Why Obama Brought Class Size Into Last Night’s Foreign Policy Debate

The United States can educate its way to global dominance, Obama argued.

By Julianne Hing Oct 23, 2012

On Monday night viewers got an full evening of American posturing on militarism and war in the third and final presidential debate on foreign policy. It was within that context that both GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney and President Obama steered the debate to their best domestic policy ideas for regaining the United States’ position as a global leader in, well, just about everything. It’ll start with education reform, Obama and Romney both said. "Over the long term, in order for us to compete with China, we’ve also got to make sure, though, that we’re taking — taking care of business here at home," Obama said on Monday. "If we don’t have the best education system in the world, if we don’t continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to create great businesses here in the United States, that’s how we lose the competition." Obama’s couched his education reform agenda in a [global competitiveness frame](http://colorlines.com/archives/2011/01/obama_education_state_of_the_union.html) for years, and he repeated his talking points again last night. And indeed, it became the essence of both Obama and Romney’s education remarks for the night. That is, that the mandate for United States classrooms is to out-educate American students to beat back the specter of China. For Romney’s part, improving the U.S. education system made it to point three of Romney’s famed five-point plan, which he reiterated again last night. Romney touted Massachusetts’ top school rankings and took credit for those gains while Obama spoke about his commitment to hiring more teachers and his administration’s Race to the Top, a competitive grants program to compel states to adopt Obama’s school reform strategies in exchange for cash. But the most heated exchange on education came via class sizes, a topic that the Obama campaign has seized on as a way of distancing the president from Romney, who [this spring](http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/romney-challenged-on-how-much-class-size-matters/) said that "Just getting smaller classrooms didn’t seem to be the key," arguing, [ABC](http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/05/romney-challenged-on-how-much-class-size-matters/) reported, that the issue was something "that’s promoted by the teachers unions to hire more teachers."