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NCLB Outrages

Once again, education left behind

BUB is a good acronym.>

by Tim Babbidge

Last fall when I announced my intention to vote for Ralph Nader for the fourth time, I was told by a number of Democrats that a vote for Nader was essentially a vote for four more years of Bush. I disagreed with them at the time, but it turns out they were right. The sad truth of the joke is they told me that if I voted for Nader, I'd get four more years of Bush. Well, I did, and I am. It becomes more and more obvious with each passing day of BUB's (Business as Usual Barack) Administration.

The truth of the above joke is obvious in the area of education policy. Naming Arne Duncan, author of a recent editorial in the Daily Lobo, as secretary of education is a perfect example of business as usual. The Bush administration's education policy was notorious for its advocacy of the privatization and corporate control of American public education. In practice, that meant closing schools and firing teachers based on virtually meaningless and class-biased measuring devices like high-stakes standardized testing. Based on Duncan's record as the head of Chicago's schools, we can expect business as usual in education policy.

Duncan is attempting to disguise his support for failed Bush policies by changing terms, not policy. In his editorial, he attempts to mislead the public by using the term "internationally benchmarked standards and assessments" instead of the more accurate term "high-stakes standardized testing." Sadly, his emphasis on testing is obvious from his tenure as the head of the Chicago Public Schools. For example, his "Renaissance 2010" plan for Chicago's schools specifically mentions only one educational goal: raising test scores.

Secretary Duncan's rocky tenure as the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools followed the Bush playbook virtually page by page. He closed dozens of regular public schools and replaced them with privately run charter schools that failed to enroll neighborhood kids. Not only that, his use of the title CEO instead of the historically common superintendent was a powerful symbol of his support for the kind of failed corporate policies that have brought the American economy to the brink of disaster.

Given his support of Bush policies in education, it is not surprising that his appointment as the secretary of education received enthusiastic endorsements from former Bush Education Secretary Rod Paige, who falsely inflated test scores as Houston's superintendent, and Bush political crony from Texas, Margaret Spellings. In the meantime, his appointment was universally opposed by progressive educational reformers like Alfie Kohn, Susan Ohanian and Deborah Meier.

Aside from his policies, there are questions that need to be raised about Duncan's personal qualifications for the job. Secretary Duncan's résumé was very thin in terms of relevant experience prior to his appointment as the CEO of the Chicago schools. Not only had he never held any teaching or administrative positions in public education other than CEO; he never even attended public schools. He is a graduate of University High School, the elite laboratory school of the private University of Chicago, as well as Harvard. He did spend six years as the head of a small school reform group, but it was funded by an investment firm - another example of the Bush/Obama preference for the penetration of public education by corporate America.

But of more relevance than his skimpy résumé is the fact that he is a member in good standing of the Chicago political machine created by former Mayor Dick Daley and now run by his son, the current mayor, a machine whose most famous product is Obama. Duncan was also a regular participant in pickup basketball games that included the president. In other words, he used corporate and political connections to get himself appointed to first one and then another position for which he was far from the most qualified candidate. Given that personal history, the ongoing scandal that is Chicago politics, and the dismal record of corporate America in managing health care and the economy, Duncan's call in his editorial to "recruit more high-quality educators" seems hypocritical at best, unless one defines "high quality" as having lots of connections and little relevant experience.

For those of us who support genuine reform in American education, there is one tiny ray of light. Progressives are not giving Obama a pass as they did with former President Clinton. The Internet is loaded with critiques of Duncan. I encourage all who oppose "drill-and-kill," corporate, computerized (Bill Gates being a major Duncan supporter), failed models for American schools to do their homework and learn more about the failed Duncan/Bush educational policies.

But don't stop there. Reach out to Sens. Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall, to Rep. Martin Heinreich, to your state legislators and local school boards, and speak in opposition to the kind of failed policies pushed by corporate reformers like Duncan. An even more important action you can take is to become involved with local, statewide and national reform groups like the Educator Roundtable, groups that want genuine reform instead of the "business as usual" policies supported by Duncan. Our voices can still be heard if we make the effort to join them together in collective action. Let us lead by example and lead our children into a brighter tomorrow with action, and not just the rhetorical sleight of hand that is currently being offered by the Obama administration and officials like Duncan.

— Tim Babbage
New Mexico Daily Lobo


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