Obama's Sick Joke Of "Education Reform"

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sun Jul 26, 2009 at 11:30

On Friday, vastly overshadowed by the push for "health care reform", Obama announced his plans for "education reform," dubbed "Race To The Top".  In it's coverage, the Boston Globe was depressingly typical of the shoddy reporting around education that greases the wheels for this travesty.

The "Race to the Top" initiative is designed to identify new, effective ways to teach, reward states for innovation, and give state authorities a chance to patch rapidly widening holes in education budgets.

It also spurs states to voluntarily make sweeping reforms the administration wants - including linking teacher pay to how well students do on tests, and expanding the role of charter schools in public education.

"This competition will not be based on politics, ideology, or the preferences of a particular interest group," Obama said, flanked by Education Secretary Arne Duncan at an afternoon press conference in the Department of Education headquarters. "Instead, it will be based on a simple principle - whether a state is ready to do what works."

Of course, as I blogged recently, there's no evidence that charter schools "work"--they do not differ dramatically in performance, but rather slightly underperform standard public schools.  Nor is there any substantial research showing that merit pay tied to test scores is an effective way to improve educational outcomes.  Thus, Obama's competition is based entirely on ideology--an ideology that is primarily about shifting control of education as far out of the classrooms and into America's boardrooms as possible.

In fact, Obama is stabbing his union allies in the back:

Paul Rosenberg :: Obama's Sick Joke Of "Education Reform"
Russ Whitehurst, a senior education analyst at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, said the president's announcement "certainly got the attention of states - they are desperate for the money'' during the severe economic downturn. "They don't want to leave it on the table.''

Duncan said yesterday that perhaps 10 to 20 states will have successful ideas that can be replicated, and divvy up the $4.3 billion prize - a significant windfall as financially strapped states continue to trim education budgets.

"The administration is using a huge amount of money to advance the president's own policy,'' Whitehurst said. "It's unprecedented that [Duncan] gets to dole it out'' with relatively little oversight from Congress.

Under the guidelines Duncan announced yesterday, to be eligible for the money a state must meet a series of standards - including some conditions that could anger teachers' unions, which helped sweep Obama into office last fall.

States that bar links between student performance and teacher evaluations, such as California, New York, and Wisconsin, are ineligible, and the program won't allow states that put caps on the number of charter schools - including Massachusetts.

Let's recall that tens of billions of educational funds were cut from the stimulus bill that would have gone simply to prevent education cuts.  Now, a paltry $4.3 billion is being used to try to get states scrambling for crumbs, a way to get the maximum change in policy for the minumum amount of money.  A Washington Post Op-Ed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan was titled "Education Reform's Moon Shot". Writers don't have final say on headlines, but Duncan himself began his piece thus:

To every governor who aspires to be his state's "education governor," this is your moment. Today, President Obama is to announce the draft guidelines for applying for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top fund -- by far the largest pot of discretionary funding for K-12 education reform in the history of the United States.

Since its inception in 1980, the U.S. Department of Education has traditionally been a compliance-driven agency with only modest discretionary funds available for reform and innovation. By contrast, the Race to the Top fund marks a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the federal government to create incentives for far-reaching improvement in our nation's schools. Indeed, the $4.35 billion available in Race to the Top easily outstrips the combined sum of discretionary funds for reform that all of my predecessors as education secretary had.

To see just how small this amount of money is, consider the cuts in the just-announced California budget.  From the analysis of the non-profit California Budget Project:

Proposition 98

The budget agreement:
• Reduce 2008-09 funding by $1.6 billion for K-14 programs covered by the Proposition 98 guarantee compared to the level in the February budget agreement. The measures reflect total 2008-09 Proposition 98 spending of $49.1 billion - the minimum level guaranteed by Proposition 98 - which is $9.0 billion (15.5 percent) lower than the level assumed in the 2008-09 Budget as enacted in September 2008.
• Reflect a 2009-10 funding level of $50.4 billion for K-14 programs covered by the Proposition 98 guarantee - $4.5 billion (8.2 percent) lower than the level assumed in the 2009-10 Budget enacted in February.
• Provide a statutory mechanism and continuing appropriation to restore Proposition 98 funding to the level where it would have been absent 2008-09 reductions.

