"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Why an Obama Win Marks the Beginning of the Contest

The new President will be inundated with suitors from various camps vying for his attention on education issues, and most of them do not represent real change, or any change at all for that matter. In fact, most are recipes with the same snake oil base that has been used in the past reform remedies, treatments that surely have made a lot of money for the hucksters who sell them, even as the patients suffer the force feeding and turn sicker and sicker. We must remember that most of the “progressive” education reformers now lining up to root their way to the Washington feeding trough are no less self-interested than the conservatives who are currently planning extended holidays from the monies they managed to extract from the federal treasury over the past eight years.

Among the prominent edu-suitors now flexing their elbows will be, of course of Andrew Rotherham, who is anchored at the Progressive Policy Institute, which, of course, is no more progressive than the republocrats of the Democratic Leadership Council that created it. And over the years, Rotherham has showen an impressive bipartisan ability to soak funds from both sides of the aisle. For instance, he and an illustrious Board that included Lisa Graham Keegan raked off millions early in W’s reign with the Education Leaders Council, which was the subject of an DOE OIG Report (pdf) in 2006 that found a consistent misuse of federal education grant monies by the bipartisan gang who ran ELC before its office was shuttered and its website went 404. Did they ever return the money?

Rotherham, too, has been a stalwart front man of the charter school corporations, a supporter for a de-professionalized teacher corps, and a fan for the gutting of unions. While it would seem that Rotherham could become a charter-supporting sidekick of the new president, we must remember that Obama actually has some genuine concern for the children of urban schools--which could present some awkward moments in any discussion with the EduWonk. Look for Rotherham to call for national standards, some cheap variety of value-added testing, teacher pay based on test scores, and more charter school chain gangs for communities where white liberals don't mind cutting the education budgets by 20 percent. Here's to the middle class!

A leading competitor for Obama's attention will be Marc Tucker, who long ago crafted a ridiculous K-22 education blueprint based on a labyrinth of high stakes tests that determine which curriculums students study and which colleges students get to attend, where they will study to pass more high stakes tests (see posts here and here for the dope on Tuckerism). If there were anything funny about his efficiency maze, it might be called the Monty Python Game of School. With humor missing, however, only absurdity remains.

That has not stopped three states of very different political stripes from dusting off some pieces from the Tucker Kit. Utah, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire (the good, the bad, and the cranky) now constitute the oddest of alliances to subject their schools to elements of another grand experiment that will prove, once more, that it is easier to run into a brick wall than to figure a way over it.

There will be others who will get hearings with the new President's team, and it could be that there are better contenders to morph the current federal policy of mass stupidification into something that testocrats, closet racists, the delusionists at Ed Trust, and the bean counters all can like even more than the current Bush plan. I am hoping that Linda Darling Hammond gets a shot as Secretary.

It took eight years to dig this hole, so the next President will not be starting at ground level. In a geographic sense, it is as the Kaplan education rep for the Washington Post, Jay Mathews, notes, "the next president will be like Bush." The next President will inherit the same 19th Century educational philosophy, organizational structure, and race science used to sort the haves from the never hads. What Mathews and many others have forgotten, however, is what Obama continues to remind us of: change will not happen on Election Day. It will only happen over the next four, or maybe 8 years, as people make the case for something better, do the work to build coalitions, do the work to implement change, are patient and persistent in evaluating the results, are brave enough to point out the stupidity where it exists, and then push on to create a more perfect Union--or at least a more humane and effective schoolhouse. So yes, Obama "will be like Bush" on the day he takes office. After that day first day, however, nothing will remain like that again--forever.

But only if You Vote.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous3:28 PM

    I would look for Arne Duncan, Superintendent of the Chicago Public Schools to be a frontrunner for Secretary.