Archives for category: Obama

Andrew Rotherham is an insider inside the deepest realms of the Beltway. He is also a bona fide reformer who supports TFA, charters, and the whole corporate reform menu. Long ago, he advised Bill Clinton; now he is on the advisory board of Campbell Brown’s “The 74,” which has a long list of things it wants to do to strip away tenure, collective bargaining rights, and whatever teachers care about.

Andy wrote a very interesting story about the five “takeaways” from Duncan’s departure.

Here are some of his thoughts that are especially informative:

Education is apparently on the president’s “Eff-It” list. At this year’s White House Correspondents Dinner, President Obama said that he didn’t have a bucket list, but with time running out on his administration, he did have something that rhymed with it. The president’s choice of John King* to oversee the department after Duncan is a signal he’s not that concerned with education politics at this point.

To the right, King is a lightning rod because of his support for Common Core standards and his leadership implementing them in New York. To the left, he’s a flashpoint because of his support for teacher evaluations and no-nonsense championing of high expectations for low-income students and real accountability for the schools that serve them.

Teachers unions and some conservatives have been calling on Duncan to resign – this is not what they had in mind.

The education debate is about to get nastier. John King is an accomplished African American educator who helped found a highly regarded charter school in Boston. His personal story is as compelling as any education official in the country. Most reform critics don’t want to tangle with him publicly, if for no other reason than they have sense enough to recognize the gross optics of well-heeled white people explaining to an African American man why we shouldn’t have demanding expectations for educators serving low-income minority youth. So expect the debate to get nastier behind the scenes as those tensions manifest in other ways. In particular, look for more controversy in states and local communities but don’t expect much from Washington other than more administrative action.

Hillary is in the hot seat. Teachers unions need scalps and political theater to keep their activist members happy. (That’s why you get odd spectacles like Duncan helping write the very talking points teachers union leaders were using to castigate him publicly.) There is no way to read King’s ascension other than as a slap in the face to teachers unions, especially the New York-centric American Federation of Teachers, which has been sharply critical of the future secretary. Look for them to ratchet up the pressure on Hillary Clinton to distance herself from reform in a visible way, particularly in a primary fight where she needs labor’s support and her political problems lie to the left.

By the way, it was Michael Grunwald of Politico who wrote that Arne helped to draft the NEA’s condemnation of him.

Grunwald wrote:

At the NEA’s convention in 2011, the union formally declared that it was “appalled” with Duncan’s work. But at the same convention, the NEA endorsed the president’s reelection, as if the education secretary whose family hung out with the Obamas at Camp David was some kind of rogue operative. I heard from several sources that Duncan actually helped negotiate the language of his own condemnation; he’s no politician, but you can’t run the Chicago schools without some sense of politics.

In the car yesterday, I heard a report that Arne Duncan was stepping down. President Obama said: He did more than anyone else to bring American education into the 21st century, sometimes kicking and screaming.

I am paraphrasing but that is a very close approximation of what he said.

So this is what the 21st century will look like: boot camps for minorities; teachers with scripts; schools run for profit; school scams by corporations; education industry traded on Néw York Stock Exchange; high-yield online schools with high attrition rates; the monetization of public education.

The Los Angeles Times reports that some teachers are unhappy with their unions’ early endorsement of Hillary.

She supports unions. But where does she stand on charters? 90% of charters are nonunion. You can’t be pro-union and pro-charter.

Is she close to Eli Broad? For many teachers, that is the kiss of death.

Will she follow the Bush-Obama line?

She has to make clear where she stands.

Let me confess: I once thought Cornel West was way too radical. His politics were too extreme. Boy, was I wrong. Yet another bad judgment call on my part. Either the times have changed or I have changed. I now think that he makes sense.

As I watched this brief video clip of Cornel West facing down a panel that included Newt Gingrich, I found myself agreeing with everything he said. He called out progressives for their complicity with the far right and their silence in the face of intolerable abuses heaped on the weakest members of our society.

When he got to the part about the privatization of public education, I was cheering. His point was that we have to educate all the children, not just a favored few. We as a society are responsible for all our children.

Nicholas Tampio seeks to understand why the Democratic Party abandoned public education.

