Obama's mistimed Miami school visit -- with Jeb Bush
At a time when Wisconsin teachers are protesting to keep their collective bargaining rights, President Obama is traveling to Florida to share a stage with former governor Jeb Bush, the king of corporate-driven, standardized test-obsessed school reform that devalues teachers and their unions.
What a tag team.
Obama is scheduled to speak to the students and faculty of Miami Central Senior High about the importance of out-educating the competition to secure America’s future. (That’s highly unlikely, with states cutting billions of dollars out of school budgets and with a reform agenda that is focused on expanding charter schools, assessing teachers based on students’ standardized test scores and the like, but never mind.)
* Ties at least half of a teacher’s salary to how well his/her students perform on standardized tests
* Prevents consideration of many advanced degrees and special training to be considered in determining a teacher’s salary
* Eliminates tenure for teachers hired after the summer of 2014
* Requires the creation of new standardized assessments for all courses, though it doesn’t suggest where the money will come from to pay.
Similar legislation passed last year but was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The new governor, Rick Scott, not only supports the legislation but had dangled the idea of taking apart the way public education is financed in Florida and handing money over to all parents in a new “voucher” system that would have made it virtually impossible to maintain local public schools. Scott has put that idea aside for now.
Obama has gone out of his way to be bipartisan in the education reform arena, which would be good if the Republicans were right about reform, but they aren’t either. Rather than eliminate the most egregious parts of No Child Left Behind, the signature education initiative of Jeb Bush’s brother, former president George W. Bush, Obama is building on some of them, making them even worse.
For example, instead of using standardized test scores to evaluate only schools and students, they now will be linked to how much a teacher is paid (even though we all know that a teacher isn’t solely responsible for how well a kid does on a test). It’s a bad idea, not championed by assessment experts and not borne out by research, but it’s the reform idea du jour, backed by Gates Foundation money and Obama’s policy agenda.
Breaking bread with Jeb Bush on school reform should be a questionable proposition for a president from a party that has traditionally championed public education (which is not to say it doesn’t need reform) and teachers unions (which is not to say that they should not reform).
Florida is increasingly being looked to as a national model of education reform, and we have Jeb Bush to thank for that. The state began to overhaul its public education system after Jeb Bush became governor in 1999, and it has been a leader in reforms centered around standardized tests, the expansion of charter schools, virtual education and merit pay. He long tried to reduce the power of teachers unions -- being very vocal about his aims -- and last year campaigned for legislation that would eliminate teacher tenure.
Under Bush, the state did make progress early on by focusing on reading and creating a statewide reading research center while hiring reading coaches.
The biggest improvement in Florida’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, were in elementary reading, which suggests that this focus worked. The achievement gap for different demographic groups between 1998 and 2009 also shrunk for fourth- and eighth-grade reading between students who were in the federal lunch program (low-income families qualify) and those who do not qualify, according to a post by Florida educator Sherman Dorn.
But the achievement gap didn’t budge for 8th-grade writing or for math in any grade. Here’s the main point: Bush doesn’t talk about his reading initiative when he talks about his success, instead crediting his standardized testing regime.
The scheduled Obama-Jeb Bush fest is symbolic of how far afield Democrats have gone with school reform.
Obama last month expressed support for the Wisconsin teachers, who have been protesting to keep the collective bargaining rights (and that of other public employees) that the governor, Scott Walker, is intent on taking away. Wisconsin teachers already made concessions on monetary issues.
Obama said: "Some of what I’ve heard coming out of Wisconsin, where you’re just making it harder for public employees to collectively bargain, generally seems like more of an assault on unions. And I think it’s very important for us to understand that public employees, they’re our neighbors, they’re our friends. These are folks who are teachers and they’re firefighters and they’re social workers and they’re police officers.”
So, at this point in time, when teachers in Wisconsin and elsewhere feel besieged, I’m wondering why Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are flying to Florida to be with Republicans who have been part of the attack force. Why, when teachers are fighting for union rights, does the president decide to spend time with anti-teachers union school reformers?
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| March 2, 2011; 5:00 AM ET
Categories: School turnarounds/reform, Standardized Tests | Tags: arne duncan, president obama, president obama and teachers, rick scott, scott walker, wisconsin protests, wisconsin teachers
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