked who is responsible for the kids at Denby High School in Detroit. I am. I'm the state superintendent of schools in Michigan and I need to tell you that my personal shame, frankly, is that we have not been able to make this a better place for kids who are in poverty.
And it's rural poverty and it's urban poverty. And I think in my work in seven years in this job now without being able to move the ball much in those places where there's high poverty, our focus on college and career ready brings me back to one thing. We don't have kids kindergarten ready.
And until we can get kids kindergarten ready and be able to read at grade level by third grade, where we teach kids to learn to read till third grade, and then they need to read to learn from there on in, we haven't been able to crack that. And it comes back to kind of the early childhood question.
What specifically would be your solutions to get kids kindergarten ready so they can be college and career ready?
ROMNEY: Well, I described that we do have programs like Head Start. We can evaluate where those have been effective and where they've been less effective. There are a number of, as you know, private institutions.
I happen to be one of those that helped get behind and start finance a group called Bright Horizons Learning Centers, which has been highly effective, I believe, in preparing young people for education.
But I also don't think there's any substitute for the home. And efforts to teach people who are having children about the needs of a child and preparing for school and preparing to be educated, I think those efforts are also critically important. That is going to happen in some cases at the hands of government, but also in the hands of private institutions.
In the city of Boston one of the most effective efforts was carried out by those that led a group called the TenPoint Coalition. And these are leaders of largely African-American churches in the inner city area that made a real effort to reach out to homes and to change the course of the social life of people who were falling away from school and away from education.
So the combination of public and private partnerships as well as early learning centers, such as the ones I've mentioned can make a difference in helping people become ready for school.
But I also can note that as you look around the world at the places where the schools are doing the very best and young people are achieving, they found ways to prepare children for school, which is not always associated with having the government take over early education, but instead in some cases it does, but in some cases as well it focuses on the parents.
WILLIAMS: Governor, let's take a question from this side of the room.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 2: Good morning, Governor Romney, Ed Massey (ph) from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. I currently serve as president of the National School Boards Association and sit on the National PTA board, as well. And I want to know a little more in detail how you view local school boards and parental involvement in the process of educational reform.
ROMNEY: Well, we have great organizations that represent the teachers. We have great organizations that represent the parents. But I'd like to see them have even more clout. I'd like to see parents very much involved in evaluating the success of schools.
If we had a more transparent system for evaluating the success of a school A through F -- I mean, I think schools ought to have report cards the way they do in Florida.
And if we had that, then you'd see parents, if they saw their school get a C or a D or worse, those parents are going to be outraged. And they're going to want to gather together, become part of PTA organizations and talk about taking back the school.
We can't say, hey, kids, you all have a choice to go somewhere else. That's a good thing to be able to have that choice, but we've also got to fix the school itself and I think parents are oftentimes going to be the impetus, the energy behind real change, which must occur in a lot of our local school districts. I imagine you found the same thing. Is that right?
AUDIENCE QUESTION 2 (cont'd): I have. And sitting on a local school board for 16 years, I've found that the community engagement is so powerful, if you have parents in schools and you've engaged your community, the school will be successful, regardless of the circumstances. That's what I've found.
ROMNEY: That reminds me of that point I made about the Boston teachers who said, you know, if the parents show up at parent-teacher night, the kid's going to do just fine. And that's -- I mean, that just underscores the impact that parents have.
The idea that somehow schools are entirely separate from the home, from the economic circumstances of the home, from the social experiences of the home, that's just not reality. The home is an integral part of the education system and the best teachers in the world can't possibly overcome a home that is completely pulling in a very different direction.
We have to have a collaboration. That's one of the reasons why I proposed in my state that before you could send your child to go to kindergarten, that the parents had to go to a training program to learn about the impact of education.
And again, I wasn't able to get it done. It's something I wanted to do and something, I think that has some merit. We have to got pull the parents into education because they are an essential part of the education experience of their child.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 2 (cont'd): Thank you, Governor.
ROMNEY: Thank you.
