Shadow Boxing About Schools

On November 15, NBC’s Meet the Press offered a segment on education featuring former GOP House speaker Newt Gingrich, Obama education secretary Arne Duncan and black activist Al Sharpton.


The debate showed how much lip service to real reform is being paid by the Democrats who control our failing public education system. Because the only way to truly improve education is for the Democrat-allied teacher unions and public school bureaucracy to make major concessions in economic and political power to charter schools and voucher systems which, combined, will help to spur competition to the public school monopoly.


But they will make no concessions unless forced by law. And that is a very difficult process although it is happening in some places.


Here is an analysis of the Meet the Press interview with verbatim excerpts in bold type:


Meet the Press host David Gregory opened the segment by saying that Gingrich, Duncan and Sharpton are “trying to solve a massive bipartisan problem with a workable bipartisan solution.”


Yet the failing educational system is not a “bipartisan problem”. The public schools are government-run institutions controlled lock, stock and barrel by one party, the Democrats.


Sharpton then said: “If we could come together on education, I think it’s an example to the kids that some things should be above our differences.”


Yet Sharpton and his hard-left friends in the public school bureaucracy have never made a single concession whatsoever to improve education except under severe duress, and are continuing to control our schools, particularly the worst urban schools, with an iron hand through the teacher unions and a rigid union bureaucracy.


Gregory then said that Duncan has received $4.3 billion in federal money in a Race to the Top Fund. And this again is just throwing more money at the problem, when teachers already are well paid in America. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study found that the average public school teacher in 2006 earned $34.06 per hour. Today it is certainly over $35 an hour. Yet the Democrats always say that more money is needed. It is not. Fundamental reform is needed. And teachers are as likely to give up power as they are to give up money. Which is only as a last resort.


Gregory then said: “I spoke to the head of public schools here in Washington, D.C., Michelle Rhee.  Fifty percent dropout rate in Washington, D.C.  Only 9 percent of kids going to a D.C. public school, only 9 percent, will go on to graduate college within five years of completing high school.  A huge achievement gap between black, white and Latino kids.”


And this is typical what happens with complete Democrat control of cities, schools and cultures like inner-city America. Rhee is making some reforms, but hardly enough.


Duncan then said that Obama wants to improve the schools.  “We have to get dramatically better.  We have a time of economic crisis in the country.  We’ve been arguing we have a time of educational, academic crisis.  We have 1.2 million dropouts a year in this country.  How can we sustain that?”


It cannot be sustained. We all know that. Except Duncan and his Democrat friends who are presiding over this system.


Gregory then said: “So the Race to the Top Fund and program means what, in a brief description?”


Duncan replied:  “We want to reward those states, those districts, those nonprofits that are willing to challenge the status quo and get dramatically better, close the achievement gap and raise the bar for everybody.  And what’s been so encouraging is before we spent a dollar, a dime of Race to the Top money, we’ve seen 48 states come together to raise the bar, higher standards for everyone, to stop lying to children.  We’ve seen states remove barriers to creating new, innovative charter schools.  We’ve seen folks get rid of firewalls separating student achievement data from teachers.”


Yet this is precisely what conservatives have been saying about public schools – that they always want more and more and more money. Notice the word “reward”. That is nothing more than a synonym for “payout to the teacher unions”. And indeed some reforms have been made because sensible people see how obstructionist these public school bureaucrats are and finally are acting against them.


Duncan continued: “We all have to take responsibility.  Simply perpetuating the status quo is not going to get the kind of dramatically different results we want.  So where states, where districts, where nonprofits, where universities, parents, teachers, community leaders, where we all come together and say we want something dramatically different, we’re willing to behave in different ways, we’re willing to move outside our comfort zones, we’re willing to collaborate, we want to put lots of money behind those places that will literally lead the country where we need to go.”


So where have the teacher unions shown any inclination at all to change? Meanwhile our universities are controlled by even more radical leftists who have no brief for genuine education but instead for more leftist indoctrination. At the same time “community leaders” like Obama are in the pocket of the unions. And parents in many of the worst districts are hardly capable of running their own lives after decades in which the Democrats have ruined their cities through corruption.


Gingrich then said:  “I agree with Al Sharpton, this is the number one civil right of the 21st century.  So if you–if the president has shown real leadership–which he has.  This is, a lot of places we fight.  On this one he has said every parent should know whether the school’s good.  Every student should have transparency about a results.  Every parent should have the right to choose a charter school.  Now, I, I would go further.  I’d like to have a Pell Grant for K through 12.  But this is a huge step for this president to take.”


Pell Grant means more money.  Yet, again, money is not the problem. The problem is a bureaucratic system that is geared toward teachers and their paychecks and their benefits and their early retirements and their bureaucracy, and not students.


