Obama hangs tough

Hit by civil rights groups who oppose Race to the Top, President Obama defended his education reforms in a speech to the Urban League.

“If a school isn’t producing graduates with even the most basic skills, year after year after year after year, something needs to be done differently. You know, the definition, somebody once said, of madness is you do the same thing over and over again and keep expecting a different result.”

. . . Even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure that we’re seeing results in the classroom. If they’re not, let’s work with them to help them be more effective. And if that fails, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom.”

Obama deserves credit for hanging tough, writes Rick Hess. But he must beware of  Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s hubris.

Every time our earnest Secretary of Education speaks of late, he seems to unearth new things that Washington can and should do to schools. Earlier this month, he promised the NAACP that the administration would see that NCLB reauthorization required turnaround schools to obtain parent and community input as well as lead an “honest, open discussion.” Of course, Duncan is ardently pushing “state-led” national standards and watching his Department of Education flag 19 (!) states as impressive enough to merit being Race to the Top finalists.

In Duncan’s Urban League speech, which promised an commission on education equity, he pandered to the civil rights community, writes Flypaper’s Mike Petrilli, who agrees that Duncan promises more than he can deliver.

“We will ensure that all schools—public, private and charter—serve the kids most in need,” Duncan said. “That is also something you told us was important. We heard you loud and clear, we are responding and these schools will be held accountable.”

Duncan can’t “ensure” that private schools serve needy kids or hold them “accountable, ” Petrilli writes.

Accountable to whom? Most don’t get public funds. Many are more diverse than traditional public schools. What the heck is he talking about?

Ed Week sees Duncan’s speech as a strong defense of Race to the Top, pointing out he told reform critics, “You’re wrong.”

Obama’s education agenda is stalled in Congress, according to the Washington Post.

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  1. CarolineSF says:

    Petrilli is correct. The inclusion of that one little word — “private” — reveals that Obama is in outer space and has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about regarding this entire issue.

  2. CarolineSF says:

    Sorry, Freudian slip — I mean Duncan, not Obama. However…

  3. tim-10-ber says:

    Some private schools, not many but some, do take federal funds. Because the amount tends to be small I am sure they will give that up. However, if a private school takes federal funds they need to report out like the public schools….

  4. Erin Johnson says:

    There is a fine line between “hanging tough” and being politically naive. And with the mounting evidence that standards (state, national or otherwise) will do nothing to improve schooling and that the administration’s RttT initiatives will be a complete waste of money, it appears that Arne Duncan/Pres. Obama’s stance is moving to the wrong side of this issue.

  5. Sounds like open warfare is on the verge of breaking out in the Democratic party between the defenders of the educational status quo and those not so enamored of the status quo.

    I wish they’d hurry about it.

  6. The definition of madness is to do the same thing over and over and expect a different result” – like throwing more money at public schools. It hasn’t made any improvement in academic achievment in the past 40 years and it isn’t likely to do so now. It has, however, created a huge bureaucracy.

  7. Sorry momof4 but madness is the explanation of the lazy.

    Whatever you may think of the public education system it’s not the product of a diseased mind. It makes sense, and is even functional, when viewed in the proper context.

    The trick then is to discover the proper context. But if you can’t be bothered then one explanation’s as good as another so why not chalk it up to mental illness?

  8. I did not say public education was the product of a diseased mind. I was quoting from President Obama’s recent speech, which promoted additional federal funding for schools (RttT). Throwing more money at schools hasn’t worked in the past; why expect it to work now?

  9. What makes you think education’s the only purpose of the public education system?

    The public education system’s not an institution of education but a political entity. It springs from the political process, is steeped in the political process and reacts to political pressures.

    From that point of view “throwing more money at schools” is an eminently sensible thing to do and it’s something that ought to be done until not a nickle exists but that it isn’t put toward public education funding.

    In fact, everything about public education makes sense but you have to relinquish the assumption that the public education system exists exclusively, or even primarily, to educate kids. If the public education system existed primarily to educate kids then there wouldn’t be any controversy surrounding the issue of accountability and testing.


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