Archives for category: Obama

We are living in an era when the very idea of public education is under attack, as are teachers’ unions and the teaching profession. Let’s be clear: these attacks and the power amassed behind them are unprecedented in American history. Sure, there have always been critics of public schools, of teachers, and of unions. But never before has there been a serious and sustained effort to defund public education, to turn public money over to unaccountable private hands, and to weaken and eliminate collective bargaining wherever it still exists. And this effort is not only well-coordinated but funded by billionaires who have grown wealthy in a free market and can’t see any need for regulation or unions or public schools.

In the past, Democratic administrations and Democratic members of Congress could be counted on to support public education and to fight privatization. In the past, Democrats supported unions, which they saw as a dependable and significant part of their base.

This is no longer the case. Congress is about to pass legislation to expand funding of charter schools, despite the fact that they get no better results than public schools and despite the scandalous misuse of public funds by charter operators in many states.

The Obama administration strongly supports privatization via charters; one condition of Race to the Top was that states had to increase the number of charters. The administration is no friend of teachers or of teacher unions. Secretary Duncan applauded the lamentable Vergara decision, as he has applauded privatization and evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students. There are never too many tests for this administration. Although the President recently talked about the importance of unions, he has done nothing to support them when they are under attack. Former members of his administration are leading the war against teachers and their unions. Think Rahm Emanuel, who apparently wants to be known as the mayor who privatized Chicago and broke the teachers’ union. Or think Robert Gibbs, the former White House press secretary who is now leading the public relations campaign against teachers’ due process rights.

The National Education Association is meeting now in Denver at its annual conference. The American Federation of Teachers holds its annual convention in Los Angeles in another week or so. Both must take seriously the threat to the survival of public education: not only privatization but austerity and over-testing. These are not different threats. They are connected. Austerity and over-testing set public schools up to fail. They are precursors to privatization. They are intended to make public schools weak and to destroy public confidence in democratically controlled schools. What is needed at this hour is a strong, militant response to these attacks on teachers, public schools, and–where they exist–unions.

For sure, unions have their faults. But they are the only collective voice that teachers have. Now is the time to use that voice. The battle for the future of public education is not over. Supporters of public education must rally and stand together and elect a President in 2016 who supports public schools. This is a time to get informed, to organize, to strategize, and to mobilize. If you are not angry, you have not been paying attention.

Stephanie Simon reports at that former high-level Obama advisors will help the fight against teacher unions and due process rights. Campbell Brown, a former CNN anchor who is highly antagonistic to teachers’ unions, is creating an organization to pursue a Vergara-style lawsuit in New York against teachers’ job protections. Her campaign will have the public relations support of an agency led by Robert Gibbs, former Obama Press Secretary, and Ben LaBolt, former Obama campaign spokesman.

Simon writes:

“Teachers unions are girding for a tough fight to defend tenure laws against a coming blitz of lawsuits — and an all-out public relations campaign led by former aides to President Barack Obama.

“The Incite Agency, founded by former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, will lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended ferociously. LaBolt and another former Obama aide, Jon Jones — the first digital strategist of the 2008 campaign — will take the lead role in the public relations initiative.”

Campbell Brown achieved a certain notoriety or renown for articles she wrote in the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere insisting that the unions were protecting “sexual predators” in the classroom.

This is one of the strangest stories of the week or month or year. President Obama spoke in Pittsburgh about the importance of strengthening unions.

Unions are under siege and have been for several years, but I can’t remember when the President stepped up to defend them.

Conservatives who support the Common Core like to blame Obama for making it radioactive. They say that if he and Arne had stayed out, CC would have been non-controversial. Their involvement awakened the Tea Party and others who reflexively dismiss whatever Obama is for.

Peter Greene says balderdash.

“It’s Obama’s fault.

