Thursday, January 13, 2011

Obama's education policies F-

Joshua Eisenstein, Miriam Elisworth
Candidate Obama's idea of "innovation districts," where 20 selected school systems would re-organize to foster higher student achievement, was a good one. Also he suggested using federal money for smaller class sizes and pre-kindergarten (Pre-K) education, strategies with proven long-term results. But did any of the billions of Obama's "Race to the Top" dollars go toward shrinking class size or installing better Pre-K? No. Instead, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan actually urged "targeted increases in class size," and Obama's new policy ignores high-quality pre-kindergarten, which expert Marci Young calls, "The most rigorously evaluated and effective education reform of the last half-century."
This raises the question: If Obama does not want to spend money on well-researched, well-documented methods of achieving positive educational results, what does he want to spend it on? Based on the evidence, the answer is even more standardized testing, and for-profit charter schools.
 Superman and Other "Miracles"
This fall brought us Waiting for Superman, a much-hyped documentary, which tells us the main problem in education is "bad teachers." The solution proposed is to have more privately-run, non-union charter schools. The film suggests that poor public schools should be taken over by private charters, which would be free of the constraints put on public schools by labor regulations and union contracts.

Other public services have been privatized and deregulated, and the results have rarely met with approval outside of a corporate boardroom. Yet, the public is presently lapping up the very same narrative about education. This may be because it is a bipartisan effort. Perhaps it is also due to charismatic "reformers," like former Chancellor of the District of Columbia Public Schools, Michelle Rhee. She is celebrated by the media but rarely reviewed for accuracy or scrutinized to see whether or not her proposals really serve the best interests of schoolchildren.
When Secretary Duncan was CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, his techniques mirrored the thesis of Waiting for Superman. He closed public schools, fired veteran faculty, and opened a host of new, publicly-funded charter schools. Because some students' test scores seemed to go up, this was dubbed the "Chicago Miracle." But these supposedly miraculous data -- much like data on standardized testing -- had not been scientifically investigated. This, just like George Bush's similarly named "Texas Miracle," is now turning out to be largely an illusion...

Rather than implement  any of the above, real teaching has continued to be replaced by test preparation. Meanwhile, teachers are frightened because their jobs are being increasingly cut, based on factors beyond their control and unrelated to the quality of their work. The president should be smart enough to realize that the above reforms have been proven by research, and would be more effective than the profit-driven privatization, deregulation and scapegoating that have characterized the Race To The Top policy.
President Barack Obama must somehow be made aware of the levels of panic and despair his policies have caused among educators. In spite of these policies, teachers around the country have done their best, and still look to him for leadership. As long as it is fair and in the best interests of the students, the president must know that teachers are willing to make a difficult change. However, as Obama's current policies continue to prove neither fair nor in the best interests of students, how willing to change is he?
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