Obama: Change or status quo in education?

Barack Obama hasn’t made it clear yet whether he favors education reform or the status quo, writes David Brooks in the New York Times. The Democrats’ rival education camps “issued dueling strategy statements this week.”

The status quo camp issued a statement organized by the Economic Policy Institute. This report argues that poverty and broad social factors drive high dropout rates and other bad outcomes. Schools alone can’t combat that, so more money should go to health care programs, anti-poverty initiatives and after-school and pre-K programs. When it comes to improving schools, the essential message is that we need to spend more on what we’re already doing: smaller class sizes, better instruction, better teacher training.

The reformists’ statement supported after-school and pre-K initiatives, but also stressed “rigorous accountability and changing the fundamental structure of school systems.”

Today’s school systems aren’t broken, the reformers argue. They were designed to meet the needs of teachers and adults first, and that’s exactly what they are doing. It’s time, though, to put the interests of students first.

The reformers want to change the structure of the system, not just spend more on the same old things. Tough decisions have to be made about who belongs in the classroom and who doesn’t. Parents have to be given more control over education through public charter schools. Teacher contracts and state policies that keep ineffective teachers in the classroom need to be revised. Most importantly, accountability has to be rigorous and relentless. No Child Left Behind has its problems, but it has ushered in a data revolution, and hard data is the prerequisite for change.

Eduwonk, who signed the reformists’ manifesto, has more on the Democratic split.

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  1. Mrs. Davis says:

    The Democrat, whoever it is, is a puppet on strings pulled by the NEA when it comes to education issues.

  2. Only the most narrow reading of educational policy debates would conclude that the issue resolves to a choice between these two neo-con approaches, misleadingly titled ‘reform’ and status quo’.

    I’m sure that the Obama camp is quite rightly dismissive of such sham politics in education, and is no doubt looking at examples of successful education policy (probably from nations like Finland and Canada) rather than the politically-based speculation that passes for educational policy debate in the U.S.

    The idea that anybody would be fooled by this baldly fallacious strategy is, frankly, insulting to the electorate.

  3. Do you think Obama’s had time to delve into education policy yet? I understand he has a very full schedule of turning water into wine and interceding on humanity’s behalf with his father who, disappointed with the human race again wants to bring on forty days and forty nights of rain, again.

    But since I’m a betting man I’ll offer odds that Obama’s education policy, whenever he gets around to formulating one, will consist of hiring more teachers at higher rates of pay as well as putting an end to the insulting practice of measuring whether education is actually occurring.

    Oh, and it won’t at all resemble a continuance of the status quo. But as a neocon I’m too stupid to appreciate the delicate nuances that differentiate Obama’s policy from the status quo.

  4. I can relate to the comments of both Stephen Downes and Allen. When I first read this blog I clicked on the link and spent some time trying to figure out just what those two positions, reform versus status quo, might mean. I could have saved a bunch of time by just rejecting the terms as having any meaning at all. Why didn’t I?

    Well, two thoughts come to mind. Through much of my life I have observed that many people are quick to favor “change”. But that’s as far as they go? What change are they talking about, and why don’t they tell us what change they are talking about? Usually the answer, when I can figure out an answer, is that that they “change” they advocate is considered so obvious to them that they can’t imagine that it’s not obvious to everyone. But also it is very often true that they can not even begin to verbalize what it is that seems so obvious to them. Their advocacy of “change” is all emotion and no reason or analysis. But despite my suspicions of empty headedness, I still make it a point, when I can, to try to figure out their position. Maybe they do have some substance to what they say if I can just figure out what it is. And this attitude does not necessary presume they are bad at communication. It may be that my world view is simply so different from theirs that what is sensible to them is not at all sensible to me.

    And another thing that comes to mind is the idea that even dumb questions have answers. I think this is a valuable idea for teachers to have, and act on. So to the question, “What is the difference between “change” and “status quo”, one part of my brain may be saying, “That’s a dumb question”, even while another part of my brain is asking for the answer.

    So what is the difference between these two positions? I don’t really know. And where will Obama land on education issues by the time of the election? I have no idea. Will the terms “change” versus “status quo” be relevant in November, or lost in the dust bin of history? I have no idea. I am cynical enough to say that Obama’s education platform, or anyone else’s, will be the result of political considerations, not considerations of substance. But that’s democracy.

  5. Obama’s education policy is whatever he reads off the teleprompter. His advisers write whatever they think his journalist friends want to hear.

  6. The highlight of Obama’s education platform is his support for an expansion and funding of Urban Teacher Residency programs, one of the most effective models for training career teachers. This was a focal point of his recent ed-centered speech in Denver, as well.

  7. Cardinal Fang says:

    Here’s something else from Obama, from his remarks today (Fathers Day):

    You know, sometimes I’ll go to an eighth-grade graduation and there’s all that pomp and circumstance and gowns and flowers. And I think to myself, it’s just eighth grade. …. An eighth-grade education doesn’t cut it today. Let’s give them a handshake and tell them to get their butts back in the library!

    The whole speech is well worth reading. I know many readers of this site are conservative, but I think they’d find themselves in violent agreement with Obama. To relate this comment to Joanne’s post about single parent families, I also pull out this quote:

    But if we are honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that what too many fathers also are is missing – missing from too many lives and too many homes. They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it.

    You and I know how true this is in the African-American community. We know that more than half of all black children live in single-parent households, a number that has doubled – doubled – since we were children.

  8. There is one possibility that my annoyance with the rush to anoint Obama as the once and future messiah caused me to forget: neodems.

    As I predicted and have observed, there are fault lines forming in the Democratland and they’re forming along the the sanctity of the educational status quo – the so-called NEA fault.

    On one side of the fault are traditional Democrats and the NEA, pulling in the direction of the past – before vouchers, before charters, before NCLB.

    On the other side are the neodems who’ve come to the shocked realization that decade after decade of the sovereign remedy – more money for education, more money for teachers, more money – has resulted in no improvement in education and an actual erosion of education for those they profess to, and actually may in some cases, care about: the poor. Educational tectonic forces are causing them to pull on the NEA fault in the opposite direction.

    The question then is where will the Sudden Savior choose to plant his feet?

    The traditionals have a lot to recommend them. They’re organized, powerful, connected. Yet, there are changes that seem to be progressing that they’re not part of, have little to do with and impede only through the artful application of cosmetic repairs.

    The neodems are new on the scene so lining up with them is making a bet on the their staying power and strength.

    So what’s Obama going to do? Bet on the favorite or on the dark horse? I think he’ll bet on the winner while doing his best to appear to back the reform movement. It’s the pragmatic, if not the courageous, honest or insightful thing to do.