K-12 Education

The budget agreement:
Reduces 2008-09 revenue limit payments to school districts and county offices of education by $1.6 billion compared to the funding level in the February budget agreement.
Reduces 2009-10 revenue limit payments by $2.3 billion compared to the 2009-10 Budget enacted in February and adjusts the revenue limit deficit factor to 18.4 percent for school districts and 18.6 percent for county offices of education. Revenue limits provide general-purpose funding for schools.
Defers $1.7 billion of school districts' revenue limit payments from 2009-10 to 2010-11.
Counts $450 million in 2009-10 funding for the Quality Education Investment Act (QEIA) toward the Proposition 98 minimum funding guarantee to produce an equal amount of General Fund savings. Historically, QEIA dollars provided funds to school districts with the lowest academic achievement and did not count toward the Proposition 98 guarantee. The measures extend the QEIA program by one year, to 2014-15.
Reduces 2009-10 funding by $80 million for Basic Aid school districts' categorical programs to provide a proportionate reduction to non-Basic Aid districts' revenue limit reductions.

The bolded figures above come to roughly $20 billion in cuts for just one state--and California, once a national leader, was already among the bottom 10 states in per-student classroom spending.

And that's just the cuts in one state!

This is less than a drop in a bucket.  This is a squirt in the face with a water pistol while the bucket's being chopped up for firewood.  

But it almost makes "health care reform" look good by comparison.

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Agree completely. There are many reasons to oppose this counter productive (4.00 / 4)
nonsense. This isn't a good policy, it alienates supporters it drive people away from public programs, it separates people into smaller and smaller groups that have no interaction with each other.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

Boondoggle (4.00 / 3)
Absolutely disgraceful. Can't we put this Duncan guy in charge of toilet-paper procurement for the Pentagon? That's all he's good for.  Boise Cascade would love him, I bet, even if the infantry found itself reduced to scrounging black market corncobs.

disaster capitalism education deform (4.00 / 1)
never forget that Obama is University of Chicago.

Well, Sort Of... (4.00 / 1)
He wasn't educated there. He just taught there.  And nowhere near the Econ department.  So it's much more about the social circles he's moved in than anything else.

Precisely because these connections are important, it's also important not to be careless about them.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Right (0.00 / 0)
but I agree with what Alice said about "Disaster Capitalism". That seems to be fairly on the mark!

[ Parent ]
Important connections (0.00 / 0)
More important than Obama and UChicago is Arne Duncan's background and central role in Chicago's apocalyptic "Renaissance 2010" education reform project, bankrolled by the largest Chamber of Commerce members around.

But yeah, the Disaster Capitalism model totally applies. You create a crisis ("our schools are crumbling, and we'll be left in shackles at the feet of our highly educated Chinese overlords!") and then force free-market ideologies into the deepest recesses (no pun intended) of classroom life - often under the guise of "accountability."

If you haven't had a chance to read Alfie Kohn's stuff, Paul, I strongly suggest you do. :)

Join the fight to give students a real voice on campus: Forstudentpower.org.

[ Parent ]
Oh Yes (0.00 / 0)
I'm an Alfie Kohn fan from way, way back.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
One of the reasons I was not on the (4.00 / 3)
Obama bandwagon during the primaries was education.  I never felt he believed much in public education and bought into the "it's all the unions'" fault meme.  

I have been an educator for forty years.  Colorado Springs was one of the first districts to embrace charter schools.  Our first charter school is now over ten years old.  It was one of the first "Edison" charter schools.  I remember attending the meeting about it and all the promises being made....computers for every kid, small classes, longer day, longer year.  

For the first year, since this charter school was being housed in one of our public schools, the staff had a choice.  They could stay and still be a part of our teaches' contract.  A few did.  It did not last long.  Most left.  They said it was awful......as the way profit was made was this (it was their goal...a "master teacher" surrounded by aides and newbie, aka cheap teachers).  It was years before any students got computers and class sizes remained the same or larger than other schools.  The only thing that they did do was extend the day and the year.

This school was located close to where my school was.  We were the "Title schools" with the highest free lunch count, the most poverty stricken part of the city.  After ten years, their scores never showed any difference from their sister schools in the area.  Sometimes we outscored them, sometimes not.  We shared many students as the area has many apartments and moving school to school was not uncommon.  

The "for profit" idea did nothing to improve the education of the kids in this neighborhood.  Parents had the option of course to not go there.  But in poor neighborhood, the notion of transporting your kids to another school is a problem.  So the school that is easiest for the child to get to is their school.  

And in the charter schools in more affluent areas, the results were mostly the same as the public schools near them.  In the end, what was the point?   For our district, one of the few with a MASTER AGREEMENT and collective bargaining, it was obvious.  They wanted to get rid of schools with contracts for teachers.

