Obama's "Way-to-Go, Brownie!" Moment?
by Greg Palast
Has Barack Obama forgotten, "Way-to-go,
Brownie"? Michael Brown was that guy from the
Arabian Horse Association appointed by George
Bush to run the Federal Emergency Management
Agency. Brownie, not knowing the south shore of
Lake Pontchartrain from the south end of a
horse, let New Orleans drown. Bush's response
was to give his buddy Brownie a "way to go!"
We thought Obama would go a very different way.
You'd think the studious Senator from Illinois
would avoid repeating the Bush regime's horror
show of unqualified appointments, of picking
politicos over professionals.
But here we go again. Trial balloons lofted in
the Washington Post suggest President-
elect Obama is about to select Joel Klein as
Secretary of Education. If not Klein, then
draft-choice number two is Arne Duncan, Obama's
backyard basketball buddy in Chicago.
Say it ain't so, President O.
Let's begin with Joel Klein. Klein is a top
notch anti-trust lawyer. What he isn't is an
educator. Klein is as qualified to run the
Department of Education as Dick Cheney is to
dance in Swan Lake. While I've never seen
Cheney in a tutu, I have seen Klein fumble
about the stage as Chancellor of the New York
City school system.
Klein, who lacks even six minutes experience in
the field, was handed management of New York's
schools by that political Jack-in-the-Box,
Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The billionaire mayor
is one of those businessmen-turned-politicians
who think lawyers and speculators can make
school districts operate like businesses.
Klein has indeed run city schools like a
business - if the business is General Motors.
Klein has flopped. Half the city's kids don't
Klein is out of control. Not knowing a damn
thing about education, rather than rely on
those who actually work in the field (only two
of his two dozen deputies have degrees in
education), Klein pays high-priced consultants
to tell him what to do. He's blown a third of a
billion dollars on consultant "accountability"
projects plus $80 million for an IBM computer
data storage system that doesn't work.
What the heck was the $80 million junk computer
software for? Testing. Klein is test crazy. He
has swallowed hook, line and sinker George
Bush's idea that testing students can replace
teaching them. The madly expensive testing
program and consultant-fee spree are paid for
by yanking teachers from the classroom.
Ironically, though not surprisingly, test
scores under Klein have flat-lined. Scores
would have fallen lower, notes author Jane
Hirschmann, but Klein "moved the cut line,"
that is, lowered the level required to pass. In
other words, Klein cheats on the tests.
Nevertheless, media poobahs have fallen in love
with Klein, especially Republican pundits. The
New York Times' David Brooks is championing
Klein, hoping that media hype for Klein will
push Obama to keep Bush schools policies in
place, trumping the electorate's choice for
Brooks and other Republicans (hey, didn't those
guys lose?) are pushing Klein as a way for
Obama to prove he can reach across the aisle to
Republicans like Bloomberg. (Oh yes,
Bloomberg's no longer in the GOP, having jumped
from the party this year when the brand name
Choosing Klein, says Brooks, would display
Obama's independence from the teacher's union.
But after years of Bush kicking teachers in the
teeth, appointing a Bush acolyte like Klein
would not indicate independence from teachers
but their betrayal.
Hoops versus Hope
The anti-union establishment has a second
stringer on the bench waiting in case Klein is
nixed: Arne Duncan. Duncan, another lawyer
playing at education, was appointed by
Chicago's Boss Daley to head that city's train-
wreck of a school system. Think of Duncan as
What's Duncan's connection to the President-
elect? Duncan was once captain of Harvard's
basketball team and still plays backyard round-
ball with his Hyde Park neighbor Obama.
But Michelle has put a limit on their
friendship: Obama was one of the only state
senators from Chicago to refuse to send his
children into Duncan's public schools. My
information is that the Obamas sent their
daughters to the elite Laboratory School where
Klein-Duncan teach-to-the-test pedagogy is
dismissed as damaging and nutty.
Mr. Obama, if you can't trust your kids to Arne
Duncan, why hand him ours?
Lawyer Duncan is proud to have raised test
scores by firing every teacher in low-scoring
schools. Which schools? There's Collins High in
the Lawndale ghetto with children from homeless
shelters and drug-poisoned 'hoods. They don't
do well on tests. So Chicago fired all the
teachers. They brought in new ones - then fired
all of them too: the teachers' reward for
volunteering to work in a poor neighborhood.
It's no coincidence that the nation's worst
school systems are run by non-experts like
Klein and Duncan.
Obama certainly knows this. I know he knows
because he's chosen, as head of his Education
Department transition team, one of the most
highly respected educators in the United
States: Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of
So here we have the ludicrous scene of the
President-elect asking this recognized
authority, Dr. Darling-Hammond, to vet the
qualifications of amateurs Klein and Duncan.
It's as if Obama were to ask Michael Jordan,
"Say, you wouldn't happen to know anyone who
can play basketball, would you?"
Classroom Class War
It's not just Klein's and Duncan's empty
credentials which scare me: it's the ill
philosophy behind the Bush-brand education
theories they promote. "Teach-to-the-test"
(which goes under such pre-packaged teaching
brands as "Success for All") forces teachers to
limit classroom time to pounding in rote low-
end skills, easily measured on standardized
tests. The transparent purpose is to create the
future class of worker-drones. Add in some
computer training and - voila! - millions
trained on the cheap to function, not think.
Analytical thinking skills, creative skills,
questioning skills will be left to the
privileged at the Laboratory School and
Phillips Andover Academy.
We hope for better from the daddy of Sasha and
Educationally, the world is swamping us. The
economic and social levees are bursting. We
cannot afford another Way-to-go Brownie in
charge of rescuing our children.
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