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Barack Obama is a pragmatist.

His foreign policy approach wouldn't raise eyebrows in a  Bush Senior administration up to a point (the point of greed for resources where the "fasciosphere" drools on its suit). Still, Bush Senior, you recall, didn't invade Iraq, rather, he contained Saddam in the ethos of "stability" that governed foreign policy during the Cold War.

In the energy squabble last summer, Obama relented on the offshore drilling ban, a sacred cow of the left. He saw the timelines involved and realized that in the race for developing renewables versus developing offshore drilling, given the considerable largess for renewables and electric transport that was built into the best proposals, and with that held up to the cost/benefits of offshore drilling, renewables won.

And now, public education.

Charter schools and merit pay come under the umbrella of an Obama reform movement, so I've let the issues overlap here.

Back in the Fleetwood Mac seventies I was handed the office of president of a non-profit community group that wanted to start a Waldorf school, based on the insights of Rudolf Steiner, a gnostic Christian and Goethe scholar. We succeeded, and the school ran for many years (Orcas Island). Later I copped a degree that included a California school psychologist certificate. Those years shaped my opinion of American public education. After witnessing the mediocrity and spiritless atmosphere of these outfits compared with the vitality of Waldorf, or Steiner, schools, I became convinced that something needed to be done. I also met some nice neighbors in Oregon who were part of a charter school run by Christians, and they were good folks. So there's my take. Enter Obama.

Last February, in an interview with John Harris at Politico, Obama spoke about charter schools:

I think that the Democratic Party is a big tent, which means that there are positions I may not agree with. I mentioned one, charter schools, and experimenting with our school system, to make it work. I think that’s something we really have to pay attention to.

When asked if teachers' unions have been an impediment to charter schools, he said

...they haven’t been thrilled with me talking about these kinds of issues. And my sister is a teacher, so I am a strong support of teachers, but I’m not going to be bound by just a certain way of talking about these things, in order for us to move forward on behalf of our kids. And I think a lot of teachers want to talk about how to continually improve performance. The broader point is that we’ve got to get beyond a lot of the traditional categories.

NY Times on Obama's Chicago experience:

In the two decades since Mr. Obama arrived in Chicago, its public schools have undergone a sweeping turnaround, from an education wasteland to a district that, while still facing major challenges, is among the most improved in the nation. The city has closed many failing schools and reopened them with new staffs, making it an important laboratory for one of the country’s most vexing problems.

One of the biggest lessons Mr. Obama drew from his experiences in Chicago, associates said, is that student achievement is highly dependent on teacher quality.

During the primary campaign both Obama and Clinton treaded lightly on the toes of the the education lobby. An August Boston Globe article said so. But:

Obama earned a brief, stunned silence at the National Education Association's annual conference last month when he repeated his support for the controversial notion of paying teachers based on performance.

But he followed with a string of caveats, suggesting that he would not link teachers' pay to students' test scores...

Performance rewarded: merit pay:

...merit pay, the way it's been designed, I think, is based on just a single standardized test--I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming into school already 3 years or 4 years behind. But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, "You know what? Teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally--that we should pay excellence more." I think that's a good idea.

But it appears that the teaching establishment is softening its position on charters:

“Those of us in the education community can learn from charter school success stories and failures. The key is to identify what is working that can be sustained and reproduced on a broad scale so that as many students as possible can benefit.”

That's a quote from Dennis Van Roekel, the NEA president, and it came in a statement issued right after Obama's speech in Dayton, Ohio, where he unveiled his education reform plan that, among other things, calls for doubling funding for charter schools.

"Sen. Obama gets it,” Van Roekel says about the plan. “He knows that reform cannot take place overnight or by using quick fixes. Obama wants to invest in comprehensive strategies, both immediate and long-term, which will pay dividends for our children, our economy and our country.”