Education is not about blaming the unions.  Teachers unions have not ONLY advocated for teachers, we advocated for students. Smaller class sizes, safety in the building; fighting for funding for materials. Sadly the meme of the right has worked since Reagan, blaming unions when things are failing.

Public schools in poor neighborhoods have lots of problems.  And there are many ways to solve those.  One is to give a monetary incentive to commit to teaching there for at least five years.  This is not merit pay; this is commitment pay.  Most experienced teachers will tell you that a sense of trust and community with the staff is the key to success in any school and most especially in poor schools.  But since NCLB, teachers burn out at these schools quickly.  These are not easy schools in which to teach.  And then add the burder of being told your job depends on some test score, forget about it.  Teachers leave.  

My biggest concern with supporting Obama over Edwards, Clinton and the others was what I felt was his lack of understanding of this issue.

Anyone out there...anyone at all? (4.00 / 1)
Like health care costs, U.S. schooling costs have skyrocketed while results have plumetted.  Why?

Some readers here are too young to remember when one full-time income was the norm and provided adequate household support.  Oh, and we took for granted more of what we now trivialize as "quality time" with family.  

Well, some 40 years ago we chose the hyper-consumerism of TWO full-time working parents.  It wasn't the corporatists, Illuminati, edubiz or what-have-you hatching some sinister conspiracy.  This was a popular/cultural movement promising still greater affluence and equalization (elimination, as it turned out) of parental roles - among other roles.

Yes, Mom had been immeasurably undervalued; and tired stereotypes were holding back our next level of consumption (can we save my male guilt for another blog?)  

In any case, overinstitutionalizing our childrens' rearing has been a hopele$$ bust.  And no one is having fun anymore.  Forget genuine discovery.  There isn't the time or the approved script.  Pre-school, after-school, summer school combined; no matter how "professional" or lavishly financed, are miserable substitutes for an available loving parent.

But now those two+ incomes have become a grim household necessity.  Holding parents accountable, with heavy fines  for their kids' school misdeeds, could provide untold benefits: financial solvency for schools, teachers could focus on teaching, parents would FIND a way to be more available, thus slowly correcting our labor surplus - and help restore living wages/salaries.

Let the pendulum swing back - 'stead of edubiz bailout and pointless beating on teachers for their performance as baby-sitters.

Look, I've realized you've classified this a blog where you don't (4.00 / 1)
have to sully yourself with "male guilt," but how about, in lieu of that, you provide data that shows that children of stay at home moms do better in school and commit fewer "misdeeds?"

[ Parent ]
"Yes, Mom had been immeasurably undervalued..." (4.00 / 1)
Who needs a mother, when you can have a flat-screen TV, or more likely, just hold onto your house with a second income?

Every chump like Paul Rosenberg can prove that stay-at-home mothers were worthless, with one little row of statistics.

What a cosmic guy!

And now let's get back to the business of totally re-evaluating human nature according to Paul Rosenberg's cosmic guru, Mark Turner...

"Greetings from paradise, suckers!"

[ Parent ]
Am judging the efficacy of schools... (0.00 / 0)
...and parenting more on the basis of the final product than on grades, grad rates, etc.  Working alongside many and fresh HS grads, am frightfully unimpressed with their knowledge (or interest) in history, geography, civics or the sciences.  Their fresh math skills seem more advanced than those of us "boomers" were, but such easily stagnates and withers away with their more limited work opportunities than we had enjoyed.  May we also save my generational guilt for another thread?

Choosing words carefully, "doing better in school" may or may not be attendant with better education.  Our all but exclusive reliance on structured schooling leaves less room for the purpose, context and motivation that an involved and available parent can better provide.

[ Parent ]
So Much Misinformation, I Don't Know Where To Start! (4.00 / 3)
So, I'm just going set aside all the rightwing cultural narrative stuff, because if I didn't I'd be here till midnight.  I'll just look at the stuff directly relevant to the subject at hand:

Like health care costs, U.S. schooling costs have skyrocketed while results have plumetted.  Why?

This, of course, is simply not true.  Education costs have increased to deal with those we formerly didn't educate--minorities, the handicapped, often the rural poor of all races beyond the barest minimum.  Meanwhile, what's happened with the dropout rate?  This:

Percentage of Dropouts from 1960-2006

The percentage of high school dropouts, ages 16-24, has declined since 1960. The percentage of male students who dropped out of high school has decreased from 27.8% in 1960 to 10.3% in 2006.  The percentage of female dropouts has decreased from 26.7% to 8.3%.

