Friday, July 24, 2009

Obama Administration attacks teacher unions

Obama Administration attacks teacher unions.

The Federal Department of education directed by Secretary Arne Duncan proposed rules for school reform money that would prevent states such as California and New York from receiving funds under the so called “race to the top” funds a 4.3 billion dollar part of the federal stimulus act.
Secretary Arne Duncan has an enormous fund of money and great flexibility to stimulate schools to reform, particularly in the areas of most failing schools. However, the rules require states to use student achievement data to rate teachers. The federal Department of Education proposed rules to prevent states with such laws from getting money from a $4.3 billion-educational innovation fund.
Using the data from the current flawed testing regimes to rate teachers and to influence teacher pay has been blocked by the teachers unions in New York, California and elsewhere; up until now.
States and schools districts are reeling from budget cuts and reductions, particularly in cash strapped California, this new assault on teaches unions adds to the unions problems. See post below.
This decision and direction of the rules has the full support of President Barack Obama who has been following the educational advice of neo liberal Arne Duncan. Teachers unions were among the strongest supporters of Barack Obama in the last election.

The following is from Jim Crawford, President of English Language Advocates.

What's most remarkable about Race to the Top -- especially coming from a progressive Democrat like Obama -- is that it's an end-run around the democratic process.

1. National standards and tests have long been controversial ideas. But with its new slush fund for "reform," the Obama administration can now "incentivize" states to go along, regardless of what Congress wants to do. This would be a policy change with enormous implications, and it should properly be debated as part of ESEA reauthorization, when there would be at least some chance for critical views to be heard and for citizens to contact their representatives. But the administration has set this up so states will already be on board before Congress acts and any protests may come too late to have an impact on the outcome.

2. Experiments with "merit pay" systems for teachers are already happening as pilot projects around the country, with help from the federal Teacher Incentive Fund. Obama is pushing for that program's funding to be quintupled from $97 million to $487 billion in the appropriations bill now pending (and Congress will probably approve most of it). But the carrot is not enough for this administration; it wants the stick, too. Duncan is now telling states they'll have to "change their laws" to allow test scores to be used in calculating merit pay or miss out on funding for any kind of "school reform" project. Why? Not because we've had any full airing of the issues -- e.g., in a Congressional hearing -- or any kind of deliberative process, but merely because Barack and Arne think they know better.

Congress occasionally passes laws that overrule state authority -- e.g., when it raised the national drinking age to 21 under pressure from Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In my view that was an unfortunate decision, which seemed to exacerbate the problem of binge drinking on campus, but at least it was done with some semblance of democracy. Since when does the president have power to force states to change their laws to conform to his preferred policies by threatening to withhold funding for unrelated purposes? A very bad precedent.

3. It also looks like states will now have to take draconian steps to "turn around failing schools" -- in particular, replacing all the teachers and administrators. That's one option now allowed under NCLB. Obama & Duncan are telling states to require it a lot more often if want to keep the federal money flowing. There's no evidence that reconstituting schools is effective, despite considerable research in this area. But, using the carrot of federal funding, the "reformers" have the power to impose their pet solution without democratic interference. And they obviously plan to do so.

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