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Posts tagged ‘President Obama’

What would you tell the president about education in America?

What if you got a chance to sit down with President Barack Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan over lunch. What would you tell them about what’s happening in your classrooms and what they should be doing about education policy in the U.S?

Would you tell them about the overuse of standardized testing? The difficulties of teaching? How to improve the profession? Poverty? Students coming to school hungry?

Four teachers recently got the opportunity to share their concerns. Read about their experience and what they told the president in the Education Week article – “President Obama asks teachers for help with education policy. What did they tell him?”

Obama Likely to Address Early Education Tonight

President Obama Photo by Robert Couse-Baker.

President Obama may introduce a new early-childhood education proposal in his State of Union speech tonight. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker via Flickr.

President Obama will give his State of the Union address at 9:00 tonight, and Education Week and The Huffington Post are reporting he is likely to announce an investment in early-childhood education. Education Week reporter Alyson Klein writes, “Advocates are expecting some sort of policy proposal, even though the president isn’t likely to have a lot of new money for a big, new initiative.”

Quality early education is one of the priorities that NEA President Dennis Van Roekel has asked President Obama to address. In a letter he sent President Obama Friday, Van Roekel outlined policy priorities he hopes the president will focus on in his State of the Union speech. These priority areas also include affordable higher education, measures to prevent gun violence and ensure school and campus safety, and continued economic recovery, bolstered by increased investments in education and other programs that spur economic growth.

Van Roekel wrote,

NEA members, who live and work in almost every community in this great nation, share the optimism, yet lingering concern, of most Americans. Our members still see the impact of the troubled economy as their students continue to come to school hungry, sick or in need of counseling and other services. We try every day to mitigate the isolation and depression that so many students feel due to bullying, cultural and language differences within their schools, difficult family environments, and more. We see parents every day who worry about whether their jobs are secure and how they will afford to send their children—our students—to college.

Will you be watching the State of the Union tonight? What do you think President Obama should address?

American Jobs Act Would Keep Teachers in the Classroom

This morning President Obama stood with teachers, veterans, small business owners, construction workers and first responders, as he called on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act.

Standing with me this morning are men and women who will be helped by the American Jobs Act. I’m standing with teachers. All across America, teachers are being laid off in droves — which is unfair to our kids, it undermines our future, and it is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing if we want our kids to be college-ready and then prepared for the jobs of the 21st century. We’ve got to get our teachers back to work. Let’s pass this bill and put them in the classroom where they belong.

The president wants to invest $30 billion to rebuild and modernize aging public schools and community colleges. He proposes an additional $30 billion to keep hundreds of thousands of educators in the classroom.

NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, We’ve heard from our members across the country as they have been returning to school. They are seeing overcrowded classes, and teachers are concerned about how they can provide every student with a well-rounded education when so many programs have been cut.”

Besides directly helping schools, Van Roekel said, the jobs plan will improve the education of America’s students because “unemployment isn’t just an economic issue — it’s an education issue. Our members have seen first hand the devastating impact unemployment is having on our communities and our schools. Too many of our students are coming to schools hungry and without the basic supplies they need as moms and dads struggle to make ends meet.”

Connecticut’s senators and congressional delegation will hopefully be supporting the Jobs Bill, but it’s still important that they hear from you on this important legislation. You can customize the message provided by NEA to send to your senators and representative here.

NEA Delegates Vote to Endorse President Obama

Delegates at the 2011 NEA RA.

Many Connecticut teachers are grateful to President Barack Obama for keeping class sizes from ballooning and preserving their jobs in recent years through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  They’re not alone, as evidenced today in Chicago as NEA teacher leaders from across the country voted to get behind President Obama in his bid for re-election in 2012.

NEA’s Annual Meeting and Representative Assembly (RA) is being held in Chicago.  On July 4, it’s where teacher delegates voted on a recommendation from NEA’s Political Action Committee to support President Obama. “President Barack Obama shares our vision for a stronger America,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of NEA.  “He has never wavered from talking about the importance of education or his dedication to a vibrant middle class.” Watch an excerpt of Van Roekel’s speech here.

Read the latest headlines from the NEA RA here, or follow the RA on Facebook. On Twitter use the hashtag #neara11.

On July 3, Vice President Joe Biden met with the 9,000 teachers at the RA in Chicago.   He lambasted what he called an increasingly union-hostile “new” Republican party, raising  the specter of high-profile labor fights picked by Republican governors with public workers unions across the country.

