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A Disingenuous President
An Educators' News Editorial
March 30 , 2011

Candidate Jimmy Carter won the support (and hearts) of teachers across this nation in 1976 with his statement, "I will never lie to you." His support for creating a separate Department of Education didn’t hurt his support from teachers, either.

In 2007-2008, Candidate Barack Obama promised teachers, parents, and students changes in the No Child Left Behind law that would "meet high standards without forcing teachers and students to spend most of the year preparing for a single, high-stakes test..."

After becoming President and appointing his basketball buddy, Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education, the Obama Administration turned federal school funding into a series of contests for states, with winners and losers. It has become hard to tell if the winners of Race to the Top grants were really winners, as they had to change state laws to permit evaluating teachers with high stakes tests never intended or designed for teacher evaluation. State laws limiting charter schools had to be changed to allow more monies to be siphoned off from public schools to charters often operated by for-profit corporations. Full support for special education (and teachers in general) became just another unfulfilled promise by a presidential candidate, who once elected, forgot who got him there.

Both President Obama and Secretary Duncan have become masters of teacher bashing by innuendo, repeatedly calling for "improvements in teacher effectiveness" and ensuring "that all schools have highly-qualified teachers," leaving the impression that most teachers in the classroom today are neither effective nor highly qualified.

Their proposals and policies have given comfort and cover to Republican governors with radical education agendas. They point to their agreement with the Obama Administration’s support for more charter schools, merit pay based on high stakes testing, and closing low performing schools before proposing their own twisted interpretation of education "reform."

In Indiana, Governor Mitch Daniels proposed the state be able "to take over poorly performing schools and for these schools to be managed by for-profit companies," limit teacher bargaining, and institute the largest school voucher program in the nation. Governor Daniels apparently saw education "reform," more accurately described by some authors as "deform," as his springboard to a 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Only a five-week walkout by Indiana House Democrats, denying the Republican majority a quorum to do business, allowed Hoosier citizens the time to weigh in with their representatives and force moderation to the Governor’s extreme proposals.

Wisconsin, Tennessee, Florida, Kansas, Ohio, New Jersey...the list of similar attacks on public education goes on and on. It tends to make one agree with William Cronon, the noted historian at UW-Madison, who has suggested the Republican governors' radical education agenda was really written by the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

On Monday, March 28, 2011, President Barack Obama told the audience at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.:

Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.

Take note that the President did not take the opportunity to add, "to punish teachers."

On Tuesday, Education Week’s Anthony Cody wrote in Obama Blasts His Own Education Policies:

Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own Secretary of Education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.

Shortly thereafter, the EdWeek Politics K-12 blog posted a statement of clarification from U.S. Department of Education spokesperson, Justin Hamilton:

While we're open to how we can best assess student progress in subject areas like history and science, we believe annual measures in reading and math are needed to assess progress toward college- and career-readiness. More must be done to improve the quality of those assessments, so that they're a more meaningful measure of student learning...

At best, I think the President is being a politician with his disingenuous comments about using tests to punish schools, and lessening frequent pressure-packed high stakes standardized tests. The uproar in the education community caused by his statements and the DOE clarification should have produced something more from the White House if the President was truly committed to rectifying the testing mess that exists today. So I don't think the President's comments about testing signal a change in education policy. Firing Arne Duncan and replacing him with someone like Linda Darling-Hammond would truly signal a move away from his disastrous proposals for education "reform."

While the President is preoccupied with Libya and other vital national interests, I think he's leaving education to his basketball buddy...and the Republican governors who "would do great harm to public education, as well as the economic well-being of many middle-class Hoosiers" and other Americans.

Word of the Day: Disingenuous

My Mac dictionary application defines "disingenuous" as: "not candid or sincere," with synonyms of "dishonest, untruthful, false, deceitful, duplicitous, lying, mendacious; hypocritical." Pick your word, but it appears President Obama is lying to us, just as candidate Obama did in his comments about fixing No Child Left Behind during the Presidential campaign.

I think it may be appropriate to modify the Merriam-Webster example sentence for disingenuous from:

Her recent expressions of concern are self-serving and disingenuous.

to:

The President's recent expression of concern about too much standardized testing is self-serving and disingenuous.

BTW: Yes, I did share my views with the White House. And, I still have a perfect record of no responses in my communications with the White House and Department of Education. The words I wrote a year ago at the end of my rant, They're Not Listening, become truer every day:

Let me rephrase the words of the fictitious president, Andrew Shepherd, from the movie, The American President:

This is a time for serious people, Mr. President, and your four years will soon be up.

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©2011 Steven L. Wood