Year Total Male Female


27.2% 27.8% 26.7%

15.0 14.2 15.7

14.1 15.1 13.1

12.6 13.4 11.8

12.1 12.3 11.8

11.0 11.3 10.7

11.0 11.2 10.9

11.4 12.3 10.6

12.0 12.2 11.7

11.1 11.4 10.9

11.0 11.9 10.1

11.8 13.3 10.3

11.2 11.9 10.5

10.9 12.0 9.9

10.7 12.2 9.3

10.5 11.8 9.2

9.9 11.3 8.4

10.3 11.6 9.0

9.4 10.8 8.0

9.3 10.3 8.3


Source: U.S. Dept. of Education, National
     Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics 2007.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
"Rightwing narrative"?! (0.00 / 0)
What is so progressive about backsliding into prehistoric times when children were indeed reared by the tribe/community at large?

To be sure, school districts and state/federal support for schooling have hit a financial wall in most recent months/years.  But over the longer course of the last half century, smaller class sizes, longer school years, longer school days, preschool and higher relative salaries for teachers have all contributed to higher per pupil costs at or exceeding general inflation - and certainly well in excess of workers' median discretionary income.

That said, K-12 has been (how to put this...) lavishly neglected.  Back-filling accumulated shortcomings with a presumption of subsequent 13-16+ grades is the costly "emergency room solution" to overinstitutionalized education of our kids.

Yep. Your cited stats prove we're an ever more schooled populace.  

And it certainly shows in our ascending competitiveness, living standards, ennoblement and our can't-miss vision for the future.  El Wrongo.

[ Parent ]
I was a latchkey kid before (4.00 / 1)
the term was used.  I came from a town where working class folks like my people labored in factories.   While a few paid well enough for "stay at home moms"  overall in my neighborhood, all the Moms worked in factories (mostly textile mills).  
Of course most of the families in my neighborhood were first generation children of immigrants.  

While it is not ideal, working parents can still encourage academic achievement.   Neither of my parents graduated high school but their kids all graduated from college.  It was an expectation; as well, my parents valued education and that message was given to us.

[ Parent ]
Not only is the amount paltry, (0.00 / 0)
it isn't even being leveraged for anything that comes close to progress:
"Overall, states on average are using about 87 percent of the stabilization funds to fill in K-12 and higher education cuts they already made in fiscal 2009, or cuts they would have had to make in 2010."
-Alyson Klein, Education Week

Duncan's "Race to the Top" is just a PR stunt. Nothing will come of it. It's just rhetorical genuflection toward the business community and right wingers who harp on "accountability" while they themselves eschew anything that remotely makes them accountable.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

Well,They Mean "Accountability" In The "C-Street House" Sense (0.00 / 0)
I didn't really get into it in my diary "The Family: More Mythos, More Madness, More Maddow", but they talk about accountability a lot.

Only for them it means being accountable to God, not those pesky voters.  And since God isn't around, that means being accountable to those he has put into positions of leadership.  Which means... them!

So one adulterer is responsible to another.  One corrupt Senator is responsible to another.  Neat how that all works out, isn't it?

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I totally agree (0.00 / 0)
It's all a symptom that stems from the self righteousness of privilege. And despite political belief, it doesn't see that anyone in either party is immune to it.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
Great post (0.00 / 0)
I have a diary on this that will be published at 7AM Monday morning over at Calitics. This is an extremely reckless, even insane attack on California's schools by Obama and his administration. We must fight it.

you can't keep throwing money (0.00 / 0)
at the problem.  the fact is the unions have run the public school system for decades.  Some of these school systems are a joke with teachers that can't teach and a system that can't fire them for doing a poor job.  there are teachers that stay on payroll for years while going through the process of being fired.  all this on taxpayer dollar.  The answer is not to continue to fund this same process.  The answer is to come up with solutions that will reward good teachers and get rid of those bad ones.  the answer is to provide incentives that will keep good teachers teaching.  Teachers are not in the game for money or glory.  they legitimately love what they do.  some however, will love to take advantage of a beurocratic system that they know, once they are in, its hard to get them out.  

we voted for change...let change take place.  lets try something else rather than knocking down the idea and saying its not going to work.  lets not just keep the same old status quo.

This Rightwing Rant Is Full Of Crap (0.00 / 0)
Unions don't run schools.  Unions don't run workplaces anywhere in America.  Unions do provide protections for workers from arbitrary firing, but that's about it.

