Archives for category: Obama

I don’t often agree with the libertarian CATO Institute, as I am not a libertarian. I appreciate the necessity of a vigorous federal government that provides a safety net and protects the neediest. However, I don’t appreciate the federal government doing what is clearly illegal, that is, controlling, directing, and supervising curriculum and instruction via the Common Core standards. Although its supporters, including President Obma nd Secretary Duncan, repeat that its development was “state-led,” that was a deception. Bill gates funded them because the Feds were barred from doing so, but the Feds funded the tests that will control curriculum and instruction. There has been no louder cheerleader than Duncan.

Now we learn from CATO that the Obama administration wants to make CCSS a permanent part of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It says,

“President Obama proposes changing Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – of which NCLB is just the most recent reauthorization – to a program called “College- and Career-Ready Students,” with an annual appropriation of over $14 billion.”

Title 1 is the key part of the original 1965 ESEA. It was intended to distribute federal aid to schools that enroll poor kids, no conditions attached. The funding is based on a formula tied to need, not a competition. Using it to cement CCSS into every school would be a travesty and a misuse of federal power.

Hopefully, there are alert members of Congress watching who will block this move. It will hurt poor kids by tying their eligibility for aid to a program of standards and standardized testing that consistently labels them as low-performing. They need equitable resources more than they need the untested CCSS.

A reader responds to Jeff Bryant’s
article by
wondering why so many Democrats in office are
ignoring their base by aligning themselves with the free-market GOP


“Yes, yes, yes. Lately Democratic operatives have been
moaning and groaning about lack of excitement among their voters.
Supposedly this is a law of nature. Democrats just don’t get
excited about midterms. Yet, “school reform” is demobilizing
important elements of that base vote. This is one of the most
vibrant web sites around these days, and unfortunately, we have to
fight not only the GOP but also our “own” party – from President
Obama to Arne Duncan to Rahm Emanuel to Pat Quinn (who couldn’t
wait to make Paul Vallas his Lt. Gov. Running mate, within days of
Vallas being run out of Bridgeport, CT on a rail). “Stop doing
things to harm your base voters. What a concept! Maybe then we’d
vote. Don’t you realize you’re going to need every vote you can

Karen Wolfe, a parent in Los Angeles, tries
to understand why liberals and progressives find themselves
to Common Core and lumped together with the Tea
Party, with whom they otherwise have no agreement. While the Tea
Party opposes the Common Core because they fear a federal takeover
of public education, liberals and progressives have different
reasons to oppose the Common Core. Karen Wolfe writes:
Ideologically speaking, it is baffling that any liberal
would adopt the education reform agenda with its call to deregulate
schools as a public good, and destabilize labor unions which have
historically been huge supporters of the Democratic party.
(Although one only has to consider neo-liberalism to understand the
call to privatize.)
But, in education, for
liberal politicians, money trumps ideology. Politicians simply
cannot resist the money — or at least the possibility of preventing
the billionaires from filling the campaign coffers of their
opponents. When billionaires like Eli Broad pretend to be
Democrats, it’s a very effective way of infiltrating the Democratic
inner sanctum, long a champion of public education. (I say
“pretend” after a Common Cause complaint to the Fair Political
Practices Commission revealed that Eli Broad and other billionaires
had secretly funded opposition to Governor Brown’s tax proposition
while publicly supporting it.)
Ideology only
explains a small part of the opposition to Common Core.

If liberals oppose Common Core for any ideological
reason, it’s probably less about an ideology than a distaste for
lining the pockets of giant corporations. It’s more likely that the
overwhelmingly negative reaction to Common Core isn’t ideological
at all.
Many critics feel like the major
purpose of Common Core is to make teaching measurable. Even if one
is convinced that that goal is a reasonable one to cure what ails
our schools — and many of
us are not — some
things are not easy to quantify. Think of the best teacher you ever
had. It’s doubtful that you conjure images of Scan-Tron
Let me say for the record, if it need saying,
that I have no sympathy for the Tea Party. I want more government
support to alleviate social and economic problems. I want the
federal government to return to its role as a guarantor of equity,
not a force to compel states to enact policies that are harmful to
children and to public education. I want more funding for programs
that benefit needy children. I think their obsessive hatred for
everything associated with President Obama is absurd. I disagree
with President Obama about education, but I voted for him, and I
support him in other areas, especially if he is serious about
inequality, which is the cancer of our society. I oppose the Common
Core in its present form because I fear that it was designed to
make public education look bad, that it was designed as part of a
larger plan to measure every child and every teacher, and that it
was designed to enrich big corporations like Pearson and the dozens
of other entrepreneurs now sucking public money out of the schools.
Until teachers in every state have a chance to revise the Common
Core and make it developmentally appropriate, I will continue to
oppose it. Until the Common Core is decoupled from the Common Core
testing, I will continue to oppose it. The passing marks on the
federally-funded tests were set far too high for most students, and
we will see massive failure rates among our neediest students if
the cut scores are not readjusted to align with the reality of how
children learn and what they know and should know. The Common Core
will die a natural or unnatural death at the hands of parents,
teachers, school boards, and citizens if it is not open to
criticism and revision. As more states test the Common Core, the
opposition will grow bolder, as it has in New York. Given how toxic
it is now, it may be dead already. Politicians, who usually don’t
give a fig about education, now are distancing themselves from the
Common Core.

