Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Obama's speech

I keep reminding myself that this is just a speech and a pretty good one at that--a selling of the badly-needed stimulus package to Congress and more importantly to a short-on-hope American public. Without a rapid and huge injection of new capital, and confidence, warned Obama, the impact of this global financial collapse on jobs, schools, neighborhoods, and childrens' futures would be even more devastating than it already is.

I think he sold it. But the weakest part of the speech for me, was the piece on education. It's not that it was all bad--and those like
Diane Ravitch, ("Is Arne Duncan really Margaret Spellings in Drag?") who are now equating Obama with Bush, are ridiculous.

After all, Obama, in the face of opposition and even sabotage, from the Limbaugh Party as well as from some inside his own regime, has launched the largest
new deal for public education in history, one that's needed to save hundreds of schools from closure and thousands of teaching jobs in inner city, rural and suburban schools. It will provide millions more for after-school programs, Headstart and early-childhood ed, student health services to treat asthma, hearing defects, etc...for students with special needs and disabilities (that one is close to my heart), teacher education (that one too) billions for new school construction, and so on.

What a far cry from from the past eight years of neocon rule and programs like Bush's $4 billion Children's First phonics swindle or his use of NCLB in the most punitive, test-crazy ways imaginable.

Here's what I didn't like:

1. Obama's placing school reform wholly in the context of gl0bal competition and a narrow and misleading view of job training (I bow to Gerald Bracey on this topic).

2. His turning charter schools into a throw-away line, a substitute for real school reform specifics. Charters aren't one single entity. Nor are they a panacea. In fact, they have become largely a vehicle for closing neighborhood schools, union busting, and for taking the
public out of public education. Plus, there's lots of evidence that, as a group, they perform no better than traditional schools.

3. His steering away from any critical mention of NCLB and its testing madness.

4. Millions going for some kind of pay-for-performance programs. While there's no explicit language in the stimulus package linking salary to student performance, the lack of details in Obama's speech raises my flag.

All this confirms that Obama's election was no reason for complacency. The struggle for the heart of public education continues, both in policy areas and at ground zero. But it should be carried out on just grounds, in a way that makes sense to those in the school community.


  1. "Just a speech?" That's like saying Michael Jordan "just played basketball."

  2. Good points. Ravitch's personal attacks on Duncan ("Spellings without high heels," "Spellings in drag") were offensive. And her repeated attacks on Obama, equating his policies with those of Bush, are even more offensive. I do agree with you points about the weaknesses in Obama's speech last night. On charters, I like the way Rethinking Schools puts it in their book, "Keeping the Promise"

    "The question facing the charter school movement is whether it will fulfill its founding promise of a reform that empowers the powerless, or whether it will become a vehicle to further enrich the powerful and stratify our schools."

  3. Has the left become so narrow and isolated and so ideologically motivated (like the neocon right) that they can confuse Obama's views with those of Bush? I'm afraid it's not just Ravitch. I doubt that anyone who is a member of a teachers union or the parent of a special-needs kid, would confuse the two.

  4. Does Spellings really wear high heels? I never noticed.

  5. I find it harder to dismiss Ravitch's concerns, with this caveat: I fear that Duncan, not Obama, is Business Roundtable all the way.

    And I fear Obama is too preoccupied with, um, saving the economy and the Arctic to give much thought to education, and leaving it in Duncan's hands.

    And all I hear from Duncan is: KIPP, TFA, value-added data for teacher evaluations.

    If Duncan isn't Spellings in high heels, will you Bill Gates in Nike Airs?

  6. Hey Clay. Wake up. It's Ravitch who appears regularly at the Business Round Table, not Duncan. She's also a fellow at Hoover, and AEI and was the accountability chief during Bush I.

  7. Hey Dr. Dana, up your game.

    An ad hominem on Ravitch isn't persuasive. The critiques she's been articulating recently on Bridging Differences (and with which Deborah Meier seems to largely agree) don't sound like BR talking points at all.

    Accountability in the time of Bush I, furthermore, can't be equated with accountability under Bush II and NCLB. If I read Ravitch's recent thoughts on this front correctly, she's pretty aghast at the shape of accountability today.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.