If you've read here for awhile, you'll know I'm a political progressive and, generally speaking, a supporter of the Democratic agenda, but let me tell you the President has finally pissed me off when it comes to education. I've tried to find common cause with his administration on the subject, but they seem hell bent on pursuing expansion of the failed idea of charter schools and the absolutely insane strategy of blaming and punishing teachers.
Charter schools are essentially private schools created by taking education dollars out of our already underfunded public education systems. We've had charter schools for decades. Nearly every study comparing traditional public schools with charter schools have shown no difference in academic attainment overall, while many have found charters underperforming their public school counterparts. There are lots of studies, but here is the summary of one conducted by Standford University (if you Google "charter schools vs. public schools," you'll find dozens more). And this is while charter schools have the advantage of being allowed to exclude the most challenging students, the "blueberries" public schools are required to teach, allowing them to pick only the best and the brightest. And still they can't do better than traditional public schools? This is the future of public education? Bleh!
Yes, there is quite a bit of federal stimulus money being directed toward public schools, and I applaud that, but Education Secretary Arne Duncan has made it clear that he expects a large percentage of that money to be spent on expanding charter schools. This, without a lick of evidence that it will benefit students.
But even worse, I think, is Duncan and Obama's outright nastiness toward public school teachers. I'm not saying there aren't bad teachers out there, but the overwhelming majority are dedicated, hardworking public servants struggling to teach in underfunded, overcrowded schools that require them to spend too much of their days preparing their kids for high-stakes standardized tests. Instead of listening to public school teachers, who would with a virtually single voice call for smaller classes and more autonomy to teach their students the way they know they ought to be taught, the Obama administration seems determined to keep following the advice of career politicians and business executives who may be well-intended people, but who are not education professionals.
The incident that prompted this post, however, the straw that broke the camel's back, was President Obama's recent support of the mass firing of teachers at a struggling Rhode Island high school. What!? I'm sorry, but this is like Bank of America firing all its tellers for bringing the world economy to the verge of collapse. The problem is not with teachers. This is a systemic problem. It's a problem of underfunding. It's a problem of thinking of schools as job training centers. And its a problem of families.
I'm the world's biggest supporter of parents. I teach in a cooperative preschool where I work with committed, dedicated parents every day, parents who value education so highly that they are willing to actually go to school with their children. I attended public schools in South Carolina through 4th grade, a state that is widely regarded as having one of the worst public school systems in the country, yet I got a solid education because my parents valued education and made damn sure I got a good one. There is no greater predictor of a child's academic success than their parents' involvement in, and attitude toward, their education. If you are a parent taking time on a weekend to read this blog, you are one of this kind of parent.
Sadly, most parents are not like us. Bill Maher is not everyone's cup of tea, but I wish I'd been the one to go on this tirade: