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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Obama really doesn't understand what tecahers want and need

From Mike Klonsky's small talk blog

Obama's horrible interview with Savannah Guthrie

"When I’m in the White House, I’ll put on a comfortable pair of shoes myself. I’ll walk on that picket line with you as POTUS, because workers deserve to know that somebody’s standing in their court." -- Barack Obama in 2007

Pres.Obama's response to Savannah Guthrie's Education Nation interview questions left me cold -- literally sent a chill down my spine. I had no expectations that he would offer anything beyond the usual empty platitudes about the historic Chicago teachers strike. Those -- "I'll put on my walking shoes" to protect collective bargaining rights -- days are long gone, especially now that big-city Democrats are replacing Tea Party governors in the vanguard of the war against public employee unions. Instead, the president gives us something right out of Rahm Emanuel's current TV ads, which are being underwritten by DFER hedge-funders.

"Teachers have embraced merit pay."

After some double-talk and a few rhetorical bones thrown to AFT and NEA leaders about not relying "completely" on standardized tests (only mainly on them), Obama tells us with a straight face that "teachers have embraced the idea of merit pay." Is he serious? Did he even read the papers about Chicago and how 30,000 city teachers united like fingers in a fist to beat back Rahm's failed merit-pay mandate?

But what really chilled me about the Guthrie interview, was the way Obama talked about education funding, sounding more like a Gates Foundation program officer deciding which of Bill's favorite projects to fund, rather than the President of the United States.

“We’re going to give more money to those schools that are serious about reform but we’re not going to let people make excuses and suggest that it’s just a money problem.”

Yes, he said it. Those states and school districts that go along with Race To The Top will receive funding for their schools. The rest will go hungry. Serious about reform of course, means among other things, de-funding and closing resource-starved inner-city public schools, replacing them with privately managed charters, firing thousands of teachers, and relying more and more on standardized tests all the way down to kindergarten, as the main way evaluate schools and teachers.

Then came the topper, at least for me. Obama's scripted response included the old "no excuses" line, referring to issues of poverty and the connection between the nation's growing poverty and poor school performance. The nation's poverty rate has risen from 12.5 percent in 2007 to 15.1 percent. The current rate is the highest since 1993. The latest data reveals103 million poor and near-poor in the U.S., and six million with no income other than food stamps, while billionaires and corporations (the real "welfare queens") are given huge tax breaks. Poverty is not only having a destructive impact on public education -- 1 in every 4 persons living in poverty are young children -- Sen. Bernie Sanders calls it a "death sentence" cutting years off the life span of poor people. This is what Obama means by "excuses."

Thanks to one of the last great American liberals, Georgetown law prof Peter Edelman for speaking out on Obama's failure to even mention the "p" word these past four years. Edelman is one of my heroes for walking out of the Clinton administration in protest of Clinton's 1996 signing the so-called Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, a bill which blamed those in poverty for not working. It was a precursor to Mitt Romney's diatribe against the 47%. Now, more than a decade later, as states try and amend the bill, it's Romney who is it's strongest defender.

In his book, So Rich, So Poor, Edelman writes that the president's "emphasis on the middle class with infrequent references to those at the bottom dismayed me."

It continues to dismay a lot of us.

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