  “There is an organized effort to place blame for budget shortfalls on educators and other public workers. It is one of the biggest scams in modern American history,” Biden said. 
Listen to more of his speech below.

Obama on Obama

Last week President Obama seemed to have reverted to a position on testing that was at the heart of why so many educators supported his candidacy. In a town hall-style meeting last week, in response to a question from a high school student, “Could you reduce the amount of testing?”,  the president offered the following:

Well, I think probably what you’re referring to are standardized tests — because if you’re just talking about your math or your science or your English test, tough luck — (laughter) — you’ve got to keep on taking those tests, because that’s part of the way that teachers are going to know whether you’re making progress and whether you understand the subject matter.

What is true, though, is that we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at. Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.

Too often what we’ve been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we’ve said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well. Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.

So what I want to do is — one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you’re not learning about the world; you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not earning about math. All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test.

And that’s not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.

I like what I hear. There’s only one problem: it puts the president at odds with his Secretary of Education, his Department of Education, and his education policies thus far, namely “Race to the Top” and his proposed “Blueprint for Education” — the administration’s roadmap for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, aka NCLB. It’s a pretty clear statement of what he wants for his own kids and what they get at Sidwell Friends. We should hold his feet to the fire to ensure that what’s good for President Obama’s children is good for all of America’s children.

This position puts him in closer alignment with the  Broader, Bolder Approach to Education folks and makes the Standardistas  apoplectic, including staff at the DoE who are scrambling to reconcile the difference between words spoken and policy promulgated. For an interesting discussion of all this, see Anthony Cody’s blog posts on the Department of Education’s response.

Obama Knows Best, Part One: How Should we Assess Learning?

Obama Knows Best, Part 2: “Too Often we are Using These Tests to Punish Students or Schools.”

Also, check out this followup in today’s New York Times: Bloggers Challenge President on Standardized Testing.

Signs of A Truce in the War on Teachers?

Last week NEA, AFT, and Secretary Duncan announced plans for a joint labor-management summit early next year to talk about collaboration in pursuit of education reform.  Certainly not a tipping point, but a welcome relief from the seemingly endless focus on ineffective teachers, “jobs for life”, and the infamous “Rubber Room” in New York City.

Perhaps the expressions of outrage from teachers and others are having an impact on the administration. I am not so sure. In any event, collaborative or interest-based bargaining is not a new concept. Anyone who has been involved in it knows that the most important ingredient is trust.  And secondly, if one party or the other comes to the table with a pre-conceived agenda, the likelihood of success is severely diminished.

It will take more than a summit to earn the trust of America’s teachers after Mr. Duncan’s unchecked enthusiasm for the firing of the entire staff of Central High School in Rhode Island and the unprecedented release of a Value Added Assessment analysis ranking and naming thousands of teachers in Los Angeles.  The LA Times used teachers as a lever to push the school administration to change its teacher evaluation system and fire more teachers.

Since Arne Duncan’s appointment, the ascendant views controlling the education reform narrative have been those of a handful of billionaires and an equally small number of high-profile urban superintendents. Add to this a more than receptive media, ever willing to make a clarion call for sweeping America’s schools clean of ineffective teachers, and you have a recipe for increased alienation among America’s hard-working teachers.

It is time for teachers to rise up from the stultifying impact of an ill-conceived law and reassert their right to be at the table. The Obama administration, whether intentionally or not, has contributed to the increasingly popular notion that all of America’s current ills can be remedied within the schoolhouse walls. The recent “manifesto”, issued by Michelle Rhee and Chancellor Klein along with a number of urban superintendents in the Washington Post,  is yet the latest manifestation of the “ineffective teachers are the problem” mantra.

Consider this statement from the Manifesto:  “As President Obama has emphasized, the single most important factor determining whether students succeed in school is not the color of their skin or their ZIP code or even their parents’ income — it is the quality of their teacher.” [emphasis added]

Their proposal begins with a deeply flawed premise.

Richard Rothstein, who holds a very different view, responded to this assertion:

It has become conventional in educational policy discussion to assert that “research shows” that “teachers are the most important influence on student achievement.” There is, in fact, no serious research that shows any such thing. The assertion results from a careless glide from “teachers being the most important in-school influence,” to teachers being the most important influence overall. But because school effects on average levels of achievement are smaller than the effects of families and communities, even if teachers were the largest school effect, they would not be a very big portion of the overall effect. A child with an average teacher who comes from a literate, economically secure, and stable family environment will, on average, have better achievement than a child with a superior teacher but with none of these contextual advantages. Of course, some children from impoverished backgrounds will outperform typical children from literate and secure backgrounds, but on average, the extent to which children come to school prepared to take advantage of what school has to offer is a more important predictor than what even the best school can do.

