Wednesday, January 26, 2011
Obama’s faulty education logic: What he said and failed to say
By Valerie Strauss
Someone should have told President Obama that there were important contradictions in the education portion of his State of the Union address before he delivered it to Congress.
First, Obama rightly said that a child’s education starts at home:
“It’s family that first instills the love of learning in a child. Only parents can make sure the TV is turned off and homework gets done.”
Then why is his administration insisting in pushing policies that evaluate and pay teachers based solely on how well they raise the test scores of their children? How can teachers be solely responsible for what happens to a child outside of school?
Obama spoke about the $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition launched by his Education Department.
“Race to the Top is the most meaningful reform of our public schools in a generation. For less than one percent of what we spend on education each year, it has led over 40 states to raise their standards for teaching and learning.“
Well, not actually.
For one thing, if parent involvement were so important to the administration, you would think it would have been part of “the most meaningful reform” in a generation. It wasn’t.
And it is far too early to say whether states have really raised their standards for teaching and learning or whether they have simply changed them. Declaring victory before victory is actually at hand is generally a bad idea.
Obama also talked about the importance of local control of education.
“You see, we know what’s possible for our children when reform isn’t just a top-down mandate, but the work of local teachers and principals; school boards and communities.”
The federal government has been telling states and local districts what to do for nearly a decade, ever since No Child Left Behind was passed by president George W. Bush’s administration. Race to the Top just continued that pattern.
Obama also talked about the importance of teachers.
“Let’s also remember that after parents, the biggest impact on a child’s success comes from the man or woman at the front of the classroom. In South Korea, teachers are known as 'nation builders.' Here in America, it’s time we treated the people who educate our children with the same level of respect. We want to reward good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.”
Obama apparently doesn’t know that many public school teachers in the United States believe his administration is helping to demonize them. And the South Korean public school system isn’t exactly the model Americans would be happy emulating.
From an article in Asia Times Online:
"What the stats don’t tell is how drearily authoritarian classes often are. Flair and creativity are rarely rewarded. Instead, teachers drum into students a ton of stuff they must learn by rote so as to jump through hoops leading up to the all-important university entrance examination."
And then there was the subject that Obama did not talk about: the real reason that so many American public schools are troubled. It's poverty.
(Let me be clear: No, I am not saying that we don’t have a lot of lousy teachers who shouldn’t be in classrooms. We have too many, and they should be fired after a fair evaluation process. And I’m not saying that some great teachers don’t help lift poor kids into another world. But they are the exceptions, and as I’ve said before, exceptions don’t make great policy.)
The United States has a child poverty rate of 21 percent. That’s nearly 15 million children who live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level, now pegged at $22,050 a year for a family of four.
We can pretend all we want that great teachers can overcome the effects of poverty, poor nutrition, lack of sleep, bad eyesight, a lack of early exposure to books. But pretending won’t make it so.
I wish Obama had said that.