Duncan added:  “I just want to say, as a country, we need more good schools.”


This is just typical lip service from Democrats like Duncan who ran the schools in Chicago and who is a public school pro-union mouthpiece.


Duncan continued:  “And good charter schools are a piece of the answer.  Bad charter schools are a piece of the problem.”


And the public school bureaucracy, of which Duncan and Obama are an integral part, are doing everything possible to thwart charter schools and to highlight their problems.


Duncan said:  “What we have, though, is we have schools at the bottom where we’re perpetuating poverty, we’re perpetuating social failure.  We have to stop doing that and we have to create options and opportunities for children and communities that have been underserved for far too long.”


Indeed. And in Washington, DC, where the REPUBLICAN party got scholarships to help 1,700 poor kids go to better schools, the DEMOCRATS cut the scholarship program until there was such an outcry that the scholarships were reinstated.


Gingirch then said:  “We visited the Mastery School in Philadelphia.  Second most violent school in the city, 25th percentile in outcome.  Three years ago the state became desperate, took over the school, turned it over to Mastery, which is a charter school system.  Same building, same students.  Three years later, they’re in the 86th percentile.  And as one young man said to us, an 11th grader–everyone in the 11th grade plans to go to college in this inner city, poor neighborhood.”


So indeed charter schools do work. It is proven. Yet still the National Education Association, the huge teacher union, fights charter schools every step of the way, along with political allies like the Democrat party, Sharpton and the Congressional Black Caucus.


Sharpton then said:  “You know, I, I was challenged by James Mtume, who’s a music icon and talk show host, on why I and National Action Network, our group, was not dealing with education.  It was a civil rights issue.  When he showed me the data–55 percent of blacks get a diploma, 58 percent of Latinos, 78 percent of whites–I looked at this achievement gap, which was almost identical to a 1954 when I was born, the year of Brown vs.  Board of Education, and I said, ‘How are we ignoring this?’


This is Sharpton acting like he just discovered these bad statistics. These stats have been around for decades. Sharpton is just paying lip service. He is a racial agitator who somehow got invited to a serious discussion of social issues. How did that happen?


Gregory then said:  “Can you both concede that both political parties have, have stood in the way of reform through disagreement about education policy?  I mean, in 1995, Speaker Gingrich, you were an advocate of dismantling the Department of Education.  Here you are as a champion for a vision from the Department of Education about school reform.”


Uh, Mr. Gregory, the Department of Education is just another federal agency that is another layer of bureaucracy in the education establishment. It is unnecessary. Gingrich was infinitely more right in seeking to dismantle DofE than Democrats are in their approach to education, which is to fight reform at every turn at the local level.


Gingrich then said:  “But in a, in a time when we have liberal, Democratic president who has the courage to take on the establishment in education and who’s prepared to say every state should adopt dramatic, bold reforms, I think as, as–if politics are the art of the possible, our children deserve a chance to see us come together, to put their future above partisanship and to find a way to take on the, the establishment in both parties and try to get this solved.”


Hey Newt, what are you smoking? Obama is not in favor of reform. That is nonsense. He is a far-left pro-union liberal who never, ever will confront the unions.


Gregory then said:  “Let me–all right, I want to talk specifically about Race to the Top, this effort and some specific challenges that you face.  One of which is a disagreement with the unions on some issues, on the core issue of accountability.  Accountability for this results problem.  We know that the teachers union does not agree with the idea of standardized testing being an indicator of student performance.”


Indeed, public school teachers do not like objective tests because they reveal the failure of the educational system. The unions have fought accountability and ideas like ‘merit pay’ because unions believe that only union loyalty, and not excellence, should be rewarded.


In a videotape, Washington, DC’s Rhee says: “The one topic that is most important to address in public education today, in my opinion, is how we are going to implement a system of accountability.  For far too long, we have had children in our districts who are failing academically, and all of the adults have been able to keep their jobs and keep their contracts and that sort of thing.  And that really, that dynamic has to change.


Gregory asks boldly:  “So here’s my question, Secretary Duncan.  Why should anybody believe that a Democratic president, who relies on interests like the unions who are out there organizing and who vote, why should somebody believe that he’s really going to take them on, that you are really going to take them on to force accountability?


Duncan replies:  “We all have to move–at the end of the day, we have to have dramatically better results for children.  What makes great education is the adults.  Talent matters tremendously.  In every high performing school in this country, you have great principals and you have great teachers.  Student achievement is the purpose of education.  We need to evaluate whether students are learning or not.  We need to start to focus on outcomes, not inputs.  And as both these two gentlemen said, we all have to move outside our comfort zones.  Those old, tired fights of the past just don’t get us where we need to go.  Everybody’s moving, everybody’s willing to move.  At the end of the day, we want dramatically better outcomes for students.  That’s the only reason we all work every single day.


