Have you noticed how despite the election of a Democratic president of the United States, despite a Democratic congressional majority, despite all the talk of change we can believe in, the education agenda of this country remains essentially unchanged. Have you noticed, too, how both our national unions are tip-toeing around this reality, mouthing clichés about having a seat at the table of this administration. When that malarkey fails to satisfy, as political smoke almost never hides the reality it’s meant to, we’re reminded that we are much better off under the Obama administration than we were with George Bush and that we have to support our president.

    I’m more than willing to support our president when he is worthy of support, but when his administration supports the expansion of charter schools, when it expresses its belief in mathematical formulas for measuring teacher quality and when it clings tenaciously to the morally retrograde concept of merit pay for those measured by standardized test results to be worthy, I must then conclude that at least when it comes to education, while it may pony up some additional dollars, the Obama administration is as bankrupt as the one before it. While it may co-opt the political right and drive most of the media into orgasmic praise of its program, none of this conservative blither stands the slightest chance of significantly improving the nation’s schools.

    I, for one, am not surprised by this state of affairs. I was present for candidate Obama’s speech to the National Education Association Representative Assembly when he very candidly spoke of his support for merit pay and evinced a sympathy for charter schools. Neither am I surprised by the response of our national unions. To date, neither the NEA nor the AFT has been able to develop a competing agenda for improving public education. To be fair, we have seen some efforts from newly elected AFT President Randi Weingarten that could be the beginnings of a competing agenda to the one we’ve been stuck with almost from the time of the publication of A Nation at Risk. I say beginnings in that what we have seen thus far is aimed at closing the so-called achievement gap of inner city youth. We’ve seen nothing to suggest a reconceptualization of the achievement gap to include the serious shortcomings in our suburban and rural school districts many of which are shadows of their former selves, ironically, though predictably dumbed down by the very right wing agenda we have failed to confront.

    Do we believe that charter schools do hold promise? Do we believe that giving some teachers more salary than others based on some value added basis is a serious idea? Do we believe that better tests will improve the nation’s schools? Do we believe in straight-jacketing teachers and working them to the rhythm of programs they’ve had no hand in designing? Can we take seriously the discussions of teacher quality that abound across the political spectrum? If we can’t answer these questions affirmatively, then we need to start developing a competing agenda for raising the standards and expectations of our public schools.  We clearly can't count on Obama when it comes to public education.

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