In Oregon, Measure 60 on teacher compensation brings together two unlikely allies. This front page story in the Willamette Week has it:

Two weeks ago, during the final presidential debate, Barack Obama made Bill Sizemore very happy. And all he did was utter three simple words: “pay for performance.”

“That’s at least a $50,000 to $100,000 ad for my measure,” Sizemore says he told his wife, Cindy, as they watched the Oct. 15 debate from their Klamath Falls home.

Sizemore’s “measure” is Measure 60, also known as the “merit pay” for teachers initiative, which Sizemore says will raise the salaries of effective teachers.

the name Sizemore is so anathema to progressive Oregonians that many voters need only to see his name on a measure to rapidly go in whichever direction he isn't.  But whoa, now he seems to have Obama in his corner. He also has a Portland School Board member, Sonja Henning, as the lone advocate for merit pay and for reforming teacher evaluations to go beyond mere seniority.

Measure 60 would do “something local districts cannot do, quite frankly,” said Henning, a Stanford graduate who’s been on both sides of the labor disputes as a former president of the Women’s National Basketball Association players’ union and a labor lawyer representing corporate management.

“Nothing is more important than getting an effective teacher in front of students,” Henning said. “[Measure 60] gives experts the opportunity to come up with solutions...and I’m confident enough smart people in a room can come up with criteria that are workable.”

The WWeek article is a must-read for Oregonians.

Originally posted to bob zimway on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:08 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tips and rec's for better schools (4+ / 0-)

    The Best finally have conviction.

    by bob zimway on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:09:44 PM PDT

    •  Charter schools should only get (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Urtica dioica gracilis

      state funding if they take everyone - provide the same services as public schools, are held to the same standards of learning, and don't discriminate or proselytize in any way.

      I would also like them to be union shops, but need to address some issues there.  (my kids go to a french immersion charter schools and they wouldn't be able to staff it with union folks - not enough native french speakers.  We would also miss the incredible diversity of the staff who are from all over the world.

      McCain = "A whine, a swear word, and P.O.W."

      by ETinKC on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:18:57 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  and that especially means (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Urtica dioica gracilis

        special needs kids

        because if we continue segmenting (I started to type "segregating") kids into interest group schools, private schools, charter schools, home schools, whatever...the only mandated care for special needs kids is in public schooling

        Beware all ventures which require new clothes, and not a new wearer of clothes. -- Henry David Thoreau

        by Shocko from Seattle on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:59:12 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Time to scuttle NCLB (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ETinKC, Urtica dioica gracilis

    IMO the NCLB is nothing more than a boon for the testing and tutoring industries and the goal of this insidious law (sorry Ted Kennedy but you were duped) is to make taxpayers subsidize religious indoctrination education.

    •  agree - time for the Feds to get out of the (0+ / 0-)

      general education business and leave that up to the states.  They should hawever, cover the things that schools don't want to - pre - k, special ed, school lunches, etc.

      McCain = "A whine, a swear word, and P.O.W."

      by ETinKC on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:23:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Good point for high population states (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bob zimway

        that have a good tax base that can support modernizing and technological parity.  Not so good for low population states without that same base.

        Somewhere in between all the extremes there has to be a workable compromise.  We just need to come together to figure it out.

        The apocalypse will require substantial revision of all zoning ordinances. - Zashvill Political compass -7.88 -7.03.

        by Heiuan on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:33:36 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I am a huge believer in merit pay (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bob zimway

    Currently we need to change some things with it but good teachers needs raises and bad teachers need to be shown the door.  Somehow we need the means to fire teachers even after they have been in a school for years.  We all remember how horrible that certain teachers were even though they had taught for years.  Once we have the ability to fire teachers at will, then we can focus more on the needs of good teachers.

    When schools are forced to give pay raises across the board, it is always a bad idea.

    And people wonder why so many local school referendums fail.  Personally, we need the teacher's union grip on our schools loosened.