Nicholas Lemann wrote recently in the New Yorker:

It should raise questions when an enormous, complicated realm of life takes on the characteristics of a stock drama. In the current school-reform story, there is a reliable villain, in the form of the teachers’ unions, and a familiar set of heroes, including Geoffrey Canada, of Harlem Children’s Zone; Wendy Kopp, of Teach for America, the Knowledge Is Power Program; and Michelle Rhee, the superintendent of schools in Washington, D.C. And there is a clear answer to the problem—charter schools.

He concludes that:

We have a moral obligation to be precise about what the problems in American education are—like subpar schools for poor and minority children—and to resist heroic ideas about what would solve them, if those ideas don’t demonstrably do that.

So I don’t see peace breaking out all over – far from it – but there are glimmers of hope.

New School Year Brings Both Hope and Uncertainty

I’ve laid low this summer, mostly watching the long drawn out run up to final passage of the so-called EduJobs bill in the Senate.  Secretary Duncan has kept his promise of moving swiftly to get the money out and posted a simple application earlier this week, but governors still sit in the driver’s seat.

Yesterday Governor M. Jodi Rell formally ap­plied for the $110.4 million coming to Connecticut. The money will be dedicated primarily to maintaining current staffing levels and avoiding layoffs. NEA estimates this could save 1,500 jobs in Connecticut. The State Department of Education expects the funds to be disbursed to Connecticut in early September.

State officials decided to use the same formula used to distribute Educational Cost Sharing dollars to disperse the Education Jobs money.   Click here to find out how much your town will receive.

Connecticut, as you know, did not make the final cut for Race to the Top (RTTT) funding affirming misgivings that Commissioner McQuillan and many others have had all along regarding the efficacy of yet another federal education program that creates winners and losers. Secretary Duncan believes that RTTT has already been a great success since it has caused so many states to do wonderful things in pursuit of innovative reform. I disagree. Most states made these changes because they were the price of entry. Or, in some cases, states saw this as an opportunity to run ramshod over teachers and their unions. Fortunately, changes made in Connecticut were achieved through consensus.

On July 30 Commissioner McQuillan sent a letter to Senator Dodd expressing his concern with the shifts from formula driven distribution of federal education dollars to competitive grants in the Obama “Blueprint for Education”.  Similar, but broader, concerns were raised recently by a coalition of civil rights organizations including the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, NAACP, the National Urban League, Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the National Council for Educating Black Children, and the Schott Foundation for Public Education.

In a press conference organized by the Lawyers Committee just prior to the annual convention of the Urban League the coalition released a 17 page document, “Framework for Providing All Students an Opportunity to Learn Through Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.” Apparently, according to Washington Post blogger, Valerie Strauss, the administration had been meeting with civil rights groups for several weeks prior to the release to attempt to deal with their concerns. To their credit, these groups decided to release the document anyway. Neither President Obama, nor his education secretary showed any signs of retreat from their positions on charter schools, or competition as a vehicle to leverage reform in separate appearances before the Urban League delegates.

So why is this important? For me the statement brings the civil rights community closer to the positions espoused by the “Broader, Bolder, Approach” coalition. While some have criticized these civil rights groups for having the temerity to criticize our first black president, they have missed the point: this is a debate that is vital to the future of public education in the United States and, with increasing dissent over many elements of the Obama Blueprint, it looks like it may happen after all. Are you ready to participate?

Some recommended reading (with an admitted bias):

A New Vision for Education (Nation June 14, 2010)

Why I Changed My Mind by Diane Ravitch (Nation June 14, 2010)

Restoring Our Schools by Linda Darling Hammond (Nation June 14, 2010)

The Black White achievement Gap: When Progress Stopped by Paul E. Barton and Richard J. Coley (ETS White Paper July 2010)

There’s No Such Thing as a Reading Test by E.D. Hirsch and Robert Pondiscio (The American Prospect June 13, 2010)

False Impression: How a Widely Cited Study Vastly Overstates the Benefits of Charter Schools by Marco Basile (Economic Policy Institute August 9, 2010)

Sanctions v. Incentives: False Choice for Teachers?

It is great that CEA has asked teachers why they chose to teach.  It is an important question to ask, particularly given the shroud of cynicism surrounding the profession going back to the release of A Nation at Risk, and reaching a high point in the first term of George Bush. Teachers need to share their stories to put a face back on our profession.