This should be interesting. President dent Obama will deliver
the commencement address at
Worcester Tech High School in
Massachusetts. Many Worcester parents are opting out of the Common
Core tests funded by the Obama administration. Secretary Duncan
visited Massachusetts last week and said its students–with the
nation’s highest scores on NAEP–are not prepared for global
competition. Wonder whether the President will echo his Secretary’s
sour comments about kids today.

Bill Phillis, the leader of the Ohio Coalition for Education & Adequacy is a tireless crusader for equitable funding of public schools. He is a retired after serving as assistant state superintendent of schools.

He writes:

Public education enemy #1

The Gates, Walton Family and Broad Foundations have federated with the U. S. Department of Education to eliminate the public common school system. The Obama administration’s point man, Arne Duncan, is spearheading an assault on public education that is unprecedented in American history. He is attempting to override the education provisions of every state Constitution. All states have one or more constitutional provisions that establish and maintain a public common school system.

It is mindboggling and unconscionable that this federal administration is deferring to the corporate, for-profit agenda to destroy the premier promoter of the public good-the public common school system.

Policies coming out of Washington D.C., and in many state capitols, are demoralizing teachers, undermining the traditional role and governance of boards of education, de-professionalizing the teaching profession, re-segregating American communities and reducing the traditional dynamic of learning to a testing obsession.

Many chief state school officers in recent years are moles of the privatizers or lack the conviction to fight for the public common school system. Hence, state legislatures and governors, in many cases, receive no resistance to their privatization agenda.

Often local public school personnel, including boards of education, feel helpless to stem the tide of public school bashing and the privatization movement.

Enough is enough. It is past time to hold all state officials accountable for their support of policies that lead to the privatization of public education.

Ohioans and the citizens of the nation, when mobilized, can uproot the anti-public education agenda of America’s oligarchs and their plutocratic political allies.

William Phillis
Ohio E & A

Ohio E & A | 100 S. 3rd Street | Columbus | OH | 43215

A reader writes. Be sure to read the last lines:

Dear President Obama,

Let’s face it.

Race to the Top is an epic fail just like No child Left Behind. Our children should not be the pawn of politics. Left or right, both have not gotten it right about education reform and it’s time we put that in the forefront.

I’m so tired of talking points. Some theories sound great on paper not in practice and there are testimonies after testimonies that children are NOT thriving with over-emphasis on state tests. Of course, we want children to learn how to think critically but saying that and making it happen needs serious input from EDUCATORS and our country might want to consider putting one in a position as important as US Secretary of Education. And perhaps, we need a NY Commissioner of Education that actually listens to what the feedback is and just perhaps we need Gov Cuomo to make a stand for our children because it’s inexcusable to distance himself from this whole issue.

And as the leader of the greatest country on Earth, please know that American’s excellence comes from our freedom, our love of this country and the promise of our children. Let’s get off the campaign trail you started many years ago and really make the people you put in charge of Education to do the right job for our children.

Please support the teachers that have been the inspiration for our children and please create a better initiative that truly rejects “filling in bubbles” because that is exactly what they are doing now and you need to stop the madness.

Thank you.

An American mother whose family fled Communist China and then left the oppressive British education in Hong Kong and was saved at age 8 by the love of American teachers who taught me to embrace the love of learning

Bertis Downs is a great supporter of public education who lives in Athens, Georgia, and sends his daughter to Clarke Central High School. He is also a valued director of the Network for Public Education.

In this post, he thanks President Obama for recognizing the great things happening in his local high school. But he invites the President to visit Athens and see what his policies are doing to the school.

He writes:

“The policies currently promoted by your Department of Education are actually hurting– not helping– schools like ours. It is clear we will reduce schools’ efficacy if public education remains fixated on tests that only measure limited concepts – tests that regularly relegate less advantaged children into the “bottom half” and limit their access to broader education.

“Why does the law distill the interactions of our teachers and students over the course of a year into a high-stakes multiple choice test? Is this really a valid system of accountability for teachers, based so heavily on their students’ test scores? If so, why are so many public school parents, teachers and students pushing back against it? And why aren’t the private schools insisting on it?

