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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 03/ 7/2011

A Florida teacher tells Obama he disappointed her

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Miami public school teacher Jennie Smith, who attended President Obama’s speech last week at a Miami high school and a following education roundtable. Smith, incidentally, was the only teacher invited to the roundtable.

By Jennie Smith
I had the honor not only of attending President Obama’s speech at Miami Central High School, but also of participating in the President’s Education Roundtable following his speech. Of the 14 participants, I was the only teacher, and the only representative of a teacher’s union.

Although the Chamber of Commerce had more than one representative, the leadership of United Teachers of Dade was not even invited. It was my responsibility therefore to represent not only Florida teachers but also our unions.

Obama, in his speech, spoke about why investing in education is a priority even in tough fiscal times:

"When we sacrifice our commitment to education, we’re sacrificing our future. And we can’t let that happen. Our kids deserve better. Our country deserves better."

This is a statement that any educator or parent would agree with. However, it is not a statement with which the new governor of the state of Florida, Rick Scott, agrees, as his proposed budget would slash education funding by 10%--after repeated budget cuts over the past 2 1/2 years.

The president expressed respect for the teaching profession and he reiterated that teachers need to be honored for the challenging work that they do every day. As a teacher and a union member and activist in the audience at this speech, none of this stirred me much.

What did create an impression--and not a positive one--was the fact that the president was sharing the stage with ex-governor Jeb Bush. He even congratulated Bush for his work in education reform:

"We are also honored to be joined here today by another champion of education reform, somebody who championed reform when he was in office, somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen -- Jeb Bush...The truth is I’ve gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service. And we are so grateful to him for the work that he’s doing on behalf of education. So, thank you, Jeb."

My hackles went up immediately. In fact, I so resented hearing Jeb Bush lauded by the president -- for whom I voted and actively campaigned -- that during the Education Roundtable, I told the president directly that many of us teachers in Florida were very disappointed to see him sharing the stage with Jeb Bush and praising his education “reform” efforts, when the Bush agenda is really about privatization and destroying unions.

Obama's response?

Education should not be a partisan issue, and we must work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact reform. He said that he was aware of the decertification issues for our unions and that he did not support that, but that we had to be willing to compromise in the interest of improving education for our children, and that teachers had to be willing to be held accountable. He said that instead of fighting reform, we should get in front of it and lead it. He also said there was a difference between Rick Scott and Jeb Bush, and that it was important to distinguish.

If I had had more time to respond, this is what I would have said:

Mr. President, teachers are not afraid of accountability. In order to become teachers we obtain degrees—very often advanced degrees—and must be certified. We are subject to annual evaluation. These evaluations could be made stronger and more meaningful, and we are on board with that, too.

The Florida Education Association gathered 17 top teachers and together they came up with an evaluation system that would provide more meaningful, productive evaluations that teachers could use to improve, would provide ongoing support and opportunities for teacher promotion, and would even allow for a fair, equitable system of merit pay. We are not resisting reform; we are providing our input. But it far too often falls on deaf ears.

As governor, Jeb Bush imposed the high-stakes nature of the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT, which has resulted in a narrowed curriculum focusing more on learning to take a standardized test than on expanding student knowledge. Students are learning how to eliminate multiple-choice answers and write highly formulaic and uncreative essays; they are not learning about the history and geography of their country and world; about the earth, nature, the universe; about art and music.

This happens most in neighborhoods where students are already least likely to have a well-educated, well-informed parent at home to fill in the gaps. Bush’s school grading system has resulted in the labeling of schools, students, parents, teachers and administrators, and ensured that blighted communities already struggling with unemployment, poverty and crime will have no chance to attract businesses that could help restore them.

Jeb Bush’s Foundation for Florida’s Future has worked tirelessly to funnel money out of public education and into very rich, powerful corporate interests. He has pushed the expansion of charter schools, including those for profit, in the face of strong evidence that charters do not generally outperform traditional public schools. He has pushed for vouchers to private schools.

