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Obama’s education agenda

This is something that was under my radar, so I pass it along in case it’s escaped notice generally. In the current New York Review of Books Diane Ravitch reviews two books, one of which is Class Warfare, by Steve Brill, in which Brill argues that union busting and charter schools, among other right wing wet dreams, are the answer to all that ails the American educational system. Income disparities, etc., have nothing to do with it you see. The evidence all points the other way, of course, but since when has that stopped any American political movement designed to benefit the elites? This kind of elitist thinking is par for the course, so it comes as no surprise. What did come as a surprise, to me, at least, was the fact that Obama is so heavily invested in advancing this elitist agenda.

Ravitch relates that a number of our Wall Street overlords have adopted education as their pet cause, presumably aiming to do to it what they have done to the economy. Part of the strategy is to complete a hostile takeover of the Democratic party, since they already own the Republican party:

In 2005, the financiers formed an organization called Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) to promote ideas such as choice and accountability that were traditionally associated with the Republican Party. They set out to change Democratic Party policy, which in the past, as they saw it, was in thrall to the teachers’ unions and was committed to programs that funneled federal money by formula to the poorest children. DFER used its bountiful resources to underwrite a different agenda, one that was not beholden to the unions and that relied on competition, not equity.

While it was easy for the Wall Street tycoons to finance charter schools like KIPP and entrepreneurial ventures like Teach for America, what really excited them was using their money to alter the politics of education. The best way to leverage their investments, Brill tells us, was to identify and fund key Democrats who would share their agenda. One of them was a new senator from Illinois named Barack Obama, who helped launch DFER at its opening event on June 3, 2005. The evening began with a small dinner at the elegant Café Gray in the Time Warner Center in New York City, then moved to Curry’s nearby apartment on Central Park South, where an overflow crowd of 150 had gathered.

DFER also befriended Congressman George Miller from California, the powerful leader of the Democrats on the House Education and Labor Committee. DFER supported Cory Booker, who eventually became mayor of Newark. A DFER fund-raiser produced $45,000 for Congressman James Clyburn, “the most influential member of the Congressional Black Caucus,” who returned home to South Carolina to champion tuition tax credits and charter schools. Brill writes that DFER sent a memo to the Obama team immediately after the presidential election, naming its choice for each position. At the top of its list, for secretary of education, was Arne Duncan.

As Ravitch points out, none of the elitist solutions have worked, including the so called “No Child Left Behind Act”, which should more properly have been titled the “No Public School Left Standing Act”. The act, which legislated perfection but failed to even try to give schools the tools or funding to achieve it, mandates the destruction of failing schools, the numbers of which are rising as the time for achieving perfection draws near. The Obama administration’s solution is about as right wing and contrary to reason (am I being redundant there?) as they come:

The Obama administration has offered to grant waivers from the onerous sanctions of NCLB, but only to states willing to adopt its preferred remedies: privately managed charter schools, evaluations of teachers on the basis of their students’ test scores, acceptance of a recently developed set of national standards in reading and mathematics, and agreement to fire the staff and close the schools that have persistently low scores. None of the Obama administration’s favored reforms—remarkably similar to those of the Bush administration—is supported by experience or evidence.

Perhaps this explains Obama’s tepid response to the teacher union busting going on in Wisconsin and Ohio, among other places. It’s hard to tell, because his response to all manner of right wing outrages has been pretty tepid, but it’s certainly lines up with what appears to be his agenda.

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