    •  Teachers' Unions do NOT support (3+ / 0-)

      Bad teachers.  The support the notion of fair and equitable treatment.  No one wants to get rid of bad teachers more than good teachers and most of us belong to, strongly support our unions.  Please stop making this a union issue. Teachers Unions, like all unions, are there to make sure we all get due process fair hearings.  Believe me, there are as many bad administrators as teachers, uneducated school board members as bad teachers.  So some bozo doesn't like my politics, or the way I look, or the way I dress, or my age or race or gender and they get the right to fire me.

      My union and I helped get a bad teacher in my school fired. How? By pressuring the administration to do the work: document, observe, document...and give the teacher a chance to improve if they want to.  The process is there.  USING the process takes work....takes time....takes effort.

      Teachers' unions are not the problem.  Teachers' unions have fought for smaller classes, better opportunities for teachers to take classes; better pay to keep teachers in the profession, and to reward those of us who have STAYED and perservered.

      I am so damned sick and tired of the blanket crap of blaming the teachers for education problems.  The unions are the teachers.   We work hard for students.  Judging educators is not simplistic....and when so called progressives jump on this right wing bandwagon, it really is offensive.

      •  Personally, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        bob zimway

        We need to make it much easier to fire bad teachers.  In the real world you can be fired simply and easily.  Once a teacher gets tenured, it is near impossible unless we are talking gross negligence.  I want teachers fired for simply doing a poor job and that isn't happening.  My wife is a school counselor and she sees the same problem.  Many teachers slowly over time get worse at their job.  They get lazy and don't try as hard, but they are tenured.  The whole idea of tenure is stupid.  You, like I, should get paid based on performance.  If you start out performing well you deserve a pay raise.  If the administration decides they don't like your performance 10 or 20 years (or whenever) you should be fired.  They should have the right to simply give you your 2 week notice and be done with you.  It isn't like that today, thus it is wrong.

        •  Tenure, itself, (0+ / 0-)

          is an outmoded idea.  In the Broward County School District (south Florida, 7th largest school district in the nation at one time and it still may be), tenure was done away with 25 years ago.  It's still tough to get rid of a teacher who has been there for years, but there are procedures in place to do so.

          However,

          If the administration decides they don't like your performance 10 or 20 years (or whenever) you should be fired.

          is kind of scary unless there are documented problems that are school- or curriculum-related and not personality based.

          The apocalypse will require substantial revision of all zoning ordinances. - Zashvill Political compass -7.88 -7.03.

          by Heiuan on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:49:58 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  the notion of tenure outside of academia (0+ / 0-)

            seems odd to me, as the adult child of an academic

            teachers burn out

            it's fact of life, and it's not unique to their profession

            pensions and benefits provide inducements to remain in a job they no longer like, and that may be one of several reasons those kinds of benefits need to be made more portable

            Beware all ventures which require new clothes, and not a new wearer of clothes. -- Henry David Thoreau

            by Shocko from Seattle on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 03:01:09 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

        •  And administrators should be given (0+ / 0-)

          a blank check because you or your wife say so??

          Sorry, no offense, but just because your wife thinks she can judge teachers doesn't make it so.  DUE PROCESS matters for all.  If you don't believe in due process, I have to wonder about why you are at a liberal/progressive site.

          And who are you to decide what is a poor job in teaching?  Are you the god of all teachers that YOU KNOW?  Or are you an expert because you attended school. Parents often think they can determine  who is good or who is bad based on the performance of their child and their child alone.

          Sorry, firing someone should not be simplistic.  If you think it should be, that all the power should be in the hands of employers, then we disagree, no matter what the job.

          •  Blah blah blah (0+ / 0-)

            Join the real world.  DUE PROCESS?  I can fire my employee's simply because they came to work late today.  Teacher's shouldn't be any different.  Teachers, like everyone else in this world, should work at the leisure of the community THEY SERVE.  If the community decides they want someone else, they should have the right to fire you.  That is how everyone else works.  It is pure crap what the teacher's union forces on communities.

