Obama’s Education Platform

I never liked Senator Obama’s education platform. It’s nothing personal. It’s just that too much of it reflected the outcome-based theory that is the basis of No Child Left Behind and the cause of the “unintended consequences” this country experienced as a result of its adoption.That doesn’t mean that Mr. Obama didn’t put forth some good ideas. He did.

Senator Obama spoke of…

an education agenda that moves beyond party and ideology, and focuses instead on what will make the most difference in a child’s life.”

And his  stance on education was most thoroughly and clearly expressed in Ohio.

“Closing the achievement gap that exists in too many cities and rural areas is right. More accountability is right. Higher standards are right.

But I’ll tell you what’s wrong with No Child Left Behind: forcing our teachers, our principals and our schools to accomplish all of this without the resources they need is wrong.”

And “…we have to make sure that subjects like art and music are not being crowded out of the curriculum.”

So at that moment in time, September 9, 2008, he stood firmly on the failed theory that standards and tests reform schools, but, he grasped the idea that resources —supporting children, families, and school personnel— were required to not only achieve test scores but to also provide a broad and varied curriculum that defines “quality” education. He almost had a clear vision for real reform.

But thus far, he has done what those before him did; he focused on the easier path of standards and testing.

His ideas back then,

“…a new Service Scholarship program that will recruit top talent into the profession, and place these new teachers in overcrowded districts and struggling rural towns, or hard-to-staff subjects like special education, in schools across the nation.”

“…more Teacher Residency Programs … especially in math and science.”

“…expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits.”

“…access to quality after-school and summer school and extended school days for students who need it.”

As the New York Times wrote,

In his last major educational speech of the campaign, Mr. Obama said: “It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but no understanding that both sides have good ideas.”

And he made the choice of Mr. Arne Duncan for Secretary of Education because as the director of educational policy at the Business Roundtable, Susan Traiman, said;

“Both camps will be O.K. with the pick!”

The Business Roundtable accurately represents one camp.

Political camps? What about reform philosophy? What about Obama’s education platform?

Mr. Duncan once wrote,

“When organizations and individuals harness their resources to support children and families, both schools and neighborhoods benefit….By inviting parents and diverse stakeholders into the school reform effort, we can collectively raise education to the next level in our neighborhoods and across the country.”

Problem? The political camps aren’t inviting everyday parents or welcoming diverse ideas. Their ideology is set. And obviously there is no understanding of the fact that the people working day-to-day with the children are the ones who are in a position to best identify and support “what will make the most difference in a child’s life.”barack-obama-quotes-4

We folks who care about our children shouldn’t need an invitation.That door should be open; these are our schools. And I’d be willing to bet that none of us invited the Business Roundtable to come save our schools! These groups could go away and not be missed.

But the politics of education reform isn’t going away any time soon; the camps have dug their trenches. What we can do is minimize the damage.

President Obama’s introduction to A Blueprint for Reform: The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act included these words,

“We must recognize the importance of communities and families in supporting their children’s education, because a parent is a child’s first teacher. We must support families, communities, and schools working in partnership to deliver services and supports that address the full range of student needs.”

But the Blueprint did not reflect the rhetoric. It more accurately reflected the Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee camp which is a big one! It reflected the plans of those who support an illusion of reform based on testing, labeling, closing, and chartering our schools. four pillars of ed takeoverMeanwhile, a concept expressed by both the president and his secretary of education, that of community-based school improvement that was once favored by these men, was written into the Blueprint in a manner doomed to fail. The choice of wording was divisive.Screen Shot 2015-05-14 at 2.44.08 PMAny education writers savvy to the politics in this country would not have stated the community education concept like that! These words had to have been written intending to draw fire from the right-wing. They are a politically divisive choice of words that takes a great concept and makes it sound like a federal take-over of our children.

So this is where we need to ask, was this administration sabotaged or simply swayed by the prevailing politics of “reform”?

I always wondered, but I’m no longer sure it matters. What matters is where we go from here. We could still follow the Obama vision even though he hasn’t.

Accountability?

