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Romney's Comments About Parents, Early Ed Raise Eyebrows

Earlier this week, NBC's Brian Williams asked Mitt Romney about his plans for early childhood education. Romney didn't spell out any new initiatives; instead, he focused on the role of parents, saying that it can be "extraordinarily important" for one parent to stay home with their child during the early years. More here.

That answer may have made folks who think the federal government should use the bully pulpit to encourage parent responsibility very happy. But it also raised some eyebrows yesterday from panelists at a New America Foundation event in Washington exploring early childhood education and the presidential campaign. Watch it here.

Lisa Guernsey, the director of the early education initiative at the New America Foundation, wondered if Romney would pair his suggestion about parents staying home with a new policy that could make it easier for moms and dads to cover expenses, such as expanding paid family leave.

And Helen Blank, who works on child care issues for the National Women's Law Center, said that many families simply can't make the stay-at-home option work.

"We have a huge number of children growing up in single parent families," she said. Even if the government were able to expand paid family leave, she said, those policies usually cover no more than three months of time off.

"We need high-quality early childhood options," she said. "I still think it's a major need, even with middle-class families. They're buying the kind of childcare that, if they're honest, they're not really happy about."

Folks who weren't at the forum took note of the comment, too. Kevin Carey, the director of the Education Policy program at New America, noted that it could be tough to square Romney's ideas about stay-at-home-parents with his strong support for including a work component in welfare programs.

So what do you think? Are parents the key to successful early childhood education, or should the feds, or other government forces, play a role? And is it best if one parent can stay home during the early years?

Here's a fuller version of Romney's comments on early childhood education to inform your answer. And you can also check out the full transcript here:

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 teachers 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 conferences, 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.

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