            If you quiz college grads about who was good and bad through grade school and high school, you would find most would have problems with 30%+ of their teachers.  Now go find out how many are tenured and still working at that same school.  THIS IS WHY COMMUNITIES VOTE AGAINST THEIR SCHOOLS!

            •  BLAH back at you. (0+ / 0-)

              If teachers came late to work as a matter of habit they could be fired also.  So you get a clue.

              Why are you on a progressive blog anyway.  You sound a lot like a red stater.

              •  You think everyone on this Blog (0+ / 0-)

                drinks the entire bottle of Dem koolaid?  I am voting Dem for social justice.  On the flip side of that, I am completely anti entitlement program, anti massive government, anti tax increases, and mostly anti union (especially the teachers union).  I want gay rights, I am pro choice, and anti death penalty.

                When it comes to economics this party loses me.  How dare anyone put a teacher ahead of a student.  If the administration "feels" you aren't that great they should be able to fire you.  If the government has a deficit, CUT SPENDING don't steal more from me.

                THe place I find myself in is a tough one.  THe repugs spend as much or more then the Dems.  Both parties are currently promising to wreck our economy.  Neither party has any interest in cutting spending and both seem to want to expand spending.

                When it comes to education neither party has a clue.  All the money in the world won't fix education.  The only way to fix it is through the teacher's union.  Sadly they have bought and paid for most politicians loyalty.  The teachers union has no real interest in fixing the problem since that would involve firing at least 30% of the union teachers (probably more).

                You want me real honest suggestion to education?  If I was in charge I would raise teachers saleries a large amount.  I would start teachers at 100k and allow pay raises up to 250k.  Afterall, your jobs are more important then even doctors.  I would also demand a teacher get an extensive education themselves like a doctor (say a minimum of 7 years in college to get a degree).  I would demand the right to fire teachers if I decide they aren't working out.  I want the right to fire them simply because I found someone better.  I would demand exellence.  I would provide premium benefits as well.  My first job in life would be to find the best of the best (basically recruit).  My second job would be to promote the school to the community so I knew I had an income stream coming into my school.

                Basically I would run it like my own business.  You know, for success.

              •  Roger is an interesting person. (0+ / 0-)

                .  I always figured since we are pro palestin and pro choice, we wouldn't get their vote.  Good for them for seeing past their religious beliefs and their countries interests!

                Is his views about Jewish voters and the Democratic party. I never could tell if he was just trolling to cause trouble or "very bright" and just not acting too "with it" to make "odd points like the above ones on teachers, Jewish voters etc...

                Or maybe I am tired and need sleep. :)

                •  You may be tired (0+ / 0-)

                  Look

                  I support the Dem ticket across the board even though I cringe at the idea.  As far as Jews go, I simply figured they would vote their interests.  Maybe I am wrong.

                  As far as teachers go:

                  My wife is part of a public school.  I simply think it is time we start demanding exellence.  I think it is time we demand even marginal teachers get "let go".  At the same time, I think it is time to raise teacher pay and benefits.  Like I said before, it is time we pay teachers the correct salery but only on the basis that in return we finally get the right to fire teachers at as we please.  It is time to think of our local communities and children first.  Teachers are employees and that is it.

  •  merit pay in the real world (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    bob zimway

    funny how many Northwesterners I've run into her tonight...

    In 1977 I wrote a piece for my high school paper on merit pay, because the Shoreline School District (immediately north of Seattle) was, I was reliably told, the only district west of the Mississippi to employ merit pay.

    The teachers believed -- all of them, to my memory -- that it was mostly a gimmick to artificially inflate their salaries come negotiation time. They also believed that it was a wildly imperfect system.

    The quotation I've carried with me since came from a new and unpopular (read: difficult) social studies teacher, who said, "Every teacher is the best teacher for at least one of her students."

    Beware all ventures which require new clothes, and not a new wearer of clothes. -- Henry David Thoreau

    by Shocko from Seattle on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:28:23 PM PDT

    •  interesting quote (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Urtica dioica gracilis

      "Every teacher is the best teacher for at least one of her students."