Some part of the explanation, he believe, can be found in the leadership’s limited personal engagement with public schools.

“The key to understanding Obama’s education policy, according to Maranto and McShane, is his biography. Obama attended the prestigious Punahou School in Hawaii, an experience that prepared him for college and law school. Obama also observed from a distance a Hawaiian public school system rife with ethnic violence, low academic standards and an unresponsive bureaucracy. These experiences influenced Obama’s decision to send his daughters to Sidwell Friends, the elite Washington, D.C. institution whose alumni include the younger Albert Gore and Chelsea Clinton.

“As president, Obama has advocated reforms to the public education system that include upping merit pay, weakening tenure rules and evaluating teachers by student test scores. Obama’s most controversial education policy, however, was the Race to the Top program that gave states additional incentives to adopt the Common Core standards.”

“There is nothing wrong with private school. The problem here, though, is that too many Democratic elites advocate education reforms such as the Common Core standards, charter schools, and high-stakes testing with minimal first-hand knowledge of how they affect schools or children. In sending their children to private schools, Democratic elites exempt themselves from policies that they might oppose if they saw their own children being harmed by them.”

“Liberty produces wealth, and wealth destroys liberty”
Henry Demarest Lloyd

News that teacher shortages exist in many states is not surprising to the nation’s educators.

Many, if not most, teachers in the United States today do not feel as though they are respected. Public school teachers feel as though their profession is under assault in a country that seems to be abandoning the idea of public education.

Those who seek to defund public education and replace it with a corporate model that makes use of market mechanisms to serve “strivers” and their families sound very well intended.

Education “reformers” typically target takeovers of inner city schools by managers who see charter school networks as assets in stock portfolios. Much as investment firms have bought up distressed mortgages, investors in charter schools envision long-term investment and risk leading to long-term dividends. These fledgling education capitalists sing a confident song of win-win: their schools will close the “achievement gap” between inner city and suburban youth and display the data proving it in “real-time.” They proof will be displayed in the “data,” lighting the path for the disruption of public schools and relieving tax-payers of school pension debt as the corporate school model displaces public control of schooling. The key source of profit for this privatization scheme, the real target of education capitalists, is the destruction of teacher unions. Investors will benefit by profit margins derived at the expense of teachers and their families. With the institution of work to order regimes that pay charter schoolteachers lower salaries, fewer benefits, and that offer virtually no workplace protections; investors will be able to realize more value in their portfolios.

That the Obama administration made a Faustian bargain with Republicans on public education is blindingly obvious. Long before Obama considered a run for the presidency, his best friend, Marty Nesbitt, along with Rahm Emanuel and the major Chicago developer clans: the Rauners, the Crowns, and the Pritzkers guided the creation of public-private partnerships to build housing to replace the city’s decaying and crime-ridden behemoth public housing projects under the Clinton era Hope Acts.

These same individuals, not surprisingly, turned to public-private initiatives in education, by founding and funding the Noble Charter chain. These schools cater to the city’s inner-city “strivers.” While the resources provided by the Pritzkers, Crowns, and Rauners to these schools and their students represent a sterling display of civic investment, what they give they hope will be multiplied by more investment in similar charter enterprises. Mr. Nesbitt predictably has started an investment firm, the Vistria Group, that seeks to attract investors into the charter school education business. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, has expressed great confidence in Mr. Nesbitt and the Vistria Group.

The direction of Obama education policy was thus built on two factors: the focus on building public-private partnerships in education modeled on the dismantling of the Chicago Housing authority and the need to attract Silicon Valley and tech sector billionaires, most prominently, Bill Gates. The tech billionaires also wanted more access to school markets and the privatization of public schools could free up money that would otherwise go to teacher salaries and benefits. When the Obama transition team chose Arne Duncan as Education secretary over arguably the most knowledgeable and able education researcher in the country, Linda Darling-Hammond, the die was cast.

Mr. Duncan was never a teacher and thus has little empathy for teachers or teaching. His favorite teacher, a University of Chicago Laboratory High School English teacher, has expressed “concern for the future of her profession” in the wake of attacks on teachers coming from Bill Gates and his foundation, Michael Bloomberg, Republican governors, representatives of the Bush and Obama administrations, and most prominently, her former student.

