I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Obama's Education Policies Will Alienate His Base

Charles Blow explains how Obama won:
President Obama and his formidable campaign machine out-performed the Republicans, holding together a winning coalition that is the face of America’s tomorrow: young voters, urban voters, racially and ethnically diverse voters and women voters.
According to exit polls, Obama won 60 percent of the 18 to 29 year old vote and 52 percent of the 30-40 vote. He won 69 percent of the vote in big cities and 58 percent of the vote in mid-sized cities. He won 93 percent of the black vote and more than 70 percent of both the Asian vote and the Hispanic vote. He won over half of the female vote. And he won 76 percent of the gay, lesbian and bisexual vote. 
Mitt Romney won the white vote, the male vote, the elderly vote, the small cities vote and the high-income vote.
The base of Democratic support in this country is expanding. The Republican base is shrinking, becoming more racially homogenous, more rural and older. [emphasis mine]
Everyone get that? Obama won because urban voters, minority voters, and women voters went to the polls for him. And that base is expanding.

Now, you would think that the Democratic Party would look at this and say: "Hey, let's make sure we have policies that appeal to these groups! Let's have an education policy, for example, that empowers parents in cities to control their schools just like parents in the 'burbs. Let's adequately fund urban schools, and ensure that those schools have deep, rich curricula. Let's keep testing under control by removing the high stakes NCLB and RTTT linked to them; that way testing takes on no greater importance than it deserves. And let's not make more segregated schools, a huge problem in America right now."

Yes, you would think that Obama would take this course. You'd be wrong:
I conclude that, as with the Vietnam War, eventually some combination of unrelenting organized opposition and the weight of the failure of the policy itself will eventually bring the folly to an end… but not before inflicting considerable damage on students and their teachers.  President Obama, what education legacy do you want to leave?
In a recent interview for NBC’s “Education Nation” President Obama said, “You know, I’m a big proponent of charter schools, for example. I think that pay-for-performance makes sense in some situations.” Later in the interview, he said,  “What we have to do is combine creativity and evidence-based approaches. So let’s not use ideology, let’s figure out what works, and figure out how we scale it up.”
 I want to believe the president’s statement about ideology.  But, frankly, I am not reassured. What logic and evidence is behind his support for scaling-up charter schools, merit pay, or for sanctions that require the firing of administrators at struggling schools typically inhabited by poverty-stricken students?  Mr. President, are you open to the possibility that maybe your assumptions are wrong?
That's Arthur H. Camins, who goes on to give a pretty good list of what Obama wants to do to our school systems, and how nearly all of it is contradicted by the evidence. And there's no indication this is going to change in Obama's second term; the fact that Arne Duncan, an incoherent mess of a Secretary of Education, is going to stay on for another four years is all the proof anyone needs that Obama is going to stay the course.

Now, some of this is going to affect the entire nation: teacher-based standardized testing, for example, will hit the 'burbs as well as the cities (though not with the same impact - more later). But I contend that the vast number of these "reforms" are really targeted toward schools whose student populations are mostly minorities and/or mostly in poverty.

Take charter schools. We had a big fight in the Jersey last year about charters encroaching on excellent suburban public school systems. The parents in these towns did not want boutique charters coming in and diluting the public schools they had paid a premium (through housing prices) to have their children attend. NJDOE Commissioner Chris Cerf admitted he had changed his philosophy on this after he experienced that push-back.

But he had no such qualms about shoving charters down Newark's throat, even against the objections of both the duly elected school board and many angry parents. As reprehensible as I may find this attitude, it makes political sense: Cerf and his boss, Chris Christie, don't care about alienating urban and minority voters, because they were never going to vote for Christie anyway.

What I can't understand is why a Democratic "rising star" like Cory Booker would want to alienate those very same voters. And why would Barack Obama alienate the very people who put him into office both terms - a base that continues to grow.

Of course, the reformy answer is simple: "But charter schools are popular! Parents love choices! Expanding charter schools will actually please the Democratic base! Look at Georgia and Amendment 1: black parents were big supporters because they want charters!"

