I have to say at least President Obama mentioned education something that hasn’t happened once in the 547 Republican presidential debates. Though to be honest what could the Republicans say, we wrecked inner city schools so we could privatize them or that we sacrificed our children’s future to make a buck? Unfortunately President Obama can’t say much more and he definitely didn’t during the State of the Union address.
Like most politicians Obama used hyperbole and distorted facts to back up his points. He starts big too when he points to a debunked study that says good teachers can pull kids out of poverty, that the best teachers can add 250 thousand dollars to the lifetime wages of a class. Let’s see 25 kids working for forty-five years averages out to 250 dollars a year, which is hardly breaking children free of poverty numbers. To put that amount in perspective that’s a little more than Mitt Romney made in interest per minute last year. Yes teachers can inspire but until we do something to overcome the inequity between the rich and the middle class and the poor there is only so much teachers can do.
Then he said we have fallen to ninth in the proportion of young people with college degrees however in the amount of college degrees overall we are still right at the top. Not all our kids are going to go to college and we should be okay with that and we should plan for their needs by returning the teaching of trades skills and arts, positions that won’t be outsourced to third world countries, to our schools. By forcing every child into a college curriculum we are robbing many of the one thing the President says he wants every kid to have, a chance to succeed. Mr. President we don’t have all the students you wish we did and we should start planning accordingly before more and more fall through the cracks, guaranteed a menial existence.
He then switched gears and fell into the old blame the parents trap. Yes families should instill the love of learning in their children but if they don’t, if they abdicate their responsibilities, schools and society still have a responsibility to at least attempt to educate their children. We can’t throw up our hands and say if only little Johnnie’s dad would have read to him or little Suzie’s mom would have helped her with her homework then they may have made something with their lives. Like we don’t always have the kids we wish we had, we don’t have the parents and families we wish we had either. We can complain about it and wish things were different or society can stand up and do something about it. One way guarantees we continue the cycle of poverty and ignorance the other gives us a chance at something better.
He is both right and wrong when he says classrooms should be places of high expectations and high performances unfortunately the only high expectation the president and his policies have afforded schools is that children do well on standardized tests and this means creativity, innovation, and critical thinking have all been sacrificed on the altar of high stakes testing. Do you know why too many schools don’t meet this test Mr. President? It’s because all schools do is teach to the test! Standardized tests should be a component of education like they were designed to be, not the end all be all they have become.
I am not sure if he should tout Race to the Top as an academic achievement either. This is rivaled only by No Child Left Behind (sometimes called No Chance for Latinos and Blacks because it disproportionately hurts their schools, or No Capitalist left Behind because of all the companies that have made hundreds of millions of dollars off of it) in the harm it has done to education. Education sir isn’t a race it is a journey and the federal government shouldn’t delight in picking winners and losers; it should be about elevating all our children.
The president is so concerned with teacher quality but like most of our education leaders he glosses over the effect of poverty. Poverty and over twenty percent of our kids live in it and another twenty percent of our kids live just above it is both the number one quantifiable statistic when determining education outcomes (not who a student’s teachers are) and the number one most ignores statistic as well. In short, as a group, kids who live in poverty don’t do nearly as well in school as kids that don’t.
When he talks about how Race to the Top (RTTT) standards were created by governors both Republican and Democrat, in mostly cash starved states by the way, he is correct but you know who didn’t help create them? Teachers that’s who, those on the front lines working with our kids who know better than the governors and the President what our kids need and don’t need, what works and what doesn’t work. But like usual they are ignored and then forced to carry out edicts from far off ivory towers or bear the brunt of the blame for the same system that starves schools of resources and then ties teacher’s hands with uniformity. Furthermore teachers who are at the bottom, in these top to bottom solutions, did not call for merit pay, parent triggers, standardized high stake tests, response to intervention and dozens of other top down mandates that Obama says RTTT avoided. He is either disingenuous or ignorant when he says otherwise.
He then talks about one schools miraculous transformation and unlike the president I am willing to admit ignorance when I don’t know something, though I am willing to take him at his face when he describes the school’s achievements. However I find it reprehensible that he omits talking about all the inner city schools that have been gutted by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) a law he is seeking to change just as it’s draconian measures were about to start crippling white schools in suburbia. Education secretary Arne Duncan, who was never a public school teacher by the way, said last year that if NCLB is left unchecked ninety percent of our schools would be considered failing. It’s only after neighborhood schools in the inner city have been gutted that the president seeks to make a change, once again the poor and minorities bear the brunt of his hope and change.
Then he has the nerve to talk about respecting teachers when all he has done during his term in office is disrespect teachers. “Reward good teachers and stop making excuse for bad teachers” is a direct quote from his speech. How many of the nation’s teachers does he think are bad I wonder, five percent, ten percent a quarter or perhaps half? When he throws out lines like that, while ignoring poverty, bad policies, a one size fits all curriculum that sucks the joy out of school for many kids and absentee parents, he implies there is an epidemic of bad teachers when nothing could be farther from the truth. You know how many teachers in the nation are “bad” about five percent, like in every other profession.
With this blatant disrespect exhibited by our president and emulated in droves by politicians across the nation, coupled with the facts that the modern teacher has been stripped of creativity and innovation and forced to teach to the test, good luck finding the hundred thousand additional teachers you are searching for the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Good luck finding enough teachers to staff any of our classrooms if the economy ever turns around. People forget or just don’t like to acknowledge the fact that just a few years ago Florida was recruiting in Canada and India because it couldn’t find enough teachers. Heaven help us when the economy turns around.
Finally he finished up with a whopper of a proposal and that’s every student be required to stay in school until they were 18. I guess he has never been in a classroom hijacked by an unruly sixteen year old who is only interested in stopping the learning process for others. The truth is we could have tremendous addition with a little subtraction. No child Left Behind should be, we’re leaving about ten percent behind until they straighten up. It’s a toss up which is the most ridiculous notion, that we keep all kids in school until they are 18 or we have a hundred percent of kids on grade level which according to NCLB should be happening any day now. People in ivory towers throw impossible suggestions and bad ideas out into the public arena and then wag their fingers at teachers when they prove unworkable or impracticable. Teachers have all the responsibility but none of the authority.
Even if we had enough counselors and social workers in schools, because so often why a kid acts up or does poorly has nothing to do with school, year around schooling because so many of our kids in poverty need it and multiple curriculums that played to students strengths and desires, there would still be more than a few we should wash our hands of for the common good. I can say this because to me honesty is more important than rhetoric and hyperbole.
Presidents and politicians say all the time they respect teachers and then they rob them of creativity and innovation, they strip them of due process and force many to lead a paupers life.
Presidents and politicians say they care about education, but then they slash the budgets and close schools.
Presidents and politicians say they care about children but then they push them all into a one size fits all curriculum regardless of ability and aptitude and have made the end all be all of their young lives how they do on a high stakes test. Their lives meaning reduced to four hours one day a year.
President Obama almost four years ago three million teachers and I voted for you because we believed in you. You have let me, them and the kids in our classrooms down.