The Obama Phlogiston Theory of Education: Love Teachers, Tolerate Unions, and, Dismiss Teacher Contracts.

The avalanche of stimulus funding will obviate the need for teacher layoffs and begin to drive incredible amounts of dollars to Duncan’s favorite projects. On the philanthropy side the Gates Foundation will be supporting much of the same agenda.
At his Town Hall meeting Obama restated his views on education, carefully noting creating reforms with teachers and at an Oval Office meeting directly engaged a teacher on the question of incompetent teachers.
Arguably the most animated and substantial exchange was between the president and a longtime teacher from Overbrook High School in West Philadelphia …  he could not get the teacher to answer when he asked whether in her 15 years on the job she has encountered colleagues who she would not want to teach her own children.

“My point is that if we’ve done everything we can to improve teacher pay and teacher performance and training and development, some people just aren’t meant to be teachers, just like some people aren’t meant to be carpenters, some people aren’t meant to be nurses. At some point, they’ve got to find a new career,” he said.

Barack, the friend of teachers, is smoothly reaching out a hand to teachers, slickly arguing his case, and laying out his “theory” of school improvement.

The Obama riff:

  • Charter Schools, usually operating outside the restraints of teacher contracts,
  • Performance pay, in lieu of, or, in addition to traditional seniority based salary schedules,
  • Data systems to track pupil achievement and teacher value-added, aka, teacher performance
  • Teacher dismissal procedures, hopefully negotiated, that include student performance data and are relatively quick and easy.

The only way to achievement these goals on a local basis is with a strong mayor who is in total control of the education bureaucracy, especially school governance, to drive the policy, and, not surprisingly Obama/Duncan support mayoral control in New York City.

Randi Weingarten, the AFT/UFT leader tries to thwart the increasingly vigorous attacks on unions, expressed in an op ed in the NY Daily News .

The teacher unions are faced with a dilemma, they endorsed and enthusiastically supported Obama in his campaign, the stimulus package averted devastating teacher layoffs: the trade off, a range of “reforms” that fly in the face of long entrenched teacher union values.

The Obama/Duncan dicta largely parallels the Klein/Sharpton Education Equality Project philosophy, and this weekend Bloomberg and DC’s Mayor Fenty will gather at a high profile conference to espouse, and probably gloat over their political successes.

The new reform orthodoxy is eerily tracks to the Madoff scandal, and, a must read Education Week op ed, scarily, makes the comparisons,

Those of us deeply involved in reforming science and mathematics education, and who might once have wanted to believe in the potential of testing as a blunt but necessary instrument of reform, are now forced to come to grips with the full implications of the tests’ insensitivity to instruction in a way that vastly diminishes the role we can hope them to have as instruments of reform. We were wrong to help sell the idea of placing so much trust in institutions that, in retrospect, stood to benefit the most monetarily from our continued willingness to suspend disbelief.

One slide of a DOE powerpoint, as usual praising themselves, has a fascinating data point,

Only 54.7% of 8th grade students with an ELA state exam score of 3.0 (proficient) graduate in four years.

Additionally, NYS is incrementally increasing the “passing” score on Regents exams from “55” to “65,” the 2008 9th grade entering class will need grades of “65” on all their Regents exams. Some are predicting graduating rate spiraling downwards and are concerned whether students are college ready (conference here).

The Obama theory of education reform increasingly resembles the theories about the “element” phlogiston, a widely accepted theory of combustion, it was popular, complex, scientifically supported, and, wrong.


One response to “The Obama Phlogiston Theory of Education: Love Teachers, Tolerate Unions, and, Dismiss Teacher Contracts.

  1. This is a good post. Merit-based pay is without question one of Obama’s most controversial policies.

    What do you think of his plans for education reform?

    Why not let Obama himself know? Now you can. Visit EDVOTERS.ORG and sign the petition to the President.


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