But there's a problem with this argument: charter schools only admit some students. I know Jon Alter doesn't want to believe that could possibly be true about his beloved KIPP schools, and that Tom Moran would rather not think about the issue. But the fact is "successful"charters do not serve the same student population as their neighboring public schools.

As Bruce Baker puts it:
So who cares? Well, it matters a great deal for policy implications whether the effect is created by concentrating less poor, English speaking females in a given school or by actually providing substantively better curriculum/instruction.  The latter might be scalable but the FORMER IS NOT! There just aren’t enough non-poor girls in Newark to create (or expand) a whole bunch of these schools!
We are right at the beginning of the charter movement, and we aren't yet at critical mass in most places around the country. What happens when the number of students who can be served by charters (as Bruce says, "less poor, English speaking females") tops out? Will the large number of parents whose kids can't get into "successful" charters be well-served by this policy? Are they going to be a motivated base for the Democratic party when they see its leaders essentially giving up on teaching children who are very poor, don't speak English as a first language, or have special needs?

Again, we need to remember that we are still in the early stages of charter proliferation, and we haven't seen a large-scale wave of charter closings yet. The school system that Obama is touting will inevitably see many school closures; that's a feature, and not a bug. How will it sit with the new Democratic base when their children are being shuffled around to charters that open and close every few years? Especially when that base looks out at the 'burbs and sees a system of stable, well-funded public schools available for wealthier, white families, but not for them?

Because, even though Michael Petrilli dreams about it, charterization is not coming to the suburbs; New Jersey made that very clear. The suburban whites who voted for Prop 1240 in Washington knew it was only going to allow 40 schools; they also knew that none of those schools would be in Bellevue or Mercer Island.

Voting to put charters in other people's districts is a very different thing than allowing a charter to come into your own town and drain money away from your children's school. And I am telling you that there is no way people who spent lots of money to buy houses in districts with good schools will sit silently by while a boutique charter drains their tax base, causing their kids to lose AP courses, the football team, and the spring musical. It simply will not happen.

Which, in the end, will cause the burgeoning Democratic base to lose patience with its party on education. Contrary to some reports, people who live in cities are not stupid; they have eyes, and they know what goes on 10 or 20 miles down the road. They see white suburban families sending their kids to neighborhood public schools that have lots of electives and after school activities and small classes and rich curricula and mainstreaming for special needs children and no uniforms and no marching in the halls and technology that aids - not replaces - the faculty and experienced teachers and no merit pay and no TFAers and school boards that are responsive and no state control and no mayors who autocratically dictate school policy.

Those minority families and those urban dwellers are looking out at the suburbs. And, if they aren't now, they will soon be wondering: "If it's good enough for those people, why isn't it good enough for us? And why does Barack Obama and the Democratic Party think it's OK to have one system of schooling for the cities with big minority populations, and another system for everyone else?"

The Democratic Party is playing a very dangerous game here. They'd better hope it doesn't blow up in their faces.

Hey, what do I care? I won already, right fellas?


Unknown said...

Duke/Jazz: This is why I voted for the Socialist/Workers Party Candidate
James Harris...yes, I know it was a throw-away vote, but I did tell you in June that would not cast a vote for Obama. The NEA better get with it and start campaigning against Duncan..it would have been smart for NEA President Dennis Van Roekel to negotiate terms for the union's vote: Either get rid of Duncan or we will withold our endorsement. It might have been worth it...you never know...BO has been known to miss a good had when it was dealt to him.

BTW, I have friends in Georgia and they are in La-la land when it comes to this new Amendment. One of the provisions includes a "parent trigger" for a 90 day turnaround of a school into a charter if 51% of the parents sign a petition for the change. White Hat Management already has office space in Buckhead and DeKalb County...

Anonymous said...

There was an issue with the urban/suburban charter double standard in Florida.


St. Johns County has the best public school in the state based on state test scores. (Florida has a county-based school system.) FL Sen. John Thrasher (R) is a huge proponent of charters and many of the ed reforms. He was a chief sponsor of the merit pay law. He and a charter-supporting Democrat whose legislative districts run through the school district are worried about a charter chain coming to their area. Depending on where you live in the county, it is either a suburb of Jacksonville or its own big place. Thrasher doesn't want the charters in his backyard. He wants to send them to Jacksonville.