I was going to to a synopsis of this article out of the Washington Post (yeah, I seem to be going there a lot lately) but I think that I need to just share my bare-bones reaction to it. Please enjoy staff writer Perry Bacon Jr.’s piece on Obama’s education tour.

President Obama continued his new push for education reform in a speech here Tuesday, the second in a series of education events the White House is planning over the next month.

For readers who are unaware, the federal government actually had little to nothing to do with American public school education. Most education policy is determined at the state and local level, and any policies enacted at the federal level are either to determine how funding is distributed to take some kind of (impotent) stance on how education should be run.

Standing in front of the blue “Winning the Future” banner that now appears at almost all of his events, Obama called for increased funding for education, arguing the United States needs a better-educated workforce to ensure it remains economically competitive.

I cannot explain in clear enough terms how exceptionally retarded this slogan is. Winning the future is akin to trying to hold the ocean in a bucket, you can’t do it because you a) don’t have the tools necessary and b) don’t know how much  you are really dealing with. Additionally, if you are looking for a better educated workforce you are going to have to push more than reading and math. This is going to require a drastic overhaul of American education, an overhaul that the federal government can only suggest is necessary.

In his appearance at a gym at TechBoston Academy, an innovative school for students in grades 6 to 12, he specifically proposed a competitive grant program that would reward money to companies that have the best ideas for using computer software and other technologies in education.

Defending his goal to increase education spending as many in Washington focus on the budget deficit, Obama said, “There’s nothing responsible about cutting back on investments in these young people.”

Two things: 1) Obama talks about rewarding money to companies that come up with good educational technology ideas, and 2) It is difficult to discuss cutting back on education funding at the federal level when the majority of education funding occurs at the state level. Better to talk about how there is nothing responsible about cutting back on investments in the standard of living for the poor, elderly, or abused…but I guess that doesn’t fit in to the pretty education discussion that draws attention away from the ugly decisions yet to come that lose elections.

And please, let’s give companies more money. That would be great.

The Obama administration is pushing for a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind law by the end of the year, as well as increased funding for education in the 2012 federal budget. It’s unclear if either goal will be accomplished; Republicans in Congress are trying to cut funding in education and other programs for the rest of the 2011 budget and have given little indication they would support increased money in the near future.

And No Child Left Behind, the federal education law that passed with support from both Democrats and Republicans in 2002, has not been embraced by some of the new conservative members of Congress, who argue it has given the federal government too large of a role in education policy.

I have to side with the Republicans here. Until there is a constitutional amendment which guarantees fair and equal education to all citizens the federal government has been pushing its limits on what it can mandate that schools do. They have gotten around it by saying it is a way to determine who received different forms of funding, but really more needs to be done to insure that certain states (I’m looking at you Indiana, Florida, and Arizona) don’t run their public education systems into the ground in favor of charter and private schools.

“This year, we’re going to have to work with Congress to fix No Child Left Behind,” Obama said here. “We’re going to replace it with a law that does a better job focusing on responsibility, reform and most of all, results.”

Although he has sharply distanced himself from his predecessor on most issues, Obama is promoting an agenda on education very similar to that of former President George W. Bush.

The centerpiece of No Child Left Behind, annual testing of students in reading and math, is backed by the Obama administration, even though many teachers and parents have complained about the testing component since the law’s creation in 2002.

Other Bush policies now in Obama’s education blueprint are strict accountability for schools, including replacing principals and staff if their students consistently perform poorly on standardized tests; strong support for charter schools; and greater efforts to closely evaluate teachers.

I am going to punch the next politician who alludes to schools being factories that need to put out results. I will keep saying this until someone listens: Teachers are not the only force working on students to produce “results.” This focus on bad teachers and the effort to more closely evaluate teachers is ignoring the more important (and more sensitive) problem of the home-life of the American student. But don’t come into my house and tell me how to raise my kids! It’s much easier and less messy to punish the people who are underpaid and under appreciated for the fact that students only show up 3 days a week to school underfed, tired, and with no homework completed. GIVE US RESULTS DAMMIT!!

On another very basic level the testing emphasis of our present system teaches students to be ready for very definite questions in a controlled setting, two conditions which rarely exist in the workforce or even in real life. Teachers and parents are complaining about the testing component for good reason: it emphasizes basic memorization and neglects critical thinking and individuality. But hey, it gives us neat percentages and RESULTS!!!one!!!11!!

But Obama wants to change the law in ways that would reduce the number of schools defined as “failing” and target funding for persistently low-performing schools.

Yes, please, let’s find a way to inflate yet another grading system. No one should fail! Everyone is a winner! That shitty school in inner-city Phoenix is just a special snowflake in need of special care and not an intellectual wasteland in need of serious social and structural reform. Let’s throw more money at it too. If we dress it up in dollar signs no one will notice that nothing has changed.

In Boston, Obama avoided getting these kinds of details. Instead, before his formal speech, he toured the school with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Melinda Gates, the wife of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. The couple’s non-profit foundation has donated money to TechBoston, which gives each student a laptop and requires them to take four years of math, science and technology classes.

TechBoston, like the Miami high school visited by Obama last week, is a school with a high percentage of low-income and minority students that is improving test scores and outperforming other schools in its city.

“I wanted to come to TechBoston so the rest of American could see how its done,” Obama said.

Good job Obama. You saw how things are done at a school that requires an application and targets high-performing low-income and minority students. Because they are poor and black/brown it makes it extra impressive that the school is so awesome, right?  “Look at what these poor, minority students are doing. This school must be miraculous if they are producing these kids of results!”  How disgusting is something like that coming from our first African American president. Those innovative techniques and high grades and impressive improvements are all a result of stacking the deck with students who want to be there and have the aptitude to perform at technological subjects such as math or science. Plus it’s easy to see if they are minorities. Too bad you don’t dare venture into an actual inner-city school who is trying to get it done and has to accept every member of the unwashed masses who walk through the door. Blowing the shofar for charter and specialty schools only works so long as no one notices that not every student is allowed to go there. If they were, the school would become as average as your typical public school and would have to offer a wider array of subject to cater to the more intellectually diverse population.

Someone is running for re-election, and as long as he can keep saying “winning” and “children” and “future” and “education” he has something to lean on that will counter “lower taxes!” and “He’s a Muslim!” As long as he visits the best and brightest “public” schools (and I use that term lightly, if it requires an application or a wait list it isn’t purely public) and doesn’t highlight the Real American Schools (Real America TM, Sarah Palin 2008) we can avoid the hard truth: that the real system that is broken in our country isn’t our government, it is the system that is responsible for our youth. Unfortunately no one is willing to sacrifice their political capital to fix it. Better to just throw the teachers out with the bathwater, to send the kids who can hack it to charter or private schools with vouchers, and the kids who would muck up the system were just going to work at McDonald’s anyway right? Sounds good.

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