“The state-led initiative was chugging right along, moving forward without any interference from the feds, when somehow, they decided to leap in. Or as Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday recently put it, things were fine “until the President and secretary of education took credit for the Common Core.”This is part of the current conservative CCSS support narrative (you can find put forth by, among others, the boys over at the Fordham). The story goes something like this:

Once upon a time, some noble governors and dedicated corporate guys got together and created the Common Core, and people pretty much thought it was swell. Then the Obama administration tried to get involved with cheerleading and with Racing to the Top and NCLB waivers. This was a Bad Thing because it woke up the Tea Party folks, who began shrieking about federal over-reach. People who wouldn’t have cared one way or another suddenly were against it because Obama was for it and whatever he’s doing, it must be evil. If the feds had just stayed home and tended to their knitting, we would not be having all this CCSS fracasization……….

Even if we pretend that the feds weren’t involved from day one, even if we pretend that the feds haven’t been angling for this for several administrations, even if we pretend that the Obama administration wasn’t sponsoring slumber parties and buying the refreshments for CCSS-writing parties, the feds must still take responsibility for the prime motivator for the whole mess.

States were not open to CCSS because of some burning desire to revamp their education systems. They were all sitting on the ticking time bomb that was (actually, is) No Child Left Behind, otherwise known as ESEA, otherwise known as federal law. The feds were always involved. Always….

“For Pearson et al, CCSS represent a marketing opportunity sent from heaven. CCSS opened up the US education market faster and more completely than a velociraptor fileting a sleepy cow. To open a national market, they needed national standards, not the state-by-state patchwork of the past. They were always going to use every tool at their disposal to make this happen across the entire country, and that toolbox includes the federal government….

“Who can seriously argue that all the states were going to say, “Yeah, we should totally implement this untested set of standards, sight unseen. Especially since they come with a huge price tag. Yes, let’s do it.” Particularly states that had perfectly good standards already. “Now that we’ve paid off this beautiful Lexus, let’s junk it and get a Yugo for twice the cost,” said no car owner ever,

“No, a wave of bribery (Race to the Top) was needed to get the ball rolling. Or do you seriously want to suggest that states would have raced toward the Core for free. And when states wouldn’t fall in line for the bribe, we moved on to the extortion– “I’d hate to see anything happen to your state just because of some crazy No Child Left Behind law; you should really consider getting our special protection waiver plan.”

“Selling CCSS required a federal-sized stick and a DC calibre stick. States do not generally volunteer for massive unfunded mandates. Only a federal-sized sales job would do, even if it had to be carefully calibrated to avoid looking illegal….

“So say what you like. It’s impossible for the administration to have avoided involvement in CCSS. And if by some miracle it had kept its hands off, CCSS would now be an interesting experimental set of standards being tried out in four or five states, maybe. It’s true that Obama didn’t do CCSS any favors, but it would have died on the vine without him.”

The Obama administration wants to rate institutions of higher education, based on factors like cost,graduation rate, income of graduates.


Most college and university presidents are upset.


It didn’t help that one administration official said that comparing the cost and quality of institutions of higher education should be no more difficult than comparing blenders. For some reason, the Obama administration thinks that it can play the role of Consumer Reports and thus improve the quality of higher education while lowering costs. How this will actually happen is anyone’s guess.


Many of the university officials pointed out that the institutions that prepare graduates for relatively low-paid professions like social work and teaching would get low ratings, as would those that open their doors to risky low-income students. Those whose graduates go to Wall Street will look stellar.


Some said they would be penalized for focusing on the liberal arts and sciences, where the ultimate payoff is less than in fields like engineering.


The Obama administration, which is never in doubt about any of its ideas or policies, plans to push ahead, so that it can hold the nation’s colleges and universities “accountable.” There seems to be no tempering its love affair with data. Having no success to date with its policies for K-12, it now plans to bring the same failed ideas of NCLB-Race to the Top  to the nation’s higher education sector.


Why doesn’t the administration begin by regulating the for-profit sector, which has a historic record of poor performance and low graduation rates?