His focus on FCAT testing and unfunded, unwritten end-of-course exams has poured millions into the standardized testing industry. He led the assault against the Class Size Amendment—although the charters and private schools he touts routinely use small class sizes as a key marketing tool.

His Senate Bill 736 would be a huge disincentive to teachers to work in high-needs schools, since it mandates they be non-renewed if test scores do not meet the as-yet undefined expectations. It would create a revolving door of teachers who would have no union to protect their working conditions and fight for funding, who would be too fearful for their jobs to speak up against what is being done to them and to their students, and who would not be there long enough to accrue decent salaries, benefits or pensions.

THAT is why Florida teachers were disappointed in you, Mr. President, for sharing the stage with Jeb Bush. Public education is the foundation of democracy. Why are you betraying it for the foundation of a plutocracy?

-0-

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 7, 2011; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Educational leadership, Guest Bloggers  | Tags:  class size, class size amendment, education month, jeb bush, jeb bush's foundation, obama and education, obama and education month, obama and jeb bush, obama visit to florida, president obama, school reform  
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Next: Few schools enter contest for Obama commencement speech

Comments

I'm repeating my post of yesterday: we all have to write our Democratic representatives and let them know how upset we are with Obama's Education policies so far, starting with making Arne Duncan Sec. of Ed.

Teachers were a huge group that help the Democrats get elected......might we be tempted to go independent or sit out an election?

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | March 7, 2011 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Ms. Smith,

Thank you for standing up for the teachers of America.

I hope he reads this article.

Posted by: jlp19 | March 7, 2011 1:58 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, thank you, Ms. Smith.

Valerie, any ideas or plans to spread this message across the nation?

Most of us blogging here are "preaching to the choir". It's the uninformed masses and agenda-driven politicians that need to hear this over and over to counteract the big-lie technique being used by so many, especially in the media, including the WaPo editorial staff.

Posted by: 1bnthrdntht | March 7, 2011 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Nothing new here. Another Florida teacher PO'd over education that isn't her way. Notice she said nothing about student learning. She ranted about the economy. Bushes have been out of ALL offices for over two years. She doesnt' like "their" method but she is all for "teacher's" method.

Why is she ranting on Bush about class size? Last I heard there was another governor since. And then there is this "unfunded" mandate. Why does a teacher care about this? This is an administration/government issue.

What she is doing is abdicating her position. She would rather blame everything and everyone about the jeopardy of her job. When she comes back with something about learning, pushing ahead, and encouraging kids I'll listen. Until then she is just repeating everything we have heard to date. And, oh by the way, do you think her rant does anything to encourage students?

Posted by: jbeeler | March 7, 2011 3:01 PM | Report abuse

jbeeler,

From your comment, I assume you are not a public school teacher. If you were, you'd know that the decisions made by governors, legislatures (state and federal) and administrators have a huge impact on teachers and the students we teach.

Let me help translate in order to clear up your questions.

She doesn't like "their" approach because "they" are not educators. "They" are politicians, business men and other supposed leaders, who now miraculously know how to teach children. The fact that she was the only teacher represented on the President's roundtable shows how excluded trained and experience educators are in the current "reform" movement.

She's concerned about "unfunded mandates" because those ultimately lead to cuts in local school budgets. The state or federal gov't require schools to do certain things (tests) but they don't pay for the expense of creating and implementing these tests. So local districts must "find" that money somewhere and, inevitably, teachers and children bear the brunt. Bye bye art, music, P.E., etc etc. So, yes, a teacher should care about unfunded mandates, because we care about our students and their learning. Unlike the politicians and their buddies who create these mandates to vilify teachers and to siphon money towards for-profit testing companies.

Was her "rant" suppose to encourage students? It seemed like she was trying to share her opinions about Obama's visit to Florida and the impact Jeb Bush has had on education. But I bet if you stopped in to see her teach (something politicians and people critical of teachers never do) you'd see how much she does for her students on a daily basis.

