Sunday, April 15, 2012

Paul Hogan on Obama's Lifetime Disconnect to Public Schools


Obama never learned
By Paul Hogan

Let’s go back in time. It’s 1971; young Barack Obama has just moved back to his native Hawaii to live with his maternal grandparents, Madelyn (“Toot”) and Stanley Dunham. Barack has just completed fourth grade in Indonesia and has left his mother  and half-sister behind in Jakarta. “It was time for me to attend an American school” (Dreams from My Father, p.54).
Emerson said, “There is properly no history; only biography.”
Passing on the local Honolulu public school system, young Barack uses “Gramp’s” connections to cut a long wait list and enrolls in the posh Punahou Academy, a renowned “incubator for island elites.” Toot’s salary (she’s a bank vice president) and a partial scholarship keep him there through high school.
Private schooling served Mr. Obama well. He compiled a dazzling record of accomplishments … climaxing in his now famous stint as first-ever African American editor of the Harvard Law Review. People took note. The rest is history. 
That’s what we gained; what we lost was the chance to elect in 2008 a president with first-hand knowledge of American public education. 
Undeterred by the unfamiliar landscape, the new president charged headlong into the pitched battle then being waged against teachers and their unions by what its creators call the “education reform movement.” Ostensibly, “reform” seeks to transform American public education by introducing “accountability.”
Obama picked the “reform” side and made instant bedfellows of its leadership. Checkout a roster of “reform’s” high command: Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, Jeb Bush, Bill Gates, Steven Brill, Davis Guggenheim: top-heavy with cash but frighteningly lacking in first-hand experience. Not a public school grad in the bunch.

The president himself is batting a thousand in this regard. Having managed to reach adulthood without ever setting foot in an American public school, he’s ensured that his own kids escape that hideous fate as well. In Chicago, Sasha and Malia   ‘did’ the University of Chicago Lab School. In D.C. they are tucked away at Sidwell Friends, alongside other children of the Washington political and social elite.  
The children safely removed, Obama thundered cluelessly into the public education debate. His signature “Race to the Top” initiative is the centerpiece of the Obama education agenda. RTTP “incentivizes” the states to rank schools and teachers on the basis of students’ performance on standardized tests. RTTP says “scores go up, or else.” “Else” is — complicated legalisms and edu-jargon simplified — school closings, privatization and teacher firings. This is known as “high stakes testing” and it is a Heritage Foundation’s wet dream.
The alleged goal is to improve student outcomes. But people in the trenches will tell you that not only are outcomes not improved, but the program actually exacerbates all pre-existing forms of school dysfunction and corruption: bureaucracy, excessive paperwork, stultifying regulation, classroom micromanagement, fiscal mismanagement and generalized chaos. 
Add to this ugly mix a brand new viral strain: manipulation and corruption of data. The movers and shakers of the “reform movement” do not want to hear or see this, so they don’t. And why should they? Their children will not be touched by any of it. Nor will the children of anyone in their social circle. School “reform” is for them, not for us. That’s why God invented the remote control.

President Obama has lately dropped a few election year hints that he may be edging away, ever so slightly, from “reform” movement dogma and particularly from the idea of standardized test scores as panacea. Good. But he has much more to learn about public education. 

He desperately needs skilled guidance and sage advice. Unfortunately Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is neither skilled nor sage when it comes to education.
A political creature of the Chicago Democratic machine, his apologists bristle at the notion that he is without relevant background. They point to his mother, owner of a private tutoring service in Chicago, as proof that Secretary Duncan has “the right stuff.” My own mom was a legal secretary in Mount Vernon, N.Y. for 25 years. I don’t expect a call from the president telling me that I’ve been nominated to the Supreme Court.,50180?page=3&content_source=

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