Well, no, it must apply its metrics of all institutions of higher education. This is NCLB style thinking. Leave these guys alone for a minute and they bring out their weights, measures, and scales.


Someone should tell them that the American system of higher education is generally considered the best, most diverse in the world, and it got that way without being controlled by the U.S . Department of Education.



Edushyster asks the inevitable question: what is the one sure way to improve medicine? The Obama administration has found it: pay for performance!

It hasn’t worked in education, but that’s no reason not to try it in medicine.

What happened: totally unexpected side effects:

“Here’s where our story takes a completely unexpected and yet astonishingly familiar turn. Intended to reward *high quality health care,* the Obama administration’s introduction of pay for performance for doctors and hospitals has ended up punishing those that treat *large numbers of poor people.* Also, also the payment policies are *unintentionally worsening disparities* between rich and poor by shifting money away from doctors and hospitals that care for disadvantaged patients. Also, also, also providers with a disproportionate share of disadvantaged patients appear to *provide lower quality care* than they actually do.”

What lessons can be learned? Read the link.

A reader sent me this story with this comment: “Bizarro world.”

First Lady Michelle Obama promotes arts education because the arts raise test scores.

The administration said 35 schools would get federal turnaround funding for the arts because early evidence shows that the arts lead to higher math and reading scores.

Time to stop and think. The Bush-Obama high-stakes testing policies have diminished resources, staff, equipment and time for the arts.

The purpose of the arts is not to raise test scores but to express and develop our talents, to enhance our lives, to give us the joy of experience and skill in music and the other arts.

Arts are not a path to picking the right bubble on a standardized test. They are far more valuable than that. The self-discipline required in the arts, the joy of performance is sufficient unto itself.

Peter Goodman, a political analyst who is close to the United Federation of Teachers in New York City, concludes that the November elections are looking increasingly bleak for President Obama and the Democrats. It is beginning to look like Democrats could lose control of the Senate, which would leave Obama with little more than veto power.

This could have serious consequences. Credit Obama with two excellent Supreme Court appointments–Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. With a Republican Senate, there would be no more. A Republican House and Senate would spend two years rolling back whatever Obama has done.

The election will turn on motivating core constituencies and getting them out to vote.

One of the most loyal Obama blocs has been teachers. To say the least, they are angry and alienated by Arne Duncan’s policies.

There are three million teachers who may sit on their hands on Election Day because of the misguided policies of Race to the Top.

Goodman says that if President Obama has any hope of winning back the teacher vote, he must fire Arne.

That would be a start. But he also would have to fire Ted Mitchell, who was just confirmed as Undersecretary of Education. Mitchell is a prominent proponent of privatization, charters, and for-profit colleges. Almost all of Duncan’s assistant secretaries share his love of high-stakes testing.

Would Obama fire his basketball buddy? Not likely. But what if he could find a new job for him in another agency or make him an ambassador? If control of the Senate is the prize, firing Arne might not be such a bad idea.

President Obama chose Robert Gordon, who served in key roles in the first Obama administration, as assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development in the U.S. Department of Education. This is a very important position in the Education Department; he will be the person in charge of the agency that basically decides what is working, what is not, and which way to go next with policy.


When he worked in the Office of Management and Budget, Gordon helped to develop the priorities for the controversial Race to the Top program. Before joining the Obama administration, he worked for Joel Klein in the New York City Department of Education.


An economist, Gordon was lead author of an influential paper in 2006 that helped to put value-added-measurement at the top of the “reformers” policy agenda. That paper, called “Identifying Effective Teachers Using Performance on the Job,” was co-authored by Thomas J. Kane and Douglas O. Staiger. Kane became the lead adviser to the Gates Foundation in developing its “Measures of Effective Teaching,” which has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to develop the formula for the teacher who can raise test scores consistently. Gordon went on to Obama’s Office of Management and Budget, which is the U.S. government’s lead agency for determining budget priorities.