Many teachers view Mr. Duncan’s Race to the Top Initiative as a failure and the recent revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act as a necessary corrective to out of control Federal, state, and local testing mandates that turn teaching into a nightmare.

We have reached an Education tipping point in the United States. We can either reverse course and end our romance with the privatization of Education and our obsession with standardized testing regimes, or our resourced starved public schools will simply collapse, trapped as they are in a zero-sum game of diminishing resources.

The editorial pages and publishers of the New York Times and the Tribune Company have served as the praetorian guard of education reform movement sponsored by well-intentioned plutocrats who have little or no first hand knowledge about the everyday challenges that face most public school teachers, students, and parents.

Our political leaders need to begin to listen to parents who opt their kids out of invalid and ridiculous tests, teachers who are quitting or fleeing teacher hostile states like Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, and Arizona, and potentially excellent candidates for teaching who decide that teaching is not a rewarding profession.

Disruption is leading us down the wrong road.

Paul Horton teaches history at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. His views in no way reflect the views of the board or the administration of the Laboratory Schools (several former members of this board are mentioned in this article)

Stanley Kurtz has a very interesting article at the conservative National Review, calling out Jeb Bush for pretending that he does not really support the Common Core standards and that he is in favor of local control. At the Republican debate last week, Jeb was questioned about his strong support for Common Core, and he equivocated, trying to leave the impression that he had no particular allegiance to Common Core. He said, “I don’t believe the federal government should be involved in the creation of standards, directly or indirectly, the creation of curriculum content. That is clearly a state responsibility.”

As Kurtz documents, Jeb has been one of the loudest cheerleaders for Common Core, even though federal involvement in its creation (requiring its adoption as a condition of eligibility for Race to the Top funding) and in directly subsidizing Common Core testing (PARCC and Smarter Balanced Assessment) arguably violates federal law. Federal law explicitly bans any federal interference in curriculum and instruction, and no one can say with a straight face that CCSS has no connection to or influence on curriculum and instruction.

Kurtz is particularly good in describing the Orwellian language of “education reform,” in which reformers say the opposite of what they mean. Readers of this blog have long seen the way that “reformers” twist words to pretend that their corporate-model names and policies are “for the children” (like Students First, Students Matter, Children First, Democrats for Education Reform, Education Reform Now, Stand for Children, and other poll-tested obfuscations of reality).

Kurtz writes:

The story of the profoundly undemocratic process by which Common Core was adopted by the states doesn’t end there. A devastating account by The Washington Post’s Lyndsey Layton (hardly a Geroge Will-style conservative) lays it out. Federal carrots and sticks, along with massive infusions of Gates Foundation money, at a moment when state budgets were stressed to the breaking point by the financial crisis, stampeded more than forty states into adopting a completely untested reform, often sight unseen or before the standards themselves had been finalized.

A deliberative process that ought to have taken years was telescoped into months. In nearly every case, the change was made without a single vote by an elected lawmaker, much less a statewide public debate. And all the while, the Obama administration intentionally obscured the full extent of its pressure on the states.

Common Core proponents have concocted a fiction according to which this travesty of federalism and democracy was “state led,” using the fig leaf of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and the National Governors Association (NGA), which helped to develop the plan. CCSSO is a private group, with no known grant of authority from any state. Likewise, NGA is a private group, and seems not to include all governors (the list of dues-paying members has not been made public, at least in previous years). None of this can begin to substitute for a truly “state led” process, which would change education standards via legislatures and governors, after full consultation with the public. The Obama administration has dismissed legitimate complaints about this process as a kind of conspiracy theory, yet its own liberal supporters have praised its tactics as a clever ruse to circumvent the constitutional, legal, and political barriers to a national curriculum.

I am sorry to say that Jeb Bush has been a leading supporter and cheerleader of this process from the start, often portraying what was in fact an illegitimate federal power-grab as a sterling example of local control.

