Monday, January 25, 2010

Grannan: Critic blasts Obama administration education policy; official spokesman agrees

Posted with the permission of Caroline Grannan, the SF Education Examiner.

Critic blasts Obama administration education policy; official spokesman agrees

(Jan. 24, 2010) A spokesman for the Obama administration's Department of Education, appearing on a Jan. 12 radio broadcast, readily agreed with the views of another program guest who sharply criticized his department's Race to the Top school reform program.

Peter Cunningham, assistant secretary of communications for the U.S. Department of Education, (more here) appeared on the program "To the Point" on radio station KCRW with education researcher Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute. Cunningham willingly concurred with Rothstein that overreliance on standardized testing is detrimental to students, and that "many" charter schools, a model being promoted as a solution for troubled schools, are not successful. Rothstein spoke forcefully about the "major harm" done by administration policies, getting no argument from Cunningham.

The Obama administration's education department is promoting policies that are "actually harming the education of students in this country," Rothstein charged, and "education has been corrupted" by those policies. "A major consequence of No Child Left Behind that's done major harm to American education is the narrowing of the curriculum," he said. Sciences, history, social studies, music, the arts and physical education are neglected or abandoned as educators struggle to adhere to NCLB's emphasis on math and reading, Rothstein explained, and "Race to the Top doesn't change that." Abandoning important subjects "does the most harm to disadvantaged students," Rothstein added. Race to the Top, he said, is "accentuating the harm that NCLB did."

"Absolutely that's a very real issue," Cunningham admitted.

When Rothstein pointed out that "charter schools on average don't have better student performance than regular public schools," Cunningham responded, "We 100% agree that many of them are not good."

Moderator Warren Olney asked Rothstein: "Are standardized tests a good measure of teacher performance and ultimately of school performance?"

"No, they're not," Rothstein responded. "Education has been corrupted. In addition to narrowing the curriculum by abandoning other topics, what this kind of system does is create incentives to game the system. We're actually harming the education of students in this country."

Rothstein is a research associate with the Economic Policy Institute, a former education columnist for the New York Times, and the author of many books and studies about education policy.

Cunningham was previously a communications consultant for the Chicago Public Schools during the time when his current boss, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, was head of that school system.

"To the Point" was part of the Jan. 12 KCRW broadcast of the program "Which Way, L.A.?" which also covered the issue of outside groups' efforts to take over a number of Los Angeles schools. Thanks to Mike Klonsky for spreading the word about this program.

- KCRW comes out of Santa Monica, California. Listen to the show here.

- Mike Klonsky's comments on the radio interview are here.

- About Richard Rothstein from the Economic Policy Institute bio page.

Richard Rothstein is a research associate of the Economic Policy Institute. From 1999 to 2002 he was the national education columnist of The New York Times. He is the author of Grading Education: Getting Accountability Right (Teachers College Press and EPI, 2008) and Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press 2004). He is also the author of The Way We Were? Myths and Realities of America's Student Achievement (1998). Other recent books include The Charter School Dust-Up: Examining the Evidence on Enrollment and Achievement (co-authored in 2005); and All Else Equal. Are Public and Private Schools Different? (co-authored in 2003).

- Complete listing of EPI publications by Richard Rothstein

- Watch Rothstein lecture at Columbia University in early 2004.

- Read Class and Schools: Using Social, Economic and Educational Reform to Close the Black-White Achievement Gap (Teachers College Press 2004).

- And for an alternative and much more sane and intelligent approach to education reform, please acquaint yourself with the Broader, Bolder Approach.

Rothstein’s scope of knowledge, brain power, and wisdom about these complicated issues are probably greater than Duncan’s and his entire staff combined. Rothstein's son, Jesse, is now an associate professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, and has recently started to insert his perspective and findings into the national ed reform conversation, too. I recall reading that Rothstein's wife had once been a public school principal in LA.

The Rothsteins are a powerfully minded group, and I'd love to listen in on their family conversations about education issues. Contrast this intellectual density with the fact that our Department of Education is now headed by someone who has a bachelors degree in sociology and spent time helping at his mom's tutoring center for a handful of childhood years, then eventually landed a big job in the Chicago school district primarily due to his personal connections to powerful people who liked to play basketball, too.

Good grief, President Obama, what could you possibly have been thinking??? You're glorifying the anti-intellectual Bush years all over again.

All I know is that we'd be in much better hands if Duncan and company decided to be wise and started taking Rothstein's advice asap.

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