The paper co-authored by this triumvirate championed VAM (value-added measurement, i.e., the use of student test scores to judge teacher “effectiveness”) as one of the key policy levers of reform. Here is the abstract:


Traditionally, policymakers have attempted to improve the quality of the teaching force by raising minimum credentials for entering teachers. Recent research, however, suggests that such paper qualifications have little predictive power in identifying effective teachers. We propose federal support to help states measure the effectiveness of individual teachers—based on their impact on student achievement, subjective evaluations by principals and peers, and parental evaluations. States would be given considerable discretion to develop their own measures, as long as student achieve- ment impacts (using so-called “value-added” measures) are a key component. The federal government would pay for bonuses to highly rated teachers willing to teach in high-poverty schools. In return for federal support, schools would not be able to offer tenure to new teachers who receive poor evaluations during their first two years on the job without obtaining district approval and informing parents in the schools. States would open further the door to teaching for those who lack traditional certification but can demonstrate success on the job. This approach would facilitate entry into teaching by those pursuing other careers. The new measures of teacher performance would also provide key data for teachers and schools to use in their efforts to improve their performance.


This paper, based on economists’ speculation about what works, became a justification often cited for the importance of minimizing teacher certification (“paper qualifications”) and factoring student test scores into teachers’ evaluations, which are a major–if not THE major–component of Race to the Top. The papers’ advocacy of opening the door to uncertified teachers has become a government priority, as shown by Arne Duncan’s award of $50 million to Teach for America (Gordon’s wife worked for TFA), although there is no evidence that TFA can replace the nation’s 3 million teachers and a growing body of evidence that TFA teachers are not more effective than other new teachers or veteran teachers. And since they are usually gone in two years, they have little lasting impact except to increase churn in the teaching staff.


Much has happened since Gordon, Kane, and Staiger speculated about how to identify effective teachers by performance measures such as student test scores. We now have evidence that these measures are fraught with error and instability. We now have numerous examples where teachers are evaluated based on the scores of students they never taught. We have numerous examples of teachers rated highly effective one year, but ineffective the next year, showing that what mattered most was the composition of their class, not their quality or effectiveness. Just recently, the American Statistical Association said: “Most VAM studies find that teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores, and that the majority of opportunities for quality improvement are found in the system-level conditions. Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”). In a joint statement, the National Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association warned about the defects and limitations of VAM and showed that most of the factors that determine test scores are beyond the control of teachers.  Numerous individual scholars have taken issue with the naive belief that teacher quality can be established by the test scores of their students, even when the computer matches as many variables as it can find.



What we don’t know is this: Has Robert Gordon changed his mind in light of evidence undermining his belief in VAM?


Or will the Obama administration continue on its now well-established course, demoralizing veteran teachers, lowering standards for entry-level teachers, dismissing the professional preparation of teachers, and creating new opportunities for the inexperienced, ill-trained recruits of TFA?


Having met Robert Gordon and knowing him to be a very smart person, I am betting that he will help the Obama administration change course and inject the wisdom of experience into its policies. That’s my hope.



Reader Lloyd Lofthouse finds President Obama’s education reforms to be as unrealistic as those of George W. Bush. The basic theory of action is to set I reachable goals and to punish those who can’t reach them.

He writes:

“The Common Core high stakes testing that judges teachers, gets them fired and public schools closed took public education systems that operated based on individual state legislation with minimum or no standards and demanded the highest possible standards that have never been achieved anywhere on earth at any time in history without building a new system and implementing it over at least an entire generation—and maybe several generations.

“Instead, what Obama did with his Race to the Top and Common Core Standards was the same as expecting a 1908 Model T Ford that’s rated at a top speed of 45 mph to suddenly hit moon rocket velocity or face failure and behind sent to the dump. And to achieve this federally UN-Constitutional mandate, Obama did nothing to replace the Model T’s engine. Nothing!”


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