Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Optimistic Saturday

Saturday, August 29th, 2009

This is an interesting article on the response in California to Obama’s Race to the Top.  In it State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell states that though he favors the  promise of reform,

I would never, ever support any evaluation of our educators based solely on the California Standards Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program.  Our state assessments were not designed nor developed for that purpose, and using this single test would not provide an accurate evaluation of the work being done in our classrooms.

That’s nice to know. I hope he means it. It’s also good to hear that there are politicians out there who aren’t jumping on Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s bandwagon.

Sen. Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara)  and Sen. Loni Hancock (D-Oakland) both raised a pointed question about linking teacher evaluation to student data.  Alquist asked, “Why would a really good teacher want to be a teacher in a really tough, low-performing school if the model for assessing that teacher and child doesn’t take into consideration all the factors that make for a difficult situation?”

Mitchell said “It would be foolish to have a one-size-fits-all system (for evaluation). No one at this table is talking about a ham-handed teacher evaluation system that says ‘Your students scored X on the STAR tests, so this is your salary.”

Thank you, Senators.  In a recent exchange about a post in nyc educator I was advised that “Politicians are not the answer – until you show up at their door with thousands of people.” This may be true but it’s still heartening to know that there are politicians out there who seem to have a clue.  Unfortunately, their websites don’t except the comments of non-constituents.  So if you’re out there, Senators: keep it up!

Mayor Bloomberg on Class Size: Let Them Eat Cake

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009


“If you’re going to spend an extra dollar, personally, I would always rather spend it on the people that deliver the service,” Mr. Bloomberg said when asked about the report on Thursday, calling class size “an interesting number.”

“It’s the teacher looking a child in the eye, and teachers can look lots of children in the eye,” he added. “If you have to have smaller class size or better teachers, go with the better teachers every time.”

So says New York’s Mayor Bloomberg, and maybe that would be true in a vacuum, the kind where all  kids come ready to learn and without disabilities, but if you’re teaching, for example, autistic children, getting that eye contact becomes a lot harder as your numbers go up.

I want to be fair. I want to think that officials like Mayor Bloomberg have the best interest of our kids at heart, but there’s something so flip, so Marie Antoinette about saying that class size is “interesting.” Some studies say that class size doesn’t matter, some that it does, but isn’t it a bit cynical to suggest, as an expert does in this February 09 article, that parents only want smaller classes because they can’t appreciate the less obvious benefits of superior teaching? Parents, are there any of those among us who don’t worry about the quality of our children’s teachers? And parents, in lieu of definitive information for or against smaller classes, shouldn’t the government err on the side of caution and place our kids in classes where there is less noise, more space, and more humane conditions in which to learn? Wouldn’t we all love to send our children to the Sidwell School where the Obama children go. According to its web site:

All classes (in the lower school), with the exception of one third grade class and one fourth grade class, have team teachers. Individual class sizes range from one teacher for every ten students in the lower grades to one teacher for every sixteen students in some fourth grade classes.

Why does this esteemed institution, school to the children of presidents, value smaller class size? Are its parents misinformed too? And why, as Mayor Bloomberg suggests, does there have to be a tradeoff between smaller class size and better teachers? If it’s money that separates us from smaller class size (and of course it is), politicians should simply say so. Otherwise give us our cake and let us eat it too.

Cash for Clunkers

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

And now to add support to Arne Duncan’s Cash for Teacher Clunker plan new studies  prove that size doesn’t matter:

Class-size reduction, which receives another large chunk of Title II funds, is popular with teachers and parents. But its extremely high cost raises questions about whether there are more cost-effective ways to boost student achievement. And research shows that giving students a highly effective teacher will have a much greater impact on their achievement than reducing class size.

Does it matter that the  Center For American Progress has Obama connections that bias its views? Dude, don’t harsh my mellow. Of course it does. But we’re all liberal, think-tanky here. Who cares that in matters educational we out-W W (thank you, Michael)? That we have no evidence to back up our claims? What if the scant evidence supporting small class effectiveness ain’t so scant.  ”Just Come on down!” as Cal Worthington used to say. Get ready for the new low-tenure, overcrowding-resistant teacher at your dealership today. Bring in that beat-up salary-guzzling union member and make a trade.

It’s incentive time, baby.  Dealer Days!

How Obama Could Hurt Your Autistic Child

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Teacher 1: He can’t sit.

Teacher 2: Ever?

T 1: All he does is flap his hands.  If he can’t stop flapping his hands and distracting the other children…

T 2: How many students do you have?