Several years ago, California's Governor Schwarzenegger wanted to push through legislation that would have made it much easier to fire teachers, as well as advancing a merit pay proposal.  I interviewed a local state senator, Alan Lowenthall, who was chair of the Education Committee at the time.  He told me that Schwarzenegger had been asked repeatedly to provide some evidence for the committee to examine illustrating the problem as the Governor saw it.  The committee would then examine the evidence for itself, in the course of trying to shape legislation.  But Schwarzenegger didn't have any evidence, he was just spouting rightwing talking points.  And no one else stepped up to provide such evidence, either.

Now does this mean that every teacher is performing as well as we'd like?  No, of course not.  And I'd like to see more resources put into retraining and rehabilitation for teachers who start to get burned out.  I'd like to see more money just to attain and maintain small class sizes, so that teachers can actually do their jobs, and I'd like to see a sustained move to smaller schools, as well, since both class size and school size have been shown to improve student performance.  But that takes money.

"Better to do something unproven that undermines teacher autonomy than something proven that costs money."  That's your philosophy in a nutshell.  And it was brought to you by Grover Norquist.

Real progressive of you!

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
This is a silly notion....one the right wing pushes (0.00 / 0)
and either you believe it or you are a right wing troll.

Merit pay has been proven over and over and over and over and over and over to NOT WORK.   Schools for profit, teachers for profit are a distorted view and cause cheating, lying, and every other thing that occurs in "for profit" reality.

Look the stats.  Paul has put them there for you to read.  READ THEM.   Despite the lies of the right wing, despite their statistical spin, public education has done rather well over the years. Yet there are some problems that need to be addressed in the inner city schools and some rural schools and yes, money would help.

If you have nothing but spin and silliness based on right wing lies, then you are not furthering the conversation.  You are simply pushing the lies even more.

[ Parent ]
money money money, (0.00 / 0)
lets throw more money at this.  thats the answer to everything.  as soon as you oppose throwing more money at the same old thing, your labled a a right wing troll.  NICE!!

[ Parent ]
Well when you repeat right wing talking points (4.00 / 1)
what do you expect.  You have not read the statistics.  And what is your experience in public schools, other than going to one, if you did, or your children going.

Give me facts, back up your accusations with something other than right wing, public education hating themes and we can debate.

[ Parent ]
I grew up in New York City (0.00 / 1)
from K-12 in NYC public schools.  there was overcrowding then as there is today.  there were good and bad teachers, same as today.  there were the A, B, C, D, and F students then just like today.  there was poverty then as there is today.  there were well to do families then just like today.  And just like back then, the learning proces has not changed.  the schools are set up for "C" students.  The goal is to get everyone up to a C and graduate them.  Those above C's usually work on their own and in their own pace.  Those below C struggle to get there.  I saw back then, I saww it when my children went through the system, and it is still prevelant today.  Its like hearding cattle, lets get them in, lets get them out.  

I will admit, I do not have the answer.  This is bigger than one person.  

In Cuba, they have a 98% graduation rate.  attendance is mandatory.  Everyone must attend school.  Students are prescreened at certain stages to find out what their stregnths and weaknessess are.  they are guided to career paths based on their stregnths and become scientist, engineers, doctors, lawyers, writers, musicians, artist, etc. based on those assessments.  

If children do not go to school, the parents are held accountable.  

I am not saying we must to into a Cuba, however, there are many things we can learn from Cuba and China that could lead to some positive change is our system.  We just can't continue to go down the same path and accept that these C students will some day be the leaders of our country because they have a good personality or good blood lines.  

[ Parent ]
Start over (0.00 / 0)
Okay, this is more like it. But when you say stuff like this:
"the fact is the unions have run the public school system for decades.  Some of these school systems are a joke with teachers that can't teach and a system that can't fire them for doing a poor job.  there are teachers that stay on payroll for years while going through the process of being fired.  all this on taxpayer dollar."

you just totally undermine your POV as a rational person. There's no evidence that unions "run" public schools. And while of course there are teachers that are ineffective there are also many more who are committed and effective -- just like in the business sector there are employees who are effective and ineffective as well. So the point of agreement I have with you is that we can't "continue to go down the same path." The "path" that has characterized American education since the '50s is that of the factory approach where students are the raw material that gets manipulated on a conveyor belt run by an administrative bureaucracy that is generally guided by an economic system that insists on generating functional and compliant workers. This system is now broken.

Save Our Schools! March & National Call to Action, July 28-31, 2011 in Washington, DC: http://www.saveourschoolsmarch...

[ Parent ]
RR Is A Troll. (0.00 / 0)
RR Is A Troll.  Every comment he posts is right out of KKKKarl Rove's playbook.  Or maybe he works at Rupert Murdoch's whorehouse.  RR is going to ruin this site.


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