Did Obama just perform a “progressive pivot-point’ on education?

By Campaign for America’s Future, January 23, 2013

It was hard for a progressive not to get a chocolate high from President Obama’s inauguration speech.

Indeed it was full of treats: a “dramatic and sweeping argument for equality” . . . “a commitment to community and the common good” . . . “the most liberal speech of his presidency.”

But hardly anyone in the education community had anything notable to say about it. Few if any prominent and outspoken critics of the administration’s education policies, including Diane Ravitch and Randi Weingarten, have bothered to write anything of considerable substance (at least, so far).

A reason for this could be that Obama mentioned education, specifically, very few times – three actually. All three mentions were in the mundane, uninspiring context of “training,” which drew a noticeable yawn from at least one visible member of the audience.

Another reason for the silence is that advocates for education and public schools have heard Obama say sweet things about education before, only to quickly see him revert to tired truisms about America’s “failed” schools that are so in need of “accountability” and “reform.”

But there is something public school advocates should note about Obama’s speech.

Something That Needs To Be Said About Obama’s Speech

An exception to this brownout of punditry on the edu-blogosphere grid was at Valerie Strauss’s inter-hub at The Washington Post. Her guest, Arthur H. Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, posted a critique of the president’s address that spotlighted exactly what advocates for public education should make of the president’s words.

“President Obama issued a call for ‘collective action,’ arguing forcefully that we cannot ‘meet the demands of today’s world’ by acting alone. ‘Now, more than ever,’ he said, ‘we must do these things together, as one nation, and one people.’  But, this is not the philosophy that guides education policy today. Bill Clinton nailed the policy choice starkly in his speech at the Democratic National Convention in August.  He said, ‘You see, we believe that we’re all in this together is a far better philosophy than you’re on your own.’ (emphasis original)

This frames current education debate because most of the solutions being promulgated by the U.S. Department of Education and their corporate partners are about the latter . . . being on your own.”

Camins continued with an itemized list of “on your own” aspects of the Obama administration’s education policies, which included:

  • Dual school systems that compel parents to “choose” between charter schools and regular public schools and “compete with other parents on an inequitable playing field.”
  • Merit pay schemes that force teachers “to look out for their own job security” and “look out for their own interests.”
  • Competitive grants that force schools and districts to vie with each other “for limited federal, state and private grant funds” instead of doing “what’s best by every student.”

Camins correctly concluded, “We need a we’re in this together appeal to every educator and parent – no, every citizen – who understands that we are interdependent and that we need each other for each of us to be successful.”…

continue reading at Campaign for America’s Future

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