T 1: 35. If he can’t stop flapping and distracting the other children, he’s out of my class.

T2: I don’t blame you.

T1: They’re watching us now…

T2: By computer.

T1: Every second. If they don’t see any gains you lose your job.

T 2: (Teasing) But you’re so good with those difficult children.

T 1: That’s why they cluster them in my class. But I can’t help all of them.

T 2: Mrs. Donald does.

T 1: Oh, please, Betty Donald has the gifted cluster. Those kids would learn if she wasn’t in the class. Just look at my roster. (Shows her) English Language Learners: 25. Special Ed: 5.

T 2: And those are the ones who have been identified.

T 1: Half of them show up to school half-asleep, hungry…

T 2: Late

T 1: Or not all.

T 2: My Juanita just went back to Mexico.  Four weeks.

T 1: How’s a child supposed to learn when she’s missed that much school?

T 2: Maybe I should provide a tutor. At my own expense.

T 1: You’ll have to if you want to keep you job. How much longer until the lunch bell rings?

T 2: Three minutes. But don’t think you’re going to get any copying done. The machine’s broken.

T 1: He’s out of my class.

T 2: Where will they put him?

T 1: In the special ed class with Mrs. Brill.

T 2: And all those rough boys of hers?  I hear he’s high functioning.

T 1: High functioning, low functioning.  That’s none of my business.  Just get rid of him.  That’s all that matters to me.


Monday, July 27th, 2009


This excellent AP piece by Libby Quaid about classroom overcrowding points out that though states are getting stimulus money for education it’s “not enough to cover state and local budget shortfalls.”

The stimulus boosted federal spending and helped restore cuts in state budgets, sources that together provide about 56 percent of school dollars. It did not make up for local tax revenues, which give schools the rest of their money.

Local revenues have been socked by the recession and may dip even lower because property assessments tend to lag behind a recession.

Makes you wonder why Education Secretary Duncan and company are spending so much money “reforming” education when the entire school system is going belly up. His rhetoric seems to align with Stanford’s Eric Hanushek:

“All the research suggests the number of kids is much less important than who is teaching the class… In the face of budget problems, allowing class size to move a little bit makes all the sense in the world.”

“In fact, to the extent you put ineffective teachers into classrooms, you’re much better off by keeping larger classes with effective teachers,” he said.

Mr. Hanushek belongs to the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank named ironically for the man who brought us the Great Depression. Anyway, his thing is the ineffectiveness of class size reduction and that better teaching will lead us down the road to educational happiness even though, as he also maintains, neither salary, education, nor experience necessarily a good teacher make. Good teaching, he tells us, equals “value-added,” the teacher’s contribution to the student’s learning, and that’s what Obama/Duncan want to measure by linking  teachers to student test results. Trouble is, as Edweek’s Douglas N. Harris states,

that student outcomes are affected by parents and communities as well as schools. It is common sense that educators should be held responsible for what they can control—no more, no less. Therefore, any valid measure of teacher performance has to isolate the role of the teacher from these other factors.

And if you really want a headache try to understand this, also in Edweek, by Debra Diadero. Basically, it’s about a Princeton Professor who has found a value-added link between 5th grade teachers and the performance of their students in the 2nd and 3rd grade. In other words (and you can bring in the Escher graphic organizer here) according to the value-added model, 5th grade teachers can be said to have an impact on their students’ previous learning:

To explain the findings, he (Jesse Rothstein) suggested that students may well not have been randomly assigned to classrooms. Instead, they may have been sorted into classes based in some way on their prior achievement. A principal might, for example, assign students with behavior problems to teachers known to have a way with problem students or reward more senior teachers with high achievers.

“Anybody who’s had a kid in elementary school has tried to exert some influence over that kind of nonrandom assignment,” said Mr. Rothstein. Yet, he added, value-added calculations are based on the assumption that students’ classroom assignments are random, overlooking the day-to-day reality of what happens in schools.

The day-to-day reality of what is happening in our schools? What a concept. Maybe our president should check it out!

California Here He Comes

Sunday, July 26th, 2009


“You cannot ignore facts,” Obama said. “That is why any state that makes it unlawful to link student progress to teacher evaluations will have to change its ways.”

