Obama's promises and educational masquerade
Ohanian Comment: Before he moved to NH, Sid Glassner was Executive Director of the Vermont Society for the Study of Education. Even though he's now in NH, I'm still proud to call him friend and colleague. . . and on-target with his look at Obama education policy.
By Sid S. Glassner
There's a disaster percolating through our culture. It doesn't come from the oozing of oil wells, or changing temperatures or the earth's slowly moving tectonic plates. Its consequences, however, will be equally expressive because its toxic qualities have the potential to grind down the very cornerstone of our democracy --our public schools.
The pedagogical pathogen that endangers America's public schools comes to us as a result of a sucker-punch delivered by President Obama. As a presidential candidate, Obama fattened his campaign with promises to change what had taken place during the past eight years. Being highly critical of the previous administration's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) policies regarding public education, Obama skillfully crafted the illusion that his positions on public education would be different from those contained in NCLB.
His policies would be better informed and far more rational. Fully aware that high-stakes standardized testing played a critical role in meeting the myopic and noxious requirements of NCLB, Obama, pandering to the public education community declared, "Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of the year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test."
Obama raised false hopes because the tests remain! Obama could have learned a critical lesson had he familiarized himself with the thoughts and ideas of Adlai Stevenson who, while campaigning in 1952 said, "Deception cannot be condoned as campaign oratory."
And so it came to be that once elected president, Obama set aside his campaign promises to change the failed and misguided Bush education policies. He went ahead and simply repackaged and re-named Bush's spoiled NCLB goods and turned them into his own special brand of public school snake oil called, Race To The Top (RTTT).
The limp and wounded NCLB was now pumped up with federal persuasion dollars and lacquered with a dense coat of fakery.
The man who promised us educational change for the better settled for renewing the worst.
High-stakes standardized testing, that has a disreputable history of misrepresenting the intellectual abilities of children, remains Obama's gold standard for measuring a student's academic achievement.
Also included in RTTT is performance pay for teachers, an old, well-worn penny that has been showing up since the 1920s and has the potential of discouraging good teaching in favor of teaching to the test. Unsubstantiated encouragement for the expansion of charter schools, the adoption of common core curriculum, lengthening the school day and school year, additional routes to teacher certification and the distribution of federal funds on a competitive basis make up the balance of an education plan based on evidence that lacks even the slightest degree of certainty while implanting the costly possibility of doing great harm.
As if that in itself was not a big enough setback for American public education, President Obama managed to pull yet another mangled rabbit out of his hat of superficial solutions. He appointed Arne Duncan, his Chicago basketball buddy and intimate crony of Chicago's Mayor Richard Daley, as his secretary of education. Duncan, a man who could not be certified to teach or administrate in any public school in the country, served as Daley's CEO of Chicago's public schools for seven years. Duncan's record in Chicago was pitiful. According to a recent study done by The Consortium for Chicago School Research, Duncan's initiatives in running the Chicago schools had a 94 percent failure rate. Nevertheless, Obama feels comfortable releasing this level of incompetence upon America's public schools.
Demonstrating his thoughtfulness and sensitivity, Duncan on one occasion said that Hurricane Katrina was "the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans" because the city now has the opportunity to rebuild its public schools. Such a comment was particularly indifferent and imprudent given the fact that the educational needs of many of the children in New Orleans still has not been met.
Duncan was very fast to embrace the actions of the superintendent of the Central Falls, R.I., high school when she fired all the teachers in the high school. He called her "courageous" in spite of the fact that there was no bullpen of competent teachers waiting around to replace the fired faculty. It wasn't long before the fired teachers were back in their classrooms. One has to wonder whether Duncan still thinks the superintendent is "courageous."
The political, economic and social contours of our nation are very much shaped by what happens in our public schools. There are indeed problems to be solved in our public schools, but the trust accorded the Obama/Duncan scheme to mitigate these problems is alarmingly misplaced.
The maxim taught young military officers -- "never reinforce failure" --has its place in Obama's and Duncan's thinking about public school education.
Sid S. Glassner of Exeter, an educator for the last 50 years, is writing a book titled "What Parents Should Know About Their Children's Reading: And Other Education Issues."
Sid S. Glassner