WILLIAMS: We have just minutes remaining in our prearranged time with Governor Romney, so we're going to try to make some something more of a lightning round. Go ahead.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 3: Good morning. My name is Candace Wang (ph). I'm a former New York City public schoolteacher. So my question is about the common core; 45 states have already chosen to adopt it. And here in New York City, we are full on implementing.
And so my question is, since so many states have already adopted, what resources would you give our states and our teachers to actually implement this successfully for our children?
ROMNEY: Well, the states have adopted it and they'd one so on their own. And if they've adopted it freely and think it's a good program, why, they should be able to implement it. We developed our own core in the state of Massachusetts. We implemented it on our own. And we're able to outdrive our kids to be number one performing in the nation.
I don't happen to believe that every time that there's a good idea that comes along the federal government should now finance the implementation of that. We certainly didn't. States have responsibility for the education of their children, their respective borders.
And I'm not looking for more federal spending. I mean, I know it is the nature of politics for someone in my position to promise more free stuff, to say we're going to get more -- we'll send money, we're going to do this, and people say, boy, he really cares about education. I really care about education.
I care so much about our kids that I don't want to saddle them with trillions on trillions of dollars of debt when they come out of school. And so I'm just not willing to add more spending to get people happy with me.
I'm willing to say, say look, education is done at the state level, the federal government provides funding for special needs students and low-income students. But in terms of implementing the common core, if you've chosen it, congratulations, work on it and do it within the resources of your own state.
WILLIAMS: Another question from over here.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 4: Governor Romney, I'm a New York City parent and I'm a member of a school board elected here in New York City. You talk a lot about choice, but charter schools represent only 4 percent of the schools, at least here in New York, vouchers don't really fill the bill.
For New York city parents at least, and urban parents, choice means improving all of our public schools, because otherwise you're nibbling at the edges or we'll be spending the next 100 years fixing it.
How do you create choice through our public school system? What do we need to do? How would you do that? How would you change our school system so that we have choice through our public schools for everyone and not just for the small minority who are maybe going to charter schools or through vouchers or to private schools?
ROMNEY: Well, first of all I note that each state and actually each district in each state has a different experience. In my state we had much more ample opportunity for choice in part because of the number of Catholic schools we had, as well as the number of charter schools we had, but we also could allow students to go to other public schools.
They had the capacity not just to stay within the school of their district, but to go beyond. I understand in the case of Florida, that their school choice program allows students not to just go to charter schools, but also to other public schools of their choice. And they provide students the capacity to make that selection.
And I think that -- I can't tell you what can be done here in New York City, but I can tell you it helps a young person to know that they have the ability to make a school choice that they think is consistent with their education needs. And that if you don't have any charter schools that's going to mean choice of different public schools.
But fundamentally, choice is one of the ingredients of improving our schools, but the key is really the teachers and the schools we already have, and rewarding the very best and brightest, attracting the best into the teaching profession, treating them like the professionals they are, giving them the support that they need to have and in some cases recognizing that the interest of the teachers' union may not be entirely coincident with the interest of the students.
I don't think we have to put our kids and the teachers and the parents first and the teachers' union behind. I don't know whether "Waiting for Superman" was an accurate reflection of some of the issues in the New York City schools but if it was, it was very troubling.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 4 (cont'd): If I could just say one thing, in New York City ,the parents here support the union to protect our kids 3-1 over the mayor and the chancellor. That's a recent poll.
So, to say that the unions are holding back our kids, as a parent and as parents in polls said, the opposite. They believe that actually the unions are fighting for our kids and that a lot of the reform has been holding back our kids and against our kids and that this is not -- this is not me. This is coming from a poll of parents.
ROMNEY: I don't believe --
AUDIENCE QUESTION 4 (cont'd): In Chicago --
ROMNEY: I don't believe it for a minute. I don't believe it for a minute. I know something about polls --
ROMNEY: -- and I know you can ask questions to get any answer you want and I do know this, that having looked at schools, I know that the teachers' union has a responsibility to care for the interests of the teachers. And the head of the national teachers' union said at one point, we don't care about kids, we care about the teachers. That's their right.