When I first saw the above photo composite, it sickened me.  I had supported Obama because I thought he would bring positive change to education, but with his choice of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education and the ratcheting up of anti-teacher/union rhetoric, I can only conclude that not only is he similar to George W. Bush in his response to the ills that plague our schools; he’s worse. At least with President Bush there were certain checks (for example, the liberal media) on what he dared or dared not do. There’s no one reeling in Obama, least of all newspapers like the New York Times, which was pro-NCLB from the gitgo. No one apart from the pro-charter, union smashing entrepreneurs have his ear. Again: kids need smaller classes and more teacher attention. They need to see in there families and communities that an education is worth striving for, and not just something they get clubbed over the head with, by teachers already overtaxed by the pressures of high-stakes testing. Charters, mayoral control, merit pay–the whole Arne Duncan package is unproven and won’t work. I am so disappointed that our president, this beacon of hope for so many children, doesn’t understand that he is putting them at risk.

Weird Science

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

I love Obama. LOVE him. Why? Look how he reacted at that news conference to the video of Neda Agha-Soltan’s death. You could see that viewing it tore him apart. The man clearly cares. That’s why it’s difficult to see him effing up. According to Harper’s Kevin Baker (quoted here via new deal 2.0):

“Why was Herbert Hoover so reluctant to make the radical changes that were so clearly needed?….Ultimately, Hoover could not break with the prevailing beliefs of his day. The essence of the Progressive Era in which he had come of age—the very essence of his own public image—was that government was a science. It was not a coincidence that this era brought us the very term ‘political science,’ along with the advent of “nonpartisan” elections and ‘city managers’ to replace mayors.”

Baker also says that Obama misses the boat by entrusting the health of the economy to the folks who screwed it up. The President follows a similar path “reforming” education: adopting the top-down business model that failed under Bush. He even picked a business guy for Sec of Ed.

In the great book about education during the Great Depression, Public Schools in Hard Times, Tyak et al state:

But one could also argue that hard times were not propitious for innovation, that school people had such trouble merely maintaining earlier gains that they had little time to experiment, and what the school boards and other power-wielders in local communities wanted was not advanced ideologies but the old verities, not frills and fads but the basics.

Well, that kind of sounds like what we have now. But at least FDR gave innovation a try. Obama, in supporting charters and merit pay while trying to knock down the unions, isn’t innovating  public education. He’s weakening it.

That’s not science. That’s a shame.

Dear Mr. Duncan

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

I had dinner with my sister’s family and she was telling me about the private school she and her orthopedic surgeon husband send their three girls to, how they group by ability in her second grader’s class (small groups, seven kids max), how they they match kids up with teachers who will be good for them and generally follow best-practices at every turn. And I was thinking, if you really want to make things better in the public schools, why not look at what these private schools are doing? Are they overcrowding their classrooms? No. Do they throw kids into any classroom that can fit them? No. Are they overwhelming teachers and administrators so that following best-practices is impossible? No. Well, there you have it. Look no further. Want to make public schools better? Make them more like the private school the President’s girls attend (or top-flight public schools like the one in Arlington where you send your own daughter.) Can’t get there right now? Budgetary problems? That’s cool. But don’t tell us that by overcrowding classes and firing all the “bad teachers” you’re going to make things better, because that isn’t just wishful thinking. It’s a lie.

Yours truly…

Got Underperformance?

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Read this post from the Windy City. It contains an interesting take on Duncan-speak, how the Secretary of Education borrows the parlance of Wall Street to cast judgement on our public schools.

STOP: As Chicagoans know, and the rest of the USA is about to learn, when a Chicago politicians talks about “underperforming” schools, he is slipping into that weasel wording that Chicago came to know from Arne Duncan. Just as he did in Chicago, Duncan talked about “underperforming” schools — not “failing” ones. Why? Because Duncan wanted to obfuscate, not illuminate, the complex issues arising from the use of biased so-called “standardized” tests to rank and sort schools and children. By using terms out of the corporate world — “underperforming” stocks, for example, should probably be dumped from your “portfoliio” — Duncan evades reality, rather than illuminates it.


Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Been writing about depression era public and special education, the backdrop to a novel I’m trying to churn out. I would like to say we’ve come a long way but with Arne Duncan advocating George Bush’s top-down, business-knows-best model and LAUSD cutting 5,000+ jobs, it looks like the Dark Ages from here. I’ll leave the griping to the experts, Diane Ravitch my latest favorite. In this piece she skewers the cooked books (too many culinary references?) of Mayor Bloomberg, homeboy of A.D. How do we improve our test scores? Kick the dumb kids out of school. It worked in Texas and now it’s working in NYC. Why not go national? Don’t expect the media to make any waves as Bush’s educational policy enters its third term. It’s easier to buy the PR than to investigate the news. Which brings me to our president, who is looking less and less like my kind of people, a fact that his tax return seems to confirm. But I digress. Read Ravitch. I have to pick my boy up at school.