This is just more shameless Democrat boilerplate. The unions work for Democrats and Democrats work for the unions. Period. It’s not going to change.


Gregory says: “But so how you–how do you hold teachers accountable, and while at the same time hold the unions’ feet to the fire?


Duncan says:   “What we have said, which is a fundamental breakthrough, is we will only invest in those states and districts where student achievement is part of the evaluation.


In other words, “invest in” means more money on top of already-bloated school budgets where teachers in urban and suburban districts often can make more than $100,000 a year for 9 months of work.


Duncan said: “David, it’s very simple, we simply won’t fund them.  This is–we’re talking about everyone moving outside their comfort zone. Department of Education has been part of the problem.  Let me be very, very clear.  We have been this big, historical, compliance-driven bureaucracy.”


This is a liberal saying this. Which is the reason that Gingrich wanted to get rid of DofE, and conservatives have been trying to get rid of it since it was born. Gingrich was right about that.


Gregory later says:  “But wait a minute.  But hold on.  On this union question, you have fights going on in school districts in this country  …rubber rooms, where teachers who are too incompetent or dangerous to be in a classroom can’t be fired.  You’ve got, you’ve got teachers in Washington, D.C., who are accused of sexual misconduct with their students who can’t be fired.  Is that sane?


 And Sharpton replies: “And these things have to be dealt with, and this president has said he will deal with it.  But at the same time, you have teachers that have taught long and hard and done great work that have been overlooked, and we’ve got to have the balance there.”


This is more nonsense. Obama will do nothing about this. This is nuts and bolts stuff at the lower levels while Obama sends his children to the most expensive private school in the nation, Sidwell Friends in Washington, DC.


Duncan then said:  “Let me speak.  Teacher evaluation in this country is basically broken.  Great teachers don’t get recognized…. They don’t get rewarded.  We don’t shine a …spotlight on them, we don’t learn from them.  Teachers in the middle don’t get support that they need.  And teachers on the bottom, who frankly need to find another profession, that doesn’t happen, either. “


Which means that the system is broken top to bottom. What this system needs is an Extreme Makeover, a complete reinvention. Which ain’t gonna happen.


Gregory says:  “We talk about accountability.  I also want to talk about how we attract the best teachers, because this is just a huge challenge.  Bruce Stewart, who is the former head of school for Sidwell Friends, a private school here in Washington, D.C., spoke to us about that with his ideas.  This is what he said.


In a videotape, Stewart says:  “When I began teaching in the ’60s, we had that population of people.  And since then, because greater opportunities have opened up for young women and for minorities, there’s been a great brain drain from American schools.  I think we want to get those people back.  If you look at Singapore, look at Finland, the reason they consistently are testing their population of students in the top levels of international exams, it’s the quality of their teaching force.  They all come from the top third of their colleges, universities.  In the United States, our tendency today is to have that pool of teachers coming from the bottom third of college and universities and from the bottom third of those classes.  That’s something we need to reverse and to change.


What Stewart is not saying is that religious and private schools, which generally have lower salaries, are not having trouble attracting teachers. It is the public schools, with their huge, inflexible bureaucracies, that are having trouble.


Gregory then says: “How do we change it?  You know, Bruce Stewart says we should have a national teachers academy like West Point.”


Oh, sure. Like we need another big, huge centralized federal school run by government bureaucrats and leaning way over to the left, just like all of our universities. 


Duncan then says:  “We have a huge opportunity here, David.  We have, over the next five to, five to eight years, as many as a million teachers, the baby boomer generation, retiring.  And our ability to attract great talent and then most–more importantly, to retain that great talent over the next few years, is going to change public education for a generation, for the next 30 years. So how do you do that?  We have to make teaching the revered profession that it is and should be.”


These retirements are not an opportunity. They are a disaster. Because the teacher unions have established a system where many teachers retire in their mid-50s. So of course you are going to have massive retirements. This is tremendously expensive. But don’t expect the unions to change anything. This is their gravy train. And this highly bureaucratic, unionized system, despite all its salaries, perks and benefits, is the same one that discourages good teachers from working within it. 


Later Sharpton says:  “I think one of the things that we don’t prepare is our students for having a goal in life.  You cannot arrive without a destination.  And I think one of the things that we have not done is that every child believe they can achieve something and then use their educational experience toward that achievement.


This is more drivel. Angry activists like Sharpton and the hip-hoppers and the rappers ruin kids’ minds. The destruction of the family in urban America is killing kids’ future. Yet when a conservative or a Christian talks about keeping the family together, they get shouted down by the liberals.


And who runs all of these failed communities and their schools?


Answer: The Democrat party. Lock, stock and barrel.


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