Posted by: limnetic792 | March 7, 2011 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Jbeeler,
Read much?

"Students are learning how to eliminate multiple-choice answers and write highly formulaic and uncreative essays; they are not learning about the history and geography of their country and world; about the earth, nature, the universe; about art and music."

What we see depends mostly on what we are looking for. Are you reading this looking for another PO'd teacher? I'd be PO'd too if I were the only teacher invited to an education round table.

Posted by: CDuerr | March 7, 2011 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I would like to know why I keep getting a link that will not allow me access to continue reading the following story:

Posted at 5:23 PM ET, 03/ 7/2011
Few schools enter contest for Obama commencement speech
By Valerie Strauss
The White House did not receive enough applicants in a contest it launched for schools to win a commencement address by President Obama so it extended the deadline and made the application process easier.

The contest, officially called “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge,” invites schools to demonstrate how their school best prepares students for college and a career.

CBS News reported on an internal Feb. 22 White House memo that says only 14 schools had applied, and it asks recipients to “please keep the application number close hold.”

I have tried repeatedly to access this but cannot. Is everybody else having this same problem?

Posted by: teachermd | March 7, 2011 6:58 PM | Report abuse

I know notice that the article entitled, "Few Schools Enter Contest for Obama Commencement Speech" is not even showing. It begins...


I would like to know why I keep getting a link that will not allow me access to continue reading the following story:

Posted at 5:23 PM ET, 03/ 7/2011
Few schools enter contest for Obama commencement speech
By Valerie Strauss
The White House did not receive enough applicants in a contest it launched for schools to win a commencement address by President Obama so it extended the deadline and made the application process easier.

The contest, officially called “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge,” invites schools to demonstrate how their school best prepares students for college and a career.

CBS News reported on an internal Feb. 22 White House memo that says only 14 schools had applied, and it asks recipients to “please keep the application number close hold.”

I have tried repeatedly to access this but cannot. Is everybody else having this same problem?

Posted by: teachermd | March 7, 2011 6:58 PM |

Please let me know if it is just my computer doing this. I would hate to think that this would be blocked for any reason!

Posted by: teachermd | March 7, 2011 7:02 PM | Report abuse

Miss Smith is barking up the wrong tree. As a public servant she works at the pleasure of the electorate and taxpayers of Florida. While she has a right to express her opinion, if she wants change she needs to address the voters/taxpayers of Florida, because they are the ones who can determine what happens in the classroom by how they vote. While she complained about being the only teacher on the roundtable, which was shameful, how many parents were there? If you don't have parents/voters/taxpayers on your side, what you say will carry as far as spitting into the wind.
Maybe the parents and communities of Florida are satisfied with the direction of public education there. While many teachers seem dissatisfied, if parents are not then our duty is to serve them as they desire. If teachers cannot win their 'hearts and minds,' we are at the mercy of what voters choose every time they step into the voting booth.

Posted by: pdexiii | March 7, 2011 7:45 PM | Report abuse

Something these refomers don't understand- you are never going to atract good talent with poor conditions for teachers and students. You WILL have a revolving door, with no stabiity, poor attitudes, and poor scores, because who would WANT to enter a profession where salary is based on the kind os homes students come from, and their lack of readiness.

IF this were the case we'd have a heck of a lot MORE people on the unemployment lines,and can we really afford that? This is a profession, so where is the respect? These days it's all about taking away rather than supporting,and the negativity filters down to the children.

Posted by: mypoint1 | March 7, 2011 9:56 PM | Report abuse

STOP the nonsense about working at the "pleasure of the electorate". We ARE taxpayers and the electorate, so get off your high horse. Teachers are NOT complaining, they are adding a much needed voice to a discussion that's hapapening without them.