“In my daughter’s English class at Clarke Central, students engage the works of Plato and learn to discern and make philosophical arguments about abstract concepts like piety; they read Hemingway and learn how to engage questions such as whether a protagonist’s moral code can be attributed to the author. You cannot pick “A, B, C, or D” for such things, or if you can, then the entire experience is trivialized. Of course assessments are a necessary part of any educational process, to help guide, inform and improve instruction, but the high-stakes test-and-punish regime now in place is not doing that.

“Choices” like “prep academies” on the public dime make a diverse population like Clarke Central’s increasingly rare, and the No Excuses model schools serve poor and minority populations almost exclusively. Since we know that concentrated poverty so often correlates with low standardized test scores, why is such over-testing and misuse of testing so central to current policy focus? Is that where your education policy is taking us–toward a de facto two-track system with schools for well-to-do students and other schools for those from poverty? Your speeches do not suggest any of this, especially when you talk about “opportunity for all,” ”great teachers,” and “setting high standards.” But current policies, accompanied by the sweet-sounding elixir of “choice,” are reducing the ability of skilled and effective teachers to really teach. Surely you must recognize that privatized models of competition conflict with American education’s historic commitment to empower each child to reach his or her highest potential, a commitment based on educators working together in collaboration as a team.”

This article by Michael Brenner, a professor of international relations at the University of Pittsburgh, is a trenchant summary of the relentless attack on public education launched by the Obama administration and backed by billions of federal and private dollars.

Brenner begins:

“A feature of the Obama presidency has been his campaign against the American public school system, eating way at the foundations of elementary education. That means the erosion of an institution that has been one of the keystones of the Republic. The project to remake it as a mixed public/private hybrid is inspired by a discredited dogma that charter schools perform better. This article of faith serves an alliance of interests — ideological and commercial — for whom the White House has been point man. A President whose tenure in office is best known for indecision, temporizing and vacillation has been relentless since day one in using the powers of his office to advance the cause. Such conviction and sustained dedication is observable in only one other area of public policy: the project to expand the powers and scope of the intelligence agencies that spy on, and monitor the behavior of persons and organizations at home as well as abroad.

“The audacity of the project is matched by the passive deference that it is accorded. There is no organized opposition — in civil society or politics. Only a few outgunned elements fight a rearguard action against a juggernaut that includes Republicans and Democrats, reactionaries and liberals — from Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York to the nativist Christian Right of the Bible Belt. All of this without the national “conversation” otherwise so dear to the hearts of the Obama people, without corroboration of its key premises, without serious review of its consequences, without focused media attention.

“This past week, as the deadline approached for states to make their submissions to Arne Duncan’s Department of Education requesting monies appropriated under the Race to the Top initiative, we were reminded that the DOE has decreed that no proposal will be considered where the state government has put a cap on charter schools. In other words, the federal government has put its thumb heavily on the scales of local deliberations as to what approach toward charter schools best serves their communities’ interests. Penalties are being imposed on those who choose to limit, in any quantitative way, the charter school movement.

“This heavy-handed use of federal leverage by the Obama administration should not come as a surprise. After all, Obama himself has been a consistent, highly vocal advocate of “privatization.” He has travelled the country from coast to coast, like Johnny Appleseed, sowing distrust of public schools and – especially – public school teachers. They have been blamed for what ails America – the young unprepared for the 21st century globalized economy; the shortage of engineers; high drop-out rates; school districts’ financial woes, whatever.*”

Please read the entire article, and you will hear loud echoes of the many voices who have posted here: the demoralized teachers, the frustrated parents, the outraged students. We are the outgunned rearguard. And we will not be silent. Our voices will grow louder and louder as we demand an end to policies that destroy public education and demonize teachers and stigmatize students.

Join us at the first annual conference of the Network for Public Education on March 1-2 in Austin, Texas, where we will strengthen our resolve to stop the juggernaut of privatization.

Margaret Mead said it: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

President Obama continues his policy of using the State of the Union to demonstrate the gap between what he says and what his administration does.

Valerie Strauss carefully dissects that speech here in reference to education.

Once again, he warned that it was time to get away from “fill-in-the-bubble” standardized tests, perhaps unaware that the new federally-funded Common Core tests were made by the same old, same old and will  of course demand even more filling in of even more bubbles.

Once again, he lauded his Race to the Top initiative, oblivious to the fact that its emphasis on using fill-in-the-bubble standardized tests to judge teacher quality has been a disaster.

And of course, he failed to recognize that his RTTT emphasis on charter schools and choice has opened a giant door wide for advocates of vouchers, who now want all federal funding to be channeled into vouchers for 11 million students. Once you abandon public schools, as the Obama administration has done, it is hard to stop the forces of privatization. Once you give away the civic purpose of public schooling, it is hard to argue against those who prefer consumer choice to civic obligation.

