The president himself is batting a thousand in this regard. Having managed to reach adulthood without ever setting foot in an American public school, he’s ensured that his own kids escape that hideous fate as well. In Chicago, Sasha and Malia ‘did’ the University of Chicago Lab School. In D.C. they are tucked away at Sidwell Friends, alongside other children of the Washington political and social elite.
The children safely removed, Obama thundered cluelessly into the public education debate. His signature “Race to the Top” initiative is the centerpiece of the Obama education agenda. RTTP “incentivizes” the states to rank schools and teachers on the basis of students’ performance on standardized tests. RTTP says “scores go up, or else.” “Else” is — complicated legalisms and edu-jargon simplified — school closings, privatization and teacher firings. This is known as “high stakes testing” and it is a Heritage Foundation’s wet dream.
The alleged goal is to improve student outcomes. But people in the trenches will tell you that not only are outcomes not improved, but the program actually exacerbates all pre-existing forms of school dysfunction and corruption: bureaucracy, excessive paperwork, stultifying regulation, classroom micromanagement, fiscal mismanagement and generalized chaos.
Add to this ugly mix a brand new viral strain: manipulation and corruption of data. The movers and shakers of the “reform movement” do not want to hear or see this, so they don’t. And why should they? Their children will not be touched by any of it. Nor will the children of anyone in their social circle. School “reform” is for them, not for us. That’s why God invented the remote control.
President Obama has lately dropped a few election year hints that he may be edging away, ever so slightly, from “reform” movement dogma and particularly from the idea of standardized test scores as panacea. Good. But he has much more to learn about public education.