      I can see that. The optimum should be a majority, no?

      The Best finally have conviction.

      by bob zimway on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:32:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  no - teahers should not be (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Heiuan

        ranked solely on popularity (I had lots of popular teacher because they gave easy A's and made fun of the geeky kids in front of everyone and told dirty jokes - or were the football coach.  Wait, that was the same teacher).  However,most kids know who the good teachers are - just need to get the truth out of them.

        McCain = "A whine, a swear word, and P.O.W."

        by ETinKC on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:35:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It depends on the criteria (0+ / 0-)

        for being "best."  Look at ratemyprofessor.com. Granted, this is for college, but many of the profs that get the best ratings are those who aren't all that challenging or simply hand-feed the info.  

        Perhaps merit-based pay could be used with a combination of test-based performance reviews.  The kids get a "pre-test" in Aug/Sept when they go back to school and then take a "post-test" at the end of the school year.  Use the data to study the efficacy of the teaching, however, the data must be accumulated over a period of at least three years, IMO, for it to have any true meaning.  If, in the first year, the teacher does not have much success, then he or she changes methods with the next year and refines it in the third.  By then, it should be more apparent whether there is improvement being made.

        The apocalypse will require substantial revision of all zoning ordinances. - Zashvill Political compass -7.88 -7.03.

        by Heiuan on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:41:28 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  a majority of what? (0+ / 0-)

        a majority of the kids taking classes from a teacher perform to a certain standard, or rate the teacher in a certain way?

        that would not have been my point, nor that of the teacher I quoted

        if she kept one student in school, for example, or helped one student find his or her special thing, special gift, special interest...that's worth plenty, at least to me

        now...there's a difference here...

        ...I think it's relatively easy to identify bad teachers. It may not be easy to cull them, but they're easily identified.

        ...it is less easy to identify the best teachers, unless we're simply basing that on test grades, which is idiotic and utterly misses the point of education. why? because the best teachers for me -- a high achieving, highly driven high school nerd -- weren't going to do doodly for my friend who played middle linebacker. our motivations and needs were different, and we knew it. as did our teachers. Who taught me to capitalize sentences, btw...

        Beware all ventures which require new clothes, and not a new wearer of clothes. -- Henry David Thoreau

        by Shocko from Seattle on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 03:04:33 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Private school (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Heiuan, Shocko from Seattle

    I am not going to comment, I am not going to ohh hell!

    Bill Sizemore and anti education people like him hate teachers and teacher unions because they cannot go into a school and have a teacher fired because little johnny did not get an A in math.  Let me tell you once you go down the very slippery slope of merit pay then you lose public education forever.  Once you have teachers competing against one another for those top students and all you teach is what is on the test then say goodbye to America(I know extreme).  Look everyone likes to say we (USA) has fallen behind other contries when you compare our scores to theirs it does not really measure a students knowledge of how to learn and how to explore.  You should compare how many nobel prizes Americans get compared to the rest of the world who do score better than us!  Merit pay is an attempt to take control of what is being taught by teachers who work their asses off for little pay and tell them they MUST teach what is on the test.

    •  that's my biggest worry about merit-based (0+ / 0-)

      pay, to tell the truth.  Dismissals because of arbitrary decisions made for personal reasons, the teacher chaps the administrator's hide, or parental pressure because of the reasons you stated are all  valid fears that have to be addressed before any serious discussion of this can take place.

      The apocalypse will require substantial revision of all zoning ordinances. - Zashvill Political compass -7.88 -7.03.

      by Heiuan on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 02:45:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  BRAVO!!!! (0+ / 0-)

      Too many parents think they KNOW better and can judge the teacher on what their child does.  No one teacher is ever all things to all children.  That's a no brainer.  But parents are biased.  Seriously, they should be.  But they don't always get what is good or not good when it comes to their child's education.  But if they are THAT sure that they and their child always know best, they can choose private school, charter schools or in most districts another school or another teacher.

