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House Democrats voted 236-15 last week for an amendment proposed by Rep. David Obey (D-WI) that took money from the president’s education reform programs, including Race to the Top, and redirected those funds to school districts to prevent teacher layoffs. The confrontation between the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress ended in a defeat for the White House and mutual recriminations all around.

A Newsweek column by John Alter called Obey "a water carrier for teachers’ unions" and "the man who gutted the president’s signature program on education." But that’s not entirely fair, since the Obey amendment leaves the Race to the Top program 90 percent funded. Obey himself has fought for education reform for 41 years, and in that time he’s often been at odds with education lobbyists.

The Obey amendment was not a clear-cut policy decision, and CAP’s education experts are debating it. Scott Lilly supports Obey’s proposal, but CAP President and CEO John Podesta and the rest of the education policy team maintain that programs such as Race to the Top have created momentum for education reform and that we risk wasting a critical opportunity to improve the system.

We feel the open debate we’ve had here at CAP is a better way to approach problems such as this one. No question in education policy has an easy answer, making it all the more critical for progressives to respect one another’s opinions and listen to one other’s ideas. Otherwise we simply can’t accomplish meaningful reform.

Originally posted to American Progress on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 06:37 AM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Keeping those teachers employed is right now (19+ / 0-)

    the most important thing.  Educational experiment programs are nice and all, but jobs trump all other considerations.

    "[R]ather high-minded, if not a bit self-referential"--The Washington Post.

    by Geekesque on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 06:41:01 AM PDT

    •  It's impossible to reform (14+ / 0-)

      if there are so few teachers in a school that classes are 35+ students.  Stop the bleeding now, get the reform once the budget crunch passes.  Agree.

      I'm a mushroom. Kept in the dark and fed....you know

      by The Voice from the Cave on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 06:42:40 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I went to Catholic school in the late 60's (7+ / 0-)

        We had over 40 kids in the classroom. The difference then was dicipline. It's eaiser to teach when the kids pay attention and don't disrupt. We had detention probobly the last thing you wanted to tell your parents.
        Now the parents want to go after the school because little Johnny is being punished instesd of punishing little Johnny.

        If we all just stopped voting would they all just go away?

        by longislandny on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:01:48 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  beware the ruler rapped against the knuckle (0+ / 0-)

          you know... stuff....?

        •  40 kids who ... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          longislandny

          had parents involved enough to send their kids to private catholic school.

          Now, juxtapose that against 40 kids who have parents who don't even teach them manners or respect for themselves let alone others in a classroom in a public school and what do you have?

          no valid comparison.

          parents want better results from the schools, they have to provide the schools with 'better' kids.

          Gone: other things to do.

          by emsprater on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:55:15 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  But why is that the situation? Why do (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            emsprater

            people procreate then don't manage their brood.
            Parents have to wake up and not to the education system but to themselves.

            If we all just stopped voting would they all just go away?

            by longislandny on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:01:23 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

          •  Schools and teachers do need to improve. (0+ / 0-)

            There are many reasons why students do not succeed.

            I don't think that blaming parents is the way to go.

            First, a good teacher and school can help to minimize the problem of poor parenting.

            Second, I don't think that it is smart strategy to blame the people who will vote for candidates that could support schools.

            http://twitter.com/mikeingels

            by DingellDem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:43:14 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  I'm not sure that most ... (0+ / 0-)

              of the parents I am talking about will even bother to vote.

              No teacher anywhere can right the wrong of a child taught by example that they do not have to follow any rules or respect any authority.  Sorry.  

              Gone: other things to do.

              by emsprater on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 10:14:25 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

          •  Is My 60's Public School a Valid Comparison? (0+ / 0-)

            Teachers and administrators actually enforced rules whether or not parents liked it.

            We had a strict dress code that was enforced.  Many a girl was sent home at the beginning of first period because her skirt was too short. And many a boy sent home because his hair was too long.

            •  Kids then ... (0+ / 0-)

              were still brought up to respect their teachers and told by most parents that they had to follow the rules.

              Most of today's kids are brought up by DVD babysitting because parents are 'too busy' doing anything else.  Sorry, I see it on the street every day.  Kids 5 years old running the streets at 3 am in their underwear telling me to 'f off' when I come to their neighborhood on medical emergencies.

              Where are those parents?

              No teacher anywhere can rectify such a situation.