But the people who are on the school boards and the parents, they're the people who have the primary interest in the kids. By the way, there may be politicians that don't get it right, but I believe you have to recognize that a union has a different constituency than the parents have. And the people who are elected to represent the kids, whether they're doing a good job or not, I don't know.
But I can tell you this, Jeb Bush stood up to the teachers' unions in Florida and that made a difference. And I also believe that Arne Duncan, by standing up for the kids, has made a difference.
I believe that we simply -- we simply can't have a setting where the teachers' unions are able to contribute tens of millions of dollars to the campaigns of politicians and then those politicians, when elected, stand across from them at the bargaining table, supposedly to represent the interest of the kids. I think it's a mistake.
I think we've got to get the money out of the teachers' unions going into campaigns. It's the wrong way for us to go. We have got to separate that.
WILLIAMS: Let's hear from a student.
AUDIENCE QUESTION 5: Hi, my name is Nick Hilgoyle (ph). I'm a high school student from New York and I just wrote a book on education.
My question is considering that the advent of standardized testing has increased to historic levels, causing a lot of teaching to the test, billions of dollars into testing and really the killing of creativity in many ways, how would you as president change this trend and how do you put students directly in your administration and let them have a voice in this policy decision-making process?
ROMNEY: First of all, you will find throughout your life that there are tests, and I don't know a way to evaluate the progress of students other than by evaluating it through testing of some kind or another.
If there are tests that are ineffective or that measure things that are not really relevant, why, obviously, you try to improve the test but you'll have an SAT when you graduate from high school, you'll -- if you want to go into graduate school you'll have an advanced test, GMAT or other test and you'll find throughout your life that there are going to be tests.
And we always complain about them. I complained about them when I was a student. And we don't like tests but there's really no other way we found out to determine whether a student is succeeding or not succeeding and, frankly, whether the teacher is succeeding or not succeeding. So I don't have a better model than saying we're going to evaluate our kids through some kind of a testing system.
When I became governor of mass, we had this graduation exam. I took it because I would hear from teachers we're having to teach to the tests. I took the exam -- and I passed it, by the way, but --
ROMNEY: -- although I took it at home so no one really got to see my answers, but, you know, when it got to the math section, there was geometry, algebra, calculus, trigonometry. I mean, these are the topics there. I don't know what teaching to the test would mean if it were not teaching basic math skills.
On the language side, I read paragraphs and then I wrote down or -- excuse me -- I checked off the things I'd seen in the paragraph. If teaching to the test means learning how to read and write and learning how to do basic math skills, then there's nothing terribly wrong with that. I added science and so people are going to get tested in biology and geology and so forth. This is part of what we expect schools to do.
What I was concerned about before we had these kind of tests is that we might have faculty members go off on a completely different tangent from the basic math and English and science skills our kids need to succeed.
So I'm not going to replace testing. I would love to improve it. That's why when No Child Left Behind was passed the author said we'll let each state create your own test and evaluate how well students are doing.
But I'm going to keep in place the testing. And as with regards to student involvement, I hope students are very involved in the political process and in the process of the quality of your education. I would love to have the students grade the teachers at the end of the year as opposed to just the other way around so that teachers get feedback.
We did that when I got to graduate school. We got to grade the teachers and then it was published. They put it up for the whole school to see in business school, how each teacher did on a whole series of dimensions and it helped. It helped the teachers. I think -- I believe in a lot of feedback.
So far from being a guy who would say let's stop testing, I'd just try and make our testing more effective, expand it in ways that maybe haven't been thought of before and recognize we need to drive the quality of education and it's one tool we have to do it.
WILLIAMS: And by the way, one tip: going to Harvard Business School makes you very good at taking tests in the future.
Governor, our time has reached its conclusion. On behalf of all of us affiliated with Education Nation, thank you very much for taking our questions.