Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dana Goldstein on Obama, the Reformists, and the Teacher Quality Debate

I’m kinda late on this, but Dana Goldstein had a great post a couple weeks ago on Obama’s job-creation speech and what it signals about his education agenda. In the speech, the president called for $30 billion in federal spending to prevent teacher layoffs. Goldstein thinks that’s deceptively remarkable:
This may seem like an uncontroversial, conventional Democratic spending priority. Indeed, the 2009 stimulus and the Education Jobs Fund* also helped school districts avoid teacher layoffs.

But it's important to realize that on education, Obama has rarely sounded like a conventional Democrat. During his years in the Senate, his presidential campaign, and after he entered the White House, Obama framed his school reform agenda around the issue of teacher quality, not teacher job security. He has resisted seeing schools primarily as places of employment, and has focused instead on measuring student achievement and using the data to evaluate teachers.

So last week's rhetorical emphasis on saving teachers' jobs --unaccompanied by talk of "teacher quality"-- is actually something notable from Obama. It represents a messaging win for teachers' unions and for the more traditionally liberal wing of the Democratic coalition. Now the rhetoric is being echoed by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan on a Midwest speaking tour.
Goldstein then takes a close look at the opposite wing of the reformist movement. Most reformers, she writes, are talking about who ought to be laid off, given that budget crunches are forcing layoffs, but
What's less acknowledged is that there is a quieter conversation among reformers about reducing the size of the teaching force regardless of whether or not such a move is necessitated by budget crises
Goldstein quotes former NYC schools chancellor and News Corp. executive Joel Klein outlining his alarming vision for the future of American schooling:
A very different system would be empowered by technology…a huge infusion of private capital aimed at creating an entirely new delivery system. Teachers would be much fewer, but paid much more…it would be data-driven, it would be customized, it would engage kids, it would differentiate the approaches we take, and it would value human capital in a much different way

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