In a co-authored 2011 opinion piece making “The Case for Common Educational Standards,” Bush and New York educator Joel Klein deny federal overreach and present the states as voluntarily enrolling in Common Core. They speak of two testing consortia “of the states,” without noting federal financing of these national consortia. Bush and Klein portray a program explicitly designed to create uniform national standards as embodying “the beauty of our federal system.” Day is night.

Kurtz goes on to show how Jeb worked with Obama and Duncan to maintain the fiction that Common Core was “state-led” and was the answer to our problems:

The Washington Post recently reported on Jeb’s appearance with Obama in March of 2011 to push the president’s education agenda. Bush’s alliance with the Obama administration on education policy was in fact broad and deep. They differed on school choice, yet were aligned on much else, Common Core above all.

Consider the following 2010 video of an appearance by Obama education secretary Arne Duncan at Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education. Duncan goes on about how many states have adopted Common Core (between 7:10 and 9:50), while repeatedly denying federal responsibility for the change. The secretary doth protest too much, methinks.

After Duncan’s talk, he and Jeb jointly take questions from the audience. Here it becomes obvious that on education policy, Jeb sees himself as allied with Duncan and Obama — in opposition to local-control-loving conservatives (as well as liberal teachers’ unions). Jeb’s political solution to attacks on the Common Core is to “push the two groups who are not reform-minded further away from what I think is the mainstream.” (See video between 27:30 and 29:30.)

There are two errors in the account above. First, Jeb and Obama do not differ on school choice except for vouchers. It may be awkward for an author to admit in a conservative publication that the Obama administration has been all-in for charters and private management of schools. Duncan has been a cheerleader for privately-managed charters and Common Core. Indeed, the administration has not fought vouchers, even as they spread from state to state. Duncan has been strangely silent on the subject of vouchers. Nor has the Obama administration done anything to defend collective bargaining, other than lip service. On March 11, 2011, Jeb Bush, President Obama and Secretary Duncan were in Miami celebrating the successful turnaround of Miami Central High School, ignoring the thousands of protestors encircling the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker was enacting legislation to cripple the public sector unions (but not fire and police unions!).

The second error in Kurtz’s account is to assert that the teachers’ unions were against Common Core. Both the NEA and the AFT were early supporters of Common Core; neither has renounced the standards.

And there is another error in this claim: Bush touts his education accomplishments as Florida governor, and they were real. But Jeb raised a bottom-performing state to average, which is easier than moving from the middle of the pack to the top.

Many critics think that Jeb Bush’s education accomplishments are a sham. His A-F school grading system punishes the schools with the neediest children. His dramatic expansion of charters has created a corrupt industry of hucksters who open and close charters and take the money to the bank. He fought for vouchers, tried to amend the state constitution, but was rebuked at the polls on vouchers by a vote of 58-42. Florida has a lower graduation rate than Alabama. With “accomplishments” like this, he could destroy public education and ruin the nation.

Fred LeBrun, a regular columnist for the Albany-Times-Union, writes that the scale of the opt out movement sends a powerful message to the President, Arne Duncan, Governor Cuomo, “and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.” He wisely recognizes that the movement was an uprising by parents, who are sick of the test-driven, data-driven policies of the past dozen years and sick of the Governor’s demand to make the consequences of the test even harsher. Parents know that this means more resources devoted to testing, less time for the arts and other subjects and activities that their children enjoy. LeBrun understands that parents are fed up with No Child Left Behind, fed up with Race to the Top, and fed up with the politicians who blindly embrace the agenda of these policies that are so harmful to genuine education.

LeBrun writes:

That’s not just an opt-out movement anymore. It’s civil disobedience, and a step away from a growing stampede. That should make elected officials squirm, and they deserve it.

But we haven’t seen the half of it yet. This coming week those same children will go back to take three days of standardized math tests — or not.

How the numbers who didn’t take the English tests will impact the numbers taking the math tests will be illuminating. It’s hard to imagine anything but a tumbling effect. Reports have surfaced that those English tests had a number of questions that were ambiguous, poorly designed and written in language too sophisticated for the age level, yet again. One parent said that the tests seem to be about creating failure, not measuring learning. She likened the exams to child abuse. Of course, since these tests are endorsed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, self-proclaimed guardian of our young minds, this couldn’t possibly be true.

