Saturday, August 13, 2011

Wrong Again, Jonathan: Mr. Alter Doesn't Get Public Education (and neither does Obama)

Once upon a time, back in the Ronald Wilson Reagan era, I used to look forward to reading Jonathan Alter's column in NEWSWEEK. He seemed to be one of the guys who got it. I particularly remember what he wrote about Gary Hart during his rise and fall in the 1984 campaign.

Sad to say, Mr. Alter seems to have completely jumped the shark. Every post he makes on education is so blindly wrong, so clearly ignorant of what's going on with the current education deform movement in which Mr. Duncan and, at least passively, Mr. Obama, are willing partners, that as an educator who has worked most of his career with students, parents, teachers, and administrators in districts, schools, and communities devastated by extreme poverty, I cannot help but be appalled.

Looking at his latest education commentary ("Obama Shows Spunk Pushing Brave Education Plan"), there is simply no way that Mr. Alter could be truly in touch with what's going on in places like Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami, or New York City, given how shallow and erroneous is his analysis of education and what Obama's administration is up to. The recent waiver offer by Mr. Duncan is a classic case of figuring out long after everyone else has done so that a horrid piece of legislation like NCLB is about to crash and potentially bring loads of hard-working people down with it. This impending disaster was completely predictable for anyone who had a grasp of the nonsensical mathematics informing "annual yearly progress" and the absurd notion of 100% proficiency in math and literacy AT ANY POINT IN TIME. But I believe the authors of NCLB for the most part knew exactly what they were doing: creating a way to destroy public education and turn even the most outstanding public schools into "failing schools" through its impossible demands.

When Obama put Duncan in charge, we saw another strategic move, cynically called "Race To The Top," that was nothing more than openly bribing states to comply with anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-student, pro-testing, pro-charter, pro-privatization policies in exchange for the federal dollars, or otherwise be denied the funding to which ALL kids should have equal access, regardless of where they live. It doesn't get any more undemocratic, any less fair, any more patently wrong.

In light of NCLB and RttT, many people have correctly counseled states to refuse to take the waivers being "boldly" offered by Duncan/Obama. In fact, the absolutely sanest strategy for every state, district, administrator, school, teacher, parent, and student would be to say, "No!" to high-stakes testing abuse and insanity, to refuse to allow, administer, or participate in these heinous tests. Please look at the Bartleby Project and join those of us who will not bend to the forces of billionaires and politicians who care nothing about learning, kids, education, or democracy, but only about lining their pockets and those of their friends, colleagues, and masters. The folks pulling Mr. Obama and Mr. Duncan's strings (and one merely need look at how they operated in Chicago with public schools there to know that what's happened at the federal level since they took power was all too predictable) have to be rubbing their hands with glee at the "spunk" being shown in the US Dept. of Education. If this is the best Mr. Obama and his minions can come up with, we need a different nominee in 2012.

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