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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Paul Karrer: Obama, NEA Hosed Teachers

The National Education Association's warm corpse has gone rigid. Any hint of a pulse has dissipated with its needless and early endorsement of President Barack Obama. If ever there was a time to negotiate against No Child Left Behind or Race To The Top, this would have been it, more than a year before the presidential election.

The NEA has given its 3.2million members a knee to the groin and has shown that its feeble leadership is too wimpy to negotiate for what is right for kids what is good for public education.

Rarely has a teachers' union endorsed a candidate so early. A candidate who in words and expression seems to do so much for teachers, but who in reality has done actual harm to public education.

Obama undermined public education with his own destructive Race To The Top federal contest of financial grants given to some states if they comply with the obscene No Child Left Behind law, a law that frames the impossible measure of 100 percent proficiency as the goal and punishes all schools that don't reach this trap. It is a law every bit as wrong as Prohibition or the Dred Scott decision.

Race To The Top has four evil elements:

1. The continued condemnation of poor schools and its pretense that poverty and social conditions have nothing to do with outcomes.

2. The punitive actions taken against low-performing schools, such as transferring of principals, closing of schools, moving of teachers, etc.

3. Teacher evaluations based on Standardized tests, paying no heed to conditions of the real world, e.g. student mental illness, poverty concentrations, gang contact, lack of parents, parental incarceration, transience, second language learners, "special education realities," huge classes, unemployment, low reading levels at home, absenteeism, etc.

4. Ultimately, the wholesale sellout of a social contract between society and public education replaced with an outrageous new focus on profitability and a market-based outcomes. This plays itself out with the privatization of "for profit" charter schools and the undermining of the public good with vouchers for private schools.

The NEA should have held its cards a little closer to the chest and "negotiated" the end of No Child Left Behind, declaring the 100percent proficiency law a statistically unachievable abomination. It should have insisted on ending Race To The Top. Obama needs to admit that poverty is the issue. He needs to help and actually assist teachers and kids in poor communities — not pillory them. Even Education Secretary Arne Duncan had a brief moment of clarity with his revelation that 82percent of public schools will be failing by 2014.

Think about it. Can 82percent of the teachers in public schools be that bad? Of course not. The measurement of their failure is wrong. It is called No Child Left Behind, with its love affair with the publishing/ testing industry and the gold rush of money to be made with standardized testing.

The NEA may have endorsed Obama but it is very unlikely that large numbers of teachers will. He hosed us and so did the NEA.

Paul Karrer teaches in Castroville and writes about education issues for this page.