I agree that we are a big part of Obama's base,and I think he needs to understand the ramifications of his "reform movement,"
and that our lack of support for him can be crucial. On the one hand he talks about th right to form a union, then with the other hand takes a swipe at his own stance.
We are NOT the enemy- we are at the heart of the whole matter,and never forget that.

Posted by: mypoint1 | March 7, 2011 10:07 PM | Report abuse

I was truly disappointed with Mr. Obama for appearing with Jeb Bush, public education enemy #1. The President is a like a lamb amongst the wolves. Wake up and smell the greed, Mr. President. They care nothing about public schools. They are hoping to make a profit out of taking down the education system. The more teachers they get rid of or scare off, the easier it will be. This is the beginning of the end for public education. So sad.

Posted by: postscreenname | March 7, 2011 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Although I too am deeply disappointed in President Obama's educational policy, I do agree strongly with one point that he made:

Teachers should be leading the way for authentic educational reform.

I'm hoping that teachers in all states will review the laws regarding charter schools. A group of teachers can then petition to start their own school which they would staff and manage themselves. They'd appoint a head teacher and make professional decisions regarding faculty, curriculum and instruction. The school would be theirs, just as a clinic belongs to physicians and law firms belong to lawyers. Teachers would be full professionals at last. This would put an end to the shameful practice of placing the least experienced teachers in the most challenging schools. We'd also see an end to test prep (cheating), inappropriate instruction and a narrowed curriculum. Also, with less money going to administration and "consultants," teachers might actually be able to purchase books and materials with school money instead of their own.

Go for it, Teachers!

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | March 7, 2011 10:44 PM | Report abuse

Obama is a puppet president. Why else would he align himself with Jeb Bush? He must be really desperate, it just kills me that the words that come out of his mouth sound so right and his actions are so wrong for education. Has anyone noticed that he is smirking a little like George W.these days?
It's the wild west out there and it's not about schools, it's about the economy, it's about getting schools off the federal budget. And who do they come after? The poor kids and teachers of the poor kids.
I teach in a town in Florida that has 12.7% unemployment. Guess Obama doesn't want to talk about jobs! 60 Minutes had a show on about children of Poverty Sunday night and it was filmed in Florida.
They interviewed kids on what it was like to go to bed hungry. Heartbreaking.
I'd like to say "Mr. President, please go home, you are just making it worse here."

Posted by: ananna | March 7, 2011 11:15 PM | Report abuse

Dear Miss Smith

Thank you so much. You spoke for me too.

Posted by: mimitabby | March 8, 2011 10:05 AM | Report abuse

Dear teachers, please enlighten the readers how American education has 'improved' since teachers have been allowed to unionize, the creation of the Department of Education, and the BILLIONS of dollars spent on public eduation since that time. Education dollars have exploded over that period, yet it is never enough. Our public school graduates rank well below many other countries.

If you, public education teachers, produced a physical product, would the public buy it? Not if the buyers had any other option.

At great personal sacrifice by my wife and myself, we placed our only son in a private high school. One of the BEST DECISIONS we ever made for him. He will do the same with his two children.

Posted by: jab3002 | March 8, 2011 4:52 PM | Report abuse

No Obama fan here, but I have to admit, if you listen to what he actually says, you can hear what he cares about. He cares vaguely about education somewhere in his list of priorities, but union "activists" like this teacher have served their purpose, and are low on his list of concerns now.

If this teacher had listened to what he was saying in 2008, she wouldn't be disappointed now. She would have known that she was cannon fodder.

But she heard what she wanted to hear then, and the price is hearing what she doesn't want to hear now.

Posted by: hinckleybuzzard | March 8, 2011 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Ms. Smith should have also told him that she wasn't voting for him again.

Posted by: resc | March 8, 2011 7:17 PM | Report abuse

jab3002,

Private schools can kick out students who are behavioral problems, public schools can't.

This makes a great difference in the classroom.

Posted by: resc | March 8, 2011 7:21 PM | Report abuse

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