Archives for category: Obama

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!”

TeacherKen is a veteran social studies teacher who has a passion for teaching and a passion for justice.

He wrote a letter to the President and Mrs. Obama, politely asking them to reflect on what they want for their own children and what they are inflicting on the nation’s children. I don’t think he used the word “inflict,” but how else to describe the federal mandates that impose endless hours of standardized testing on children? It would not be tolerated at Sidwell Friends in D.C, or at the University of Chicago Lab School, where the Obama girls were students.

Yes, you read that right.

School officials in Elwood, Néw York, canceled a kindergarten play scheduled for May 14-15 because it would take time away from getting the little tykes “college-and-career ready.”

Washington Post journalist Valerie Strauss called the school for confirmation. It sounded too crazy to be true.

But it is factual. The interim principal sent a letter to parents of children in kindergarten canceling the annual show. The letter said, in part, “The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers.”

A member of the district staff vouched for the letter’s authenticity.

This is nuts. Blame Duncan. Blame Obama. They know nothing about child development. Their poll-tested policies hurt little children. Their policies have no basis in research. Children need time to play. They need time to socialize. Five-year-olds should be allowed a childhood.

Perhaps someday historians will figure out how the Obama administration pulled the wool over the eyes of so many people about its plans for urban schools. As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama named Professor Linda Darling-Hammond as his senior education advisor. She went on national television to describe the progressive policies he would pursue if elected.

Soon after the election, President-elect Obama dropped Darling-Hammond and selected his basketball buddy Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education. He introduced Duncan as someone who had enjoyed remarkable success in turning around the Chicago public schools. We now know that Duncan did not enjoy remarkable success, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is applying a wrecking ball to the Chicago public school system.

What went wrong? How did Obama fool us? Once he was elected, why did he choose as Secretary a non-educator who was determined to make standardized testing the centerpiece of his program, to advance the privatization of America’s public schools, to demoralize teachers, and to make common cause with the nation’s most rightwing governors? Why does Duncan never speak out against segregation? Why does he pretend that poverty doesn’t matter so long as poor kids have “great” teachers? Why does he never speak out against vouchers? What will historians say about Race to the Top, which turns out to have as much evidence as No Child Left Behind?


The Obama Administration’s “Scorched Earth Policy” for Urban Schools

By Dr. Mark Naison

The Obama Administration, in the five years it has been in office, has pursued an Education “Scorched Earth” policy in major urban centers, closing public schools en masse and replacing them with charter schools. And for the most part, Democratic Mayors have enthusiastically supported this policy. Only in the last year, there has been finally been some resistance to this policy, by newly elected Mayors in New York and Pittsburgh. That resistance must spread if public education is to survive and be revitalized in Urban America. Electing anti-testing, anti-charter school and pro public school Mayors in big cities should be a major priority of activists in the last three years of the Obama Presidency, along with building the multi-partisan movement against the Common Core Standards. That is the only way we can build public schools into strong community institutions where creative teaching and learning is practiced and honored.


Dr. Mark Naison is one of the Co-founders of BATs with Priscilla Sanstead

Our friend Edward Berger returned from a long period of rest, reading, and reflection, and he is back in fine form.

He wrote a letter to President Obama and the First Lady to warn of the damage their education policies are inflicting on the nation’s children, teachers, and schools.

He writes:

“Prior to your administration, with few exceptions, public schools were not created as sources of investment income or profit. Schools were run by democratically elected boards under state supervision. Schools were accountable for financial management and academic achievement. A proven (if not100%s effective) means of teacher accountability and school effectiveness was in place and functioning well in areas where great poverty and futility were not generated by our failed economic system.

“Prior to your administration, the tax dollars Americans pay for public education could not be accessed by profiteers or religious groups and cults. No taxpayer was forced to support a religion, ideology, or partial school with their education tax dollars.

“Sadly, strengthened by your administration, an unproven and false use of testing replaced the tests used by educators to understand student needs and to teach effectively. Data generated by wrong and unproven means is causing great harm to students and teachers throughout America. The only known beneficiaries of this drive for data are the corporations creating the tests, and the egos of billionaires who use their wealth to force their “hunches” on our schools.

“Your administration supports those who can buy access to schools and thus children’s minds. Your administration accepts the whims of billionaires who have no certification, little or no contact with professional educators, no concept of the history of American education and how education is delivered, and most devastating, they have very little concern for our children. Almost all send their children to separate schools that do not follow the rules your administration is instigating.”

And much more.

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.


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