      Competition between teachers is BAD for kids.  It is that simple.  If one finds a way that works well with certain students, a good teacher SHARES it with other teachers because she believes ALL kids should learn and succeed.  But if one is competing with fellow teachers and x amount of money goes to only a certain amount of teachers, in tough financial times, even good teachers may be tempted to compete instead of cooperate.  It's just wrong.

  •  Merit pay is not the answer (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Shocko from Seattle

    Teaching is as much, if not more, an art than a science.  If it was as simplistic as NCLB and the merit pay pushers believe, the system could have been fixed years ago when the phony A Nation at Risk was shoved on us by Ronnie Reagan.

    Yes there are bad teachers.  There are also bad cops, bad nurses, bad doctors, bad everything.  As long as human beings are involved, there is no guarantee.

    But how does one judge a good teacher?  By test scores?  By how quiet students are (I literally heard one a**h*le wingnut school board member say that a quiet well behaved class was a sign of learning)?

    By how frazzled the teacher is?  
    How can you tell the success of a kindergarten student NOW?  We have predictors but no guarantees.  
    t
    In the end, good teachers recognize other good teachers.  There's the quality to connect.  But the system considers "highly qualified" something that can be verified on paper.  You can verify ONLY that a teacher KNOWS math, or science, or language...but there is no correlation between knowing a subject and being great at imparting the knowledge.

    That said, there are great teachers, young and old, male and female.  And we need to get those teachers into our schools with low performing students....because they need the best teachers to bring out the best in them.  How to do it?  NOT MERIT PAY.  I say we need "COMMITMENT PAY".  A signing bonus for teachers willing to commit x amount of years to a particular school.  Make it high enough so that teachers compete to get those jobs.  Research shows that in poor neighborhoods, trust of staff/teachers is a huge factor in achievement.  Trust takes time.  But great teachers, young ones especially are often burned out because they work their butts off and all they get in return is administrators threatening to close the schools if "scores" don't come up.  They take away things like the Arts, PE, and make the schools rigid, un-engaging for students and drudgery for all. So why would anyone, young or old, stay there under those conditions when an opening at a school with high achieving students comes up.  Schools where well educated parents, professionals, send their kids, don't have better teachers......and we all know it.  And they don't have better students.  What they have is students with better education at home, with more experiences that open their worlds, with better chances to achieve language skills early, at home, with parents who have the time to engage, teach, role model, and do.

    So let's get real.  Let's acknowledge that, while all students should be treated with the same expectations when it comes to ability, reality exists.  Students who are not engaged early on, who have absent parents, parents who do not value education, parents who move them yearly, are at a disadvantage when it comes to standardized testing.  Let's open up the world of possibilities to these kids, not narrow the world the way that NCLB is doing.  
    And let's reward, entice and encourage those teachers willing to commit to the task.

    •  amen (0+ / 0-)

      my wife was a teacher for three and a half years, and would make two comments were she here:

      (1) The parents are the worst part of the job;

      (2) If you want teachers to be professionals, pay them to be professionals. If you esteem somebody in our society, that is reflected in what they are paid. Clearly we do not value our teachers. And as my daddy taught me a long time ago, you get what you pay for. Difference being, teaching is a calling; or it can be, it should be. So we've been getting a lot more than we're paying for.

      One more thing, which I've commented elsewhere over the years...it's helpful to remember that many of the voters did not succeed in school, to not have happy memories of education, were not wired or touched by a teacher in such a way as to succeed in that setting.

      Beware all ventures which require new clothes, and not a new wearer of clothes. -- Henry David Thoreau

      by Shocko from Seattle on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 03:08:32 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  So, group, (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Urtica dioica gracilis

    What do you think of Obama's educational philosophy?

    The Best finally have conviction.

    by bob zimway on Thu Oct 30, 2008 at 03:14:31 PM PDT

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