Regardless how many show up for the math tests, what the parents have done so far is as strong a repudiation of national and state public policy as we have seen in a long time. These parents have given a resounding ”no” to the president, our governor, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and an entire ruling cabal of moronic billionaires convinced that public education can only be elevated by punitive measures and the cold imposition of numbers in a database.

Well, the public is not having it. Not just here in New York, but across the country. The reauthorization of No Child Left Behind in progress right now will reflect enormous national pressures to change course from a reliance on testing and the linking of teacher evaluations and student achievement to those tests. Federal funding will not be connected to meeting any federal standards, as it is now.

Paul Karrer teaches fifth grade in California. He writes frequently about education.



Don’t Let Hillary Do An Obama On Public Education


I write to the leaders of our many education organizations. The time has come for educators collectively to push back.


If you are honest, you must admit we have not fared well politically. In fact it would be fair to say we have been vilified, punished, and demoralized. Teachers must face the ugly fact that President Obama has done the institution of public education and educators irreparable, long-term damage with his shocking warm embrace of “Ed Reform Inc.”


In the previous election the many arms of education threw their weight, money, and support behind President Obama far too early. Hillary Clinton was one of the few candidates to come out against No Child Left Behind. No Child Left Behind was the seminal poisonous blueprint for the destruction and financial demolition of our democratic public schooling institutions.


We received no return on our support for President Obama. Incredibly just the opposite occurred. He made Arnie Duncan his hatchet man and Arnie started chopping. President Obama became wedded to Wall Street, hedge funders, school privatizers, technocrats, and initiated the cannibalism of our educational system. Who would have conceived that the greatest educational betrayal in contemporary history would be by a Democrat and a minority member to boot? His Race To The Top, leveraged with more charter schools, was the ugly stepchild of NCLB. Strategically we thought we had to support Obama. He could only be better than any Republican we chanted. Sadly, in retrospect this is no longer a certainty.


We find ourselves in a similar juncture in the political road. Hillary seems to be our candidate BUT…she has said some very disturbing things of late. Things which make many of us a little questioning of her new leanings. I say this as an ardent Hillary supporter. She claims that the most important book she has ever read was the bible. No problem with that except she’s never mentioned this previously. Also, she’s made a very sharp right turn regarding Syria and probably Iran. She is now a big proponent of invasion – to show she’s tough. Both of these moves reek of pandering to polls. And they indicate a throwing out of previous values. Scary question is…will she throw public education and teachers under the bus for votes too?


We need Hillary, if she is to be our candidate, to be supportive of us in deeds not platitudes. Not just because of our power, and strength but also because we are the good guys. We believe in public service. That is why we teach.


Hillary needs to understand she does not automatically have our support and resources unless she guarantees the death of NCLB, teachers evaluated on testing, and the end of excessive testing. We need a presidential candidate who restarts a public schooling system based on what is good for children – not what is good for: politicians, hedge funders, Pearson, or charter school corporations.


So you our education leaders at the top of the food chain need to have a little sit-down with Hillary. She can’t do An Obama on us. An Obama is where he meets with a few teachers, tells them how great they are. Parades them on T.V. and blathers how society needs great teachers. And adds that we shouldn’t test too much.


And then he promotes industries many harmful reforms. That’s An Obama.


Don’t let Hillary do a Hillary on us.



Paul Karrer
5th grade teacher

Castroville Elementary School
2009 North Monterey LULAC Teacher of The Year
Monterey, California

Reader Cheryll Brounsteun posed this concern:

“I have followed the evolution of “school reform”. I believed naively that once Obama recognized that the reform movement was a scam to make money by selling tests, technology, curriculum, privatizing education and breaking unions that Democrats would take steps to protect public education.

“Sadly, Obama’s public support for TFA, Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, and Rahm Emmanuel clearly underscore that public education has been traded or sold and is being dismantled in stages. The destruction of public education is as great a travesty as the devastation of the environment and the corruption of our judicial system that ignores the crimes of the 1%. Yet, most citizens lack an awareness that the basis of a viable democracy is disappearing.”


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