I am going to start this Blog Post with a thank you to my heroine, Diane Ravitch. I first met Diane in 2010 when she came to Denver to talk about her new book, THE DEATH AND LIFE OF THE GREAT AMERICAN SCHOOL SYSTEM, which has since become the definitive history of recent public education in the United States. Since that time, I have had several opportunities to further our friendship. She is a champion of public education. If you want to know what is happening in public education, her blog is a must read. She has access to more information than imaginable and she makes it readily available.
Diane has been supportive of me as I have moved into the blogosphere. So, it is with particular humility and appreciation that I note she has posted my first blog of a few weeks ago. You may have read it already, but I risk redundancy because her role and influence in this fight is so important and because for me personally her support is so meaningful. With most sincere thanks to Diane Ravitch.
On to THIS WEEK IN DENVER
On Wednesday, July 9, I had the opportunity to see and hear President Obama in my neighborhood park. This is the park where my children played on the playground, my dogs have frolicked and walked for over 30 years, where I still walk several times a week. As cynical as one can become over politics and as many times as I have heard Presidents in person, seeing the leader of our country in person is still quite a moving occasion. Especially in your own neighborhood park!
While I was listening to Mr. Obama, I felt great sadness for him. I do believe he wants to bridge the inequities he sees across this nation, and I support most of his policies. However, there is one particular policy that I cannot for the life of me understand and that is, of course, his education policy. He did not address educational issues other than to show support for early childhood education.
Coincidentally, a few days before the President’s appearance in “my” park the nation’s largest education union, the National Education Association (NEA), wrapped up its annual convention in Denver. This often toothless organization passed a resolution asking for the resignation of Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. While outgoing NEA president Dennis Van Roekel said the vote was close, he went on to cite the two primary reasons for such displeasure with Duncan: 1) teacher evaluations based on high-stakes testing (ironic and appropriate that this anti-Duncan vote should occur in Colorado where thanks to Senate Bill 10-191, 50% of teacher evaluations are based on test scores. This is the highest percentage in the nation.) and, 2) Duncan’s very vocal support of the recent Vergara decision which ruled teacher tenure somehow deprived students of their right to an equal education and violated their civil rights.
The New York Times account of the NEA convention characterized this vote as “a watershed between the Democratic Party and teachers’ unions.” While citing recent rifts between teacher unions and the Democratic Party, the paper gave the longest reaction space to neither union nor party spokesperson. Instead it gave the largest amount of ink to Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER). Note the word “Democrats” in the organization’s title. Also note that DFER is one of the strongest supporters of Arne Duncan’s, therefore President Obama’s, national educational policies. Finally, note that DFER was created by and continues to be funded by numerous hedge fund founders, not your usual Democratic voters. Might regular voters’ and hedge funders’ priorities be at odds? Who are the really influential policy makers when it comes to public education?
Mr. Williams is the quintessential education “reformer.” He does not believe in unions. He insults educators. Just read his quote: “The Democratic Party used to outsource its education policy to the NEA. The Duncan vote made them [NEA] look like the lunatic fringe. It’s not exactly the way you convince the public that you’ve got a good credible idea.” Says who? How many professional educators has Mr. Williams actually ever talked to? Does Mr. Williams believe real Democrats are anti teacher and anti-union? And most importantly, does Mr. Williams really believe what he is supporting is helping to educate children?
The call for Mr. Duncan’s resignation is a good sign. It shows courage and it shows that perhaps public school teachers are finally mad as hell and don’t want to be bullied and victimized any more. And the fact that this occurred in the state with the harshest teacher evaluations in place should not go unnoticed.