Saturday, 8 September 2012 :: If you watched the Democratic Convention, you would never know that the Obama Administration’s education policies were extremely controversial with America’s teachers and had provoked outrage among many of the nation’s most distinguished education scholars.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel spoke at the Convention without anyone mentioning that his policies had provoked an impending strike among tens of thousands of teachers, and that these policies were ones supported by the Administration’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan.
Duncan also spoke at the Convention, making the incredible statement that “no teacher should teach to the test” when his Race to the Top policies requiring that teacher evaluations which were based, in part on student test scores, had resulted in “teaching to the test” everywhere those funds were distributed.
And finally, the President’s statement that “teachers shouldn’t be fired” goes squarely against the school closing component of Race to the Top, which mandates that schools designated as failing — again, by the criterion of test scores — should be closed, and 50% of its teaching staff removed when a new school is put in its place.
What was also not said is that the Obama administration education policies are the one part of its political program most praised by Republicans, and that Obama officials have effusively praised the education policies of two Republican Governors, Florida’s Jeb Bush and New Jersey’s Chris Christie.
And because these policies are likely to be continued no matter which party wins the Presidency, it is important to enumerate some of the negative consequences of the Race to the Top initiative that has been a hallmark of this Administration’s education policies.
The following are some stubborn facts about the consequences of the Obama Administration education policy should be aware of:
- FACT ONE. Teacher morale is at the lowest level it has been in recorded history. This is in part because virtually every major leadership group has blamed teachers for the nation’s problems, but also because teachers job protections and job rights are under attack and because they are increasingly evaluated on the basis of student test scores.
- FACT TWO: Special needs students and English language learner (ELL) students are everywhere experiencing humiliation, and occasionally outright discrimination, because students who do not test well are seen as threatening the careers of teachers and school administrators. It is in the interest of schools to exclude such students or push them out to maintain a positive test profile, a practice notoriously common among some of the nation’s best known charter schools.
- FACT THREE: The teaching force in the nation is being steadily “whitened” as a result of school closing and teacher firings mandated by Race to the Top and the replacement of experienced union teachers in large city school districts with Teach for America Corps members.
- FACT FOUR” Students throughout the country, even in middle class, high performing districts, are increasingly complaining that they hate school because of an enormous rise in the number and frequency of standardized tests and the elimination of gym, recess, sports and the arts to make room for test prep.
These problems will all intensify in coming years unless there is a radical change in the nation’s education policies. Based on what transpired at the Democratic Convention, no such change will forthcoming unless there is something close to a revolt on the part of America’s teachers, students and parents.
blogs at With a Brooklyn Accent | Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham's Urban Studies Program. He is the author of three books and over 100 articles on African-American History, urban history, and the history of sports.