              Gone: other things to do.

              by emsprater on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 10:12:14 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  There is no money to implement reform. (0+ / 0-)

        Tests and good administrators cost money.  Even if one agrees with the philosophy of Race to the Top - which I don't - there is no money to implement the program.  And given opposition in Congress, it is unlikely that RTTT will ever have adequate funding.

        http://twitter.com/mikeingels

        by DingellDem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:58:05 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  In addition, studies show that smaller (6+ / 0-)

      classes make a difference, especially in grades K-3. this should be an education reform that we all can support.

    •  That's exactly right. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lcrp, Geekesque, sherlyle, Tam in CA, ohmyheck

      I'm all for reform, but the bottom line is that there are not nearly enough teachers and not enough of them are paid well enough to make a career out of it.

      That's the problem they should be working on first: more teachers.

      "I'm not a gentle, man. I'm a Method Man!" The What @tweetbbb

      by brooklynbadboy on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:13:55 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  yup - and Charlie Crist understands that well (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Geekesque, mightymouse, emsprater

      enough to have sided with the teachers and gain a huge jump in his once dwindling reputation.  His support for the teachers over Obama's curiously GOP like reform, along with Crist's hardline "no" on more off-shore drilling, will most likely put him in the Senate.

      Meek doesn't have a chance and flip-flop Charlie, who may be using his independence as a way into Florida's Democratic politics at the moment, will eventually blow whichever way the wind blows once he's seated...

      (and as a gay man, the irony of the "blow" metaphor is not an accident)

      "History is a tragedy, not a melodrama." - I.F.Stone

      by bigchin on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:23:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I don't think Charlie can go back to the (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        laurak, TracieLynn, emsprater, bigchin

        GOP.  They did to him what we should have done to Joementum.

        "[R]ather high-minded, if not a bit self-referential"--The Washington Post.

        by Geekesque on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:25:24 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I hope u r right (4+ / 0-)

          but I grew up with Charlie (his daddy was my family's doctor) and he's capable of just about anything if it serves his goal...

          Quick story - forgive the slight vulgarity but - Charlie once peed on me and my friends.  We were in kindergarten and he climbed to the top of the monkey bars, dropped trou, and whizzed on the rest of us who were still climbing...

          at 6 yrs. old he was already into "trickle down" I suppose... genetically republican, as it were.  

          I do appreciate the comment about Lieberman.  

          "History is a tragedy, not a melodrama." - I.F.Stone

          by bigchin on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:33:47 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Charlie will caucus (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          emsprater

          With which ever party gives him the best deal.

          "let's talk about that"

          by VClib on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:45:20 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  If Crist wins (0+ / 0-)

          he will not caucus with either party.

          People don't get the obvious:  if the economy doesn't recover he is going to run for President.

          The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

          by fladem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:30:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  Teachers should back Crist for political impact. (0+ / 0-)

        Teachers unions need a few races to show their political impact.

        Obama feels free to push Race to the Top because he doesn't see any consequences coming from the NEA and AFT.

        So, the unions need several well-selected races to show that they are difference makers.

        It seems likely that the Democrats will take a bath this November.  And there will be a narrative to accompany those losses.

        If teachers can win a few races during a down year, they can become part of that narrative.

        http://twitter.com/mikeingels

        by DingellDem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 09:14:56 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  You're right on this one. (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lcrp, Geekesque, emsprater, Mike Taylor

      We need these teachers to stay employed---especially when the recession is ongoing, and states are looking to cut their budgets even further.

      I work with Back to Basics PAC, and all views and opinions in this account are my own.

      by slinkerwink on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:26:22 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Agreed (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Geekesque

      And what the republicans and Nelson did with the employee benefits bill was mind-numbing depravity.

      Our local school system, which has been a very good one, got decimated with cuts, not just firing teachers, but also getting rid of extra-curricular educational programs that have been wildly successful for decades.  These aren't experimental anymore.  They are proven programs that work.

      I think the WH will come around to Obey's position on this one.

      Before you support war, look into the hollow eyes of the men, women and children who know it.

      by Indiana Bob on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 09:53:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Believe me, we're not going to be racing (10+ / 0-)

    anywhere if we have classrooms of 45 students with standing room only.

    Teacher layoffs are the wrong thing to do.

    •  My average class size last year was 33. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mightymouse, brklyngrl

      That's 180+ students across six periods.  My largest class had 36 students.  My co-worker had a 41 student class across the hallway.

      When I hired in eleven years ago, class sizes were in the lower twenties.  But we moved from 72 teachers to about 47 in that same decade.

      I think that we actually do a pretty good job.