“…in Washington [it] starts by making sure that every tax dollar spent by the Department of Education is being spent wisely. When I’m president, programs that work will get more money. Programs that don’t work or just create more bureaucracy and paperwork and administrative gridlock will get less money.”

I want you to hold me accountable. And that’s why every year I’m president, I will report back to you on the progress our schools are making because it’s time to stop passing the buck on education and start accepting responsibility. And that’s the kind of example I’ll set as president of the United States.”

Accountability?

“In the end, responsibility for our children’s success doesn’t start in Washington, it starts in our homes. It starts in our families. Because no education policy can replace a parent who’s involved in their child’s education from day one – who makes sure their children are in school on time, helps them with their homework after dinner, and attends those parent- teacher conferences. No government program can turn off the TV set or put away the video games or read to your children.”

Accountability?

“But we can help parents do a better job. That’s why I’ll create a parents report card…

…we need to hold our government accountable. Yes, we have to hold our schools accountable. But we also have to hold ourselves accountable.”

Yes We Can. By all means, let’s call for accountability.

History Uncovered

        “It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as the job gets done.”

The problem with this quote by Frank J. Manley is that his modesty left his concept vulnerable to corruptive and destructive influences.

With help from philanthropist Charles S. Mott, Manley fathered, fostered, and grew the Modern Community Education Concept that some trace back to John Dewey’s philosophy of community-centered schools.

Frank Manley believed “that basic human needs cannot wait — that our social institutions cannot compensate tomorrow for what they fail to do today.” He built a vehicle in which to spread his vision of individuals participating in solving the problems of their own communities using existing resources. That vehicle is the community education concept. It is a concept; not a program, not a one-time “fix” that can be provided for a school or community through a grant. It must be taught, practiced, and perpetuated.

As Manley saw it, community schools bring together the interrelationship of the elements for educational success (resources, people, activities, supports) and he could envision the necessity to bring all the community “forces” together to focus on community needs through involvement in the education of our youth as well as our youth being involved in helping their own community. It is the same basic philosophy that 4H is based on—learning by doing with well-trained guidance.

This is not a foreign concept; it is an American concept. And after 30 years of experience with its success, Mr. Manley brought the idea before the Office of Education in Washington D.C. Then in 1965, without credit being given to Frank Manley, Frank (Francis) Keppel served as the chief architect of the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act whose foundation for strengthening and improving America’s schools was obviously the community schools concept.

Voices from the past...waiting to be rediscovered.

Voices from the past…waiting to be rediscovered.

This idea was free and was spread through public institutions of higher learning. What happened? Why hasn’t this vehicle taken us further down the road?

 

Part 4 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.

Still Searching for Solutions?

The importance of in-school and out-of-school factors on student achievement continues to be a point of debate just as it was back in the time when the 1966 Coleman Report was first interpreted, widely quoted, and used by people to justify their predetermined arguments.

Spurred on by this controversy, searching for answers, and increasingly convinced that “the characteristics of schools are an important determinant of academic achievement,” school effectiveness researchers in the 70’s and 80’s were studying schools where minority and low socioeconomic status students were achieving at higher rates than expected and the “achievement gap” was narrowing. These schools were labeled “effective” and researchers concluded that effective schools had “essential” characteristics common to all; they called them “correlates.”

The original work by Ron Edmonds and others stated the correlates as

1) the principal’s leadership and attention to the quality of instruction;
2) a pervasive and broadly understood instructional focus;
3) an orderly, safe climate conducive to teaching and learning;
4) teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students are expected to obtain at least minimal mastery; and
5) the use of measures of pupil achievement as the basis for program evaluation.”

Edmonds also noted that when it came to the common characteristics of the school improvement “programs” that were used in these schools, they all saw the local school as the focus of analysis and intervention; they all assumed all children to be educable; and all focused their design on more efficient use of existing resources.

In my research of the people who were influential in forming the prevailing philosophy of education reform leading up to Edmonds’ work, I concluded that “effective schools” were schools that were following the “community education concept.”

Search no further.

Search no further.

In-school, out-of-school, or a combo? Think about it.

 

 

Part 3 of ten blogs on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that started with The March Begins.