We will live with the negative consequences of Race to the Top for many years to come. If only President Obama had the wisdom to realize the damage he has done to one of our nation’s most important institutions.

In state after state, entrepreneurs are seizing on opportunities to make a buck, Common Core is absorbing tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, teachers and principals are demoralized.

Some accomplishment.

Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, wrote the following:


Poverty and the Education Opportunity Gap: Will the SOTU Step Up?

Tuesday’s State of the Union address will apparently focus on issues of wealth inequality in the United States. The impact of poverty is extremely important for issues such as housing, nutrition, health and safety. Additionally, education researchers like me have been hollering from the rooftops, hoping policymakers and others will understand that poverty is the biggest impediment to children’s academic success. So this focus is long overdue and certainly welcome. Yet I worry that the President will slip from an accurate diagnosis to unproven and ineffectual treatments.

The diagnosis is straightforward. I expect that the President will have no trouble describing enormous and increasing wealth gaps. We learned from Oxfam last week that “the world’s 85 richest people own the same amount as the bottom half of the entire global population,” which is over 7 billion people.

In the US, the picture is just as shocking. In a 2013 UNICEF report on child poverty in 35 developed countries, the US came in 34th, second to last—between Bulgaria and Romania, two much poorer countries overall. Twenty-three percent (23%) of children in the US live in poverty.

According to analyses in an October 2013 report from the Southern Education Foundation, 48% of the nation’s 50 million public-school students were in low-income families (qualified for free or reduced-price meals). This level of child poverty implicates not just access to breakfast or lunch. These children face issues of:

  • Housing security and housing (and thus school) transiency,
  • Resources available at the local school,
  • Resources available in the child’s home and community as well as the safety in that community,
  • Access to enriching programs after school and over the summer (and within the school),
  • Access to medical and dental care,
  • The expectations that educators and others have for a child’s academic and employment future,
  • The likelihood of the child being subjected to disproportionate discipline and being pushed into the school-to-prison pipeline, and
  • The viability and affordability of attending college.

Many of the opportunity gaps of the sort described above arise from policies and practices within our schools. But many more—and arguably the most devastating—arise from opportunities denied to children in their lives outside of schools.

When the speeches are rolled out on Tuesday, watch out for evidence-free policy promises. President Obama, I fear, may continue to push for more test-based accountability policies like No Child Left Behind and may hold out the false hope of so-called high-achieving charter schools. The Republican response, I fear, will hold out the related false hope of vouchers, neo-vouchers, and other policies that shift public money from public to private schools. Neither charter schools nor voucher programs have been shown to make a meaningful dent in opportunity gaps or achievement gaps.

Poverty is the main cause of these gaps, and addressing poverty is the most sensible and practical approach for closing those gaps. Our nation will not escape its devastating educational inequality so long as we have massive wealth inequality. Yes, if we ever truly invested in the schools serving our children in poverty—invested in a way that provided tremendously enriched opportunities for those children, giving them equal overall opportunities with the nation’s more advantaged children—we might expect to see a meaningful reduction of intergenerational inequality. But that’s not what we do. Instead, we heap demands on those schools, deprive them of the resources they urgently need, and then declare them to be “failing schools” when they don’t perform miracles.

These nonsensical policies come with an astronomical economic cost and cost to our democracy. Economists Clive Belfield and Hank Levin conservatively estimate that the economic benefit of closing the opportunity gap by just one-third would result in $50 billion in fiscal savings and $200 billion in savings from a societal perspective (for example, by lowering rates of crime and incarceration). These figures are annual in the sense that, for instance, each year a group of students drops out and, over their lifetimes, that dropping out will collectively result in a fiscal burden of $50 billion. By point of comparison, Belfield and Levin note, total annual taxpayer spending on K-12 education, including national, state and local expenditures, is approximately $570 billion. (These analyses are from their chapter in Closing the Opportunity Gap.)

The President’s State of the Union Address and the Republican response will both, it seems, speak to the American people about wealth inequality. They will both, it seems, offer some policy proposals aimed—rhetorically, at least—at addressing this major impediment to the American Dream. To some extent, we may hear about wise, evidenced-based approaches like expanding access to high-quality preschool. But watch out for speeches that identify real problems but then offer nothing more than repackaged, failed policies.

Those who are not serious about addressing inequality will cynically try to figure out, “How do I repackage my existing policy agenda and sell it as a cure for inequality?” Instead, the serious question we should be asking is, “How do I design, pass, and implement a package of policies that have been shown to be effective at addressing wealth inequality and the damage caused by that inequality?”

The nation’s most vulnerable children deserve answers to that serious question. We should honestly consider policies like a guaranteed minimum income, increases in the minimum wage, and a tax structure that shifts the burden toward the extremely wealthy. The way to reduce wealth inequality is to do just that: reduce wealth inequality. Our public schools can help, but they cannot do it alone.


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