      We do need effective teacher evaluation.  But average performance on test scores and other performance measures will decrease as class sizes increase.  There may be isolated exceptions to that.

      http://twitter.com/mikeingels

      by DingellDem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:16:12 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  take some money from the defense budget also (11+ / 0-)
  •  I thought the "P" in CAP was for progress? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    teacherken, majcmb1, banjolele, ohmyheck

    There is nothing progressive about using the financial crisis to force schools to choose between mass layoffs or dismantling the public education system. Privatizing education, union busting, and turning classrooms into testing centers isn't progress.

    "Never separate the life you live from the words you speak" -Paul Wellstone

    by WellstoneDem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 06:58:31 AM PDT

  •  "Momentum for education reform" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    esquimaux

    Where has this guy been for the past 50 years? We've had more non-stop education reform than anywhere else on Earth even to the point now that we are adopting pedagogical practices that other nations cannot wait to be rid of themselves.

    But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich, than face the reality of being poor. (1776)

    by banjolele on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:07:07 AM PDT

    •  it's only reform if it is what they want (5+ / 0-)

      and you are only a reformer if you agree with them

      CAP positions on education are very much in conformity with the agenda of the self-labeled Democrats for Education Reform

      The problem is, a lot of what they are advocating has little or no research base to support it, something Ravitch also notes about the school reconstruction options in RttT.

      If we lose as many teachers as is now projected, the damage will be hard to overcome in three years of normal staffing and instruction.   The single most important thing right now is continuity of experienced teachers in classrooms.

      Unfortunately, the way the education folks at CAP think, the people around Duncan, the DFER types, the newspaper editorialists, the columnists like Alter, is crowing out any other point of view, with a very few exceptions such as Ravitch.

      And when the leaders in the unions raise legitimate issues, that is used as an excuse to bash the teachers' unions.

      Perhaps some Democrats who think they know more about education than those of us dedicating our lives and careers to being on the ground helping our children ought to remember -  you lose the support of the teachers and their unions and you will be clobbered in the elections this fall, and in 2010.

      Note this -  no Democrat will win the Florida Senate seat.  Independent Charlie Crist, who might if elected caucus with the Democrats, might win because of the solid support he now has from teachers after listening and vetoing SB6.

      Why should teachers support Democrats, in the White House or on the Hill, whose actions are doing MORE damage to public schools and education than 8 years of Bush did?  

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:26:00 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  He doesn't have "solid support" (0+ / 0-)

        and Meek, who was the key force behind Florida's Class Size Referendum in 2002, is entitled to teacher support like few politicians in this country.

        Crist had been talking about undoing the Class Size requirement. As anyone in Florida who has been active will tell you Crist is a complete snake.

        The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

        by fladem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:34:33 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  For the record (0+ / 0-)

          the ballot initiative that won in 2002 in Florida requires the following:

          gradual reductions in class size over the course of the next eight years, until they reach no more than 18 for grades pre-K-3, 22 for grades 4-8, and 25 in high school.  The guidelines are also flexible, so that class size will be calculated in stages: first averaged by district, then by school, and finally, in each individual classroom.

          Crist supports Prop 8, which would undo this requriement.  Meek, who led the effort in 2002 which passed over Jeb Bush's objections opposes undoing it.

          I would love to see a national law mandating class size limits similar tot he one passed in Florida.

          The bitter truth of deep inequality has been disguised by an era of cheap imported goods and the anyone-can-make-it celebrity myth - Polly Toynbee

          by fladem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:41:55 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Meek won't get it (0+ / 0-)

          the union is backing Crist

          and it is not even a guarantee that Meek will win the nomination

          doesn't matter what you think of Crist, or what I think of Crist, on an issue important to Florida teachers and parents he stepped up and many feel he is therefore, on that issue alone, entitled to their support

          "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

          by teacherken on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:42:48 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Break teachers unions. Break police/fire unions. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    sherlyle, Dirtandiron

    Break effective government.

    The gop simply does not believe in the same things we belive in.

    The gop seems to accept the notion that government has somehow been perverted from its original intentions. Those intentions are defined by the gop and to my way of thinking, do not reflect what a najority of Americans see as the role of government.

    The gop continues to grapple with reality.

    Capitalism thrives on raising funds on assets that have no value.

    by A Runner on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:17:05 AM PDT

    •  Interesting quote but what does (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      VClib

      it have to do with this diary?  The diary reads that this is congressional Dems verses the White House.  The GOP isn't even mentioned.  

