Mitt Romney struggled to find support for his education proposals while campaigning at an inner-city school Thursday, one day after declaring education the "civil rights issue of our era."
The visit, the first by the likely Republican presidential nominee to such a school, came as he begins to court a broader cross-section of the electorate he needs to defeat President Obama in November. In a speech Wednesday, Romney proposed expanding charter schools, which are privately run but funded by taxpayers, and creating a voucherlike system in which poor and disabled students could attend private schools, also using public money.
But if praise was what he was looking for, Romney had a hard time finding any at the Universal Bluford Charter School in West Philadelphia, a largely African-American neighborhood facing economic, educational and social challenges.
During a round-table discussion, teachers and local education leaders rejected some of Romney's education prescriptions, including his assertion that class size doesn't matter. Romney also identified two-parent families as one of three keys to educational success, along with good teachers and strong leadership.
Local education leader Abdur-Rahim Islam pushed back, telling Romney that two-parent families are unrealistic in the community. "We will never get to that second part described about having a two-parent situation, parent support, as a key component," Rahim said.
Steven Morris, a music teacher at the school, disputed Romney's assertion on class size.
"I can't think of any teacher in the whole time I've been teaching, over 10 years -- 13 years -- who would say that more students would benefit them. And I can't think of a parent that would say 'I would like my kid to be in a room with a lot of kids,' " Morris said. "So I'm kind of wondering where this research comes from."
In response, Romney cited a study by the McKinsey consulting firm, which he said examined education systems in foreign countries and concluded that class size wasn't a significant issue.
Outside the school, Philadelphia's Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter, an Obama supporter, lashed out at Romney's visit.
"It's nice that he decided this late in his time to see what a city like Philadelphia is about," Nutter said. "I don't know that a one-day experience in the heart of West Philadelphia is enough to get you ready to run the United States of America."
Meanwhile, Obama used a rally at the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines to step up attacks against Romney.
"We're not going to double down on the same bad ideas," Obama told a cheering crowd of supporters in Iowa, a swing state that both campaigns are targeting. Referring to Romney's proposed tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations, Obama said, "That's a vision that's going backward. We're going forward."
The Obama campaign also distributed a video earlier in the day mocking Romney for the statement he made as he was being heckled by anti-Wall Street audience members during a speech at the fairgrounds Aug. 11.
"Corporations are people, my friend," Romney said. "Everything corporations earn ultimately goes to people."
Bloomberg News contributed to this report.