The Obama Paradox

Unlike many in the Tea Party, President Obama does not want to privatize schools. But, the president has essentially privatized educational policy.
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Unlike many in the Tea Party, President Obama does not want to privatize schools. But, the president has essentially privatized educational policy.

The administration's policies are a comprehensive list of the preferences and the peeves of the Bill Gates/Eli Broad/Rupert Murdoch school of reform. Gates loves standardized tests and wants a "data dashboard" that will drive policy. Broad hates being annoyed by the democratic process. And Murdoch's trouble-shooter, former New York City Chancellor Joel Klein, has perfected the art of teacher-bashing.

Obama must be upset that while he was being pummeled by the Tea Party, one of his most loyal constituencies marched to "Save Our Schools" from his policies. But I doubt that the President has any idea of the damage that his administration is inflicting on poor children. In fact, given his most pressing concerns, I doubt President Obama has even been briefed fully on what his own policies are supposed to do.

As the president seeks to change the focus to jobs, he must feel that educators are ungrateful. The stimulus package saved 300,000 teaching jobs, and it could have been the down payment on rebuilding our horrific urban schools. But, S.O.S. does not mean save our jobs. If paychecks were our prime concern, we could swallow our dignity and work in the test-prep factories that the Obama administration is promoting. Teachers are rallying to save our students' schools.

The president does not have time to read the latest research on the damage done by data-driven "reform." He cannot take a few weeks away from his other duties to master the social and cognitive science that explains why his policies are damaging the children who he would most like to help. President Obama certainly does not have a chance to study the flawed methodology of value-added models and why they are causing an out-migration of talent from schools where it is more difficult to raise test scores.

Since the stimulus, the Obama Administration has pushed a three-pronged strategy. His NCLB "Blueprint" would free 90% of schools from the suicidal mandates of the law. But President Obama has targeted the lowest-performing schools for NCLB on steroids. Waivers would be provided to NCLB as the administration doubles-down on the schools serving the poorest children of color, imposing the worst of the standardized testing regime. Thirdly, Obama has taken test-driven teacher-bashing policies to the extreme.

I still support Obama. After the stock market downturn that followed his latest defeat by the Tea Party, the chances are that Obama will now feel even more pressure to look tough. Rather than stand up to our common opponents, the president will be more likely to stomp on his true friends. I hate to even contemplate the paradox where the President might stick with the "billionaire boys club," and sell out urban education, in order to be reelected. But I can not bear the thought that we might not have a second term in which teachers would have a second chance to make our case.

Urban educators, like our students and their families, cried when Obama was elected, and we grimace at the beating he is taking from the Far Right. But President Roosevelt also took a pounding from "the money changers" who he was not able to drive from the temple. FDR had to make compromises that were even worse than those made by Obama. So, teachers must swallow our anger and rally behind our president, as we continue to rally in support of our students.

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