      One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity nothing beats teamwork." - Mark Twain

      by ohmyheck on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:24:06 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It is about ed policy right? (0+ / 0-)

        And if Dems disagreee with one another, thats okay. In the larger context, the ed system has been suffering for years.

        Capitalism thrives on raising funds on assets that have no value.

        by A Runner on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 07:59:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Actually much of the so-called Reformers (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        esquimaux, Dirtandiron, ohmyheck

        are Wall Street Bankers and hedge fund managers(look up the Democrats for Education Reform). They seem quite interested in destroying unions. Just as Reagan delivered a severe blow to the Union movement, they have got the President through Secretary Duncan to embrace their cause. Crushing the teacher unions is a good way to weaken all public sector unions and ultimately to finish off the union movement in this country.

        I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution. Barbara Jordan

        by Lcohen on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:52:15 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Um, ya, thanks Lcohen. (0+ / 0-)

          That was my real point.  This has nothing to do with the GOP, and everything to do with the split in the Deomcratic Party.  Neoliberals VS. Progressives, IMO.

          One man alone can be pretty dumb sometimes, but for real bona fide stupidity nothing beats teamwork." - Mark Twain

          by ohmyheck on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 10:47:46 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

    •  Why do you blame the GOP (0+ / 0-)

      when it's Obama and his lap dog Alter who are creating the teacher's union boogie monster?

  •  Tough Times (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    askew, Southside

    I agreed with the Obey Amendment, and I agree with the Administration.

    There is a lot of proof out there Race to the Top has spurred education reform around the country, numerous examples can be found. The debate is really if you agree with those reforms or not.

    However, many teachers would have been let go if it wasn't for this amendment and I don't think thats a step anyone wanted to take. Most of the Race to the Top funds were not even distributed like most people thought they would when they reformed their schools, and there is still plenty left for states to try and win.

    •  Bait and Switch (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      esquimaux

      Race to the Top has only been awarded to two states.

      And, yet, many states had to change their laws during the application process for the money.

      In Michigan, we passed reform legislation last December.  Did we get any money to fund it?  No.

      It's because Obama has no money to make it happen.  So, he hopes to use a small pot of money and a lot of promises as bait to force states to change their laws on education.

      But when the laws pass, the money mysteriously disappears.

      http://twitter.com/mikeingels

      by DingellDem on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:21:05 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  it has spurred change (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Indiana Bob, esquimaux

      but if "reform" means that things are being fixed, the jury is still out.

      You are buying the labeling that the changes required represent reform.

      Really?

      Merit pay tied to test scores is going to improve education?  Show me any evidence.  And then remember, the great management guru W. Edwards Deming made scathing remarks about merit pay in the industrial world.

      The four models to restructure "failing" schools?  Show me a single study that demonstrates any one of them works.

      This is part of the problem.  It is that the word 'reform' has been hijacked by a particular viewpoint which refuses to allow any other point of view to be equally presented.  Maybe that is why so many of those so-called reformers want to crush teachers' unions, because collectively the voices of teachers might be enough to expand the discussion and thereby the understanding, but few of us as individuals can even get heard.

      "what the best and wisest parent wants for his child is what we should want for all the children of the community" - John Dewey

      by teacherken on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:46:46 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Obama voiced support for the firing of (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Indiana Bob

     Rhode Island teachers. I bet if a serious study were done it would show that kids going to school malnourished, family anxieties associated with the recession (unemployment, housing, healthcare etc.), single parent/income households etc. would have a lot more to do with "failing schools" than the teachers.
    Just another case of Obama trying to score brownie-points with conservatives who want him (and us) to fail.

  •  What is wrong with CAP Education team? (0+ / 0-)

    Scott Lily obviously gets it but the rest despite a virtual lack of evidence in their favor continue to drive the privatization agenda. Everyone now acknowledges that teacher quality matters. But the RTTT and CAP agenda doesn't seek to improve teacher quality. Instead it threatens teachers with loss of employment, tenure, pay unless they move scores on tests that don't actually measure most of what is important in education. How does we'll punish you if you don't focus on the lowest order skills advance the cause of quality teaching, attract and retain quality teachers or insure most importantly that our students receive a well-rounded education that includes the development of higher order skills?

    I am not going to sit here and be an idle spectator to the diminution, the subversion, the destruction, of the Constitution. Barbara Jordan

    by Lcohen on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:49:07 AM PDT

  •  What's CAP? n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Let's remember that we should care about people even after they're born. - A. Grayson

    by IL JimP on Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 08:49:50 AM PDT

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