These are big questions. Why do people choose to teach? What are the circumstances that cause them to stay in teaching? And particularly pertinent to the current engine of reform – increasing teacher effectiveness – what motivates teachers to improve?

NCLB was, and continues to be, the “stick without the carrot” approach to motivating a workforce. Now we are embarking on what may well prove to be an excessive reliance on the “carrot,” particularly if the pay for performance crowd prevails.

In preparation for this next era of federal intrusion, we ought to be asking the next question: “What keeps you in teaching?” Not that we haven’t asked before: we have. If James Carville were writing this he’d probably say, “It’s the working conditions STUPID.”  And I’m not talking simply about “wages, hours, and conditions of employment.”  Rather, in addition to these, that complex amalgam of conditions  which enhance a teacher’s ability to become increasingly more effective. You know what I am talking about.

The merit pay narrative relies on a powerful mythology about how workers in all other sectors of the economy are paid and what motivates  them to perform.  Recent (and also not so recent) research debunks these myths.

The latest edition of Harvard Business Review offers 10 Breakthrough Ideas for 2010.  The first breakthrough idea is about motivation:  What Really Motivates Workers: Understanding the Power of Progress.  Teresa M. Amabile and Steven J. Kramer “reveal what their research shows is the true key to employee motivation.” Among the findings from their analysis of nearly 12,000 diary entries by knowledge workers who made daily ratings of their motivation and emotions, progress in one’s work – even incremental progress – is most frequently associated with positive emotions and high motivation. The authors further indicate that “The key to motivation doesn’t depend on elaborate incentive systems. In fact, the people in our study rarely mentioned  incentives in their diaries.”

Another interesting finding that has some resonance for me is that those who manage these workers, when asked what they thought most powerfully motivated their employees, got it wrong.

Ask leaders what they think makes employees enthusiastic about work, and they’ll tell you in no uncertain terms. In a recent survey we invited more than 600 managers from dozens of companies to rank the impact on employee motivation and emotions of five workplace factors commonly considered significant: recognition, incentives, interpersonal support, support for making progress, and clear goals. “Recognition for good work (either public or private)” came out number one.

In the study, the knowledge workers ranked recognition low among the factors motivating their performance. Wait a minute, didn’t President Obama and Secretary Duncan recently say that “recognizing and rewarding teachers” will be a major driver in their proposal to revamp ESEA?  In fact, they have proposed a whopping quadrupling of the monies in the Teacher Incentive Fund. Could they possibly be barking up the wrong tree in the quest to improve teacher effectiveness?  It wouldn’t be the first time.

Consider the notion of progress. What has been the biggest criticism of Adequate Yearly Progress? The goal keeps moving – making the achievement of progress increasingly difficult until it reaches a point of impossibility. Is it any wonder that gradually, over the last decade, teachers find themselves in an existential vacuum? Anthony Mullen, one of the more articulate and thoughtful National Teachers of the Year, and also a CEA member, alluded to this recently in his blog Road Diaries (see the posting Teacher Tales).

Here’s one more recommendation as you think about what it is that motivates teachers and if we are out of line with the worldview of our brothers and sisters in the private sector. Check out the recent work of Daniel Pink, who recently published a book called “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motives Us.”  As Publisher’s Weekly puts it, “Pink cites a dizzying number of studies revealing that carrot and stick can actually significantly reduce the ability of workers to produce creative solutions to problems.”

Below watch Dan Pink explaining some of his ideas on motivation in an interesting and entertaining presentation from

President Obama Addresses Students

At noon today President Obama addressed America’s students.  If you missed his remarks, you can read them here or watch them below.

In his speech Obama told students that if they want to be successful, they must take responsibility for getting the most out of their educations.

“No one’s written your destiny for you,” Obama said. “Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.”

President Obama to Speak Directly to Students

by Pete Souza, official White House photographer

by Pete Souza, official White House photographer

On Tuesday, September 8, President Barack Obama will deliver a national address directly to the nation’s students on the importance of education. He will challenge students to work hard, set goals, and take responsibility for their learning.

The address will be broadcast live over the White House website – – at 12PM eastern standard time. An e-mail invitation is being sent from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to every school principal in the country asking them to have their school participate in the broadcast.

The National Education Association has been asked to work with the White House to both promote this event and create materials that will support student participation.

This will be the first time any U.S. President has undertaken such an ambitious outreach effort to speak directly to America’s young people. Please help make this effort a success.