Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Obama’s Class Project

Mulgrew can have his three lame NY State Senators – we'll take the President!  Here's Jonathan Alter with a brilliant piece:

The good news, which should inspire a little hope (though not the usual complacent overconfidence), is that the education-reform movement in the United States—the most critical social movement of our time—has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10. The push for reform, which began with the 1983 government report "A Nation at Risk," had been stymied for years by what's sometimes known as "The Blob"—the collection of bureaucracies, school boards, and teachers' unions committed to protecting the failed status quo. But Obama is the first Democrat who was elected president without the early support of teachers' unions (they backed Hillary Clinton), and he has seized the opportunity. Only a fierce anticommunist like Nixon could go to communist China, and only a Democratic president like Obama can push through accountability measures that Democratic unions have resisted for years. Waiting for Superman (full disclosure: I appear in the film, directed by Davis Guggenheim) doesn't cover Obama, but it's a terrific primer on the political and institutional forces at work, as well as a heartbreaking human story. Critics are already saying that the film could do for accountability in education what Guggenheim's earlier documentary An Inconvenient Truth did for the climate-change debate.

…All this reform has kicked off a family feud within the Democratic Party, and the forces of the status quo are fighting back. When a few House Democrats tried to gut Race to the Top, Obama issued a veto threat. Now Republicans want to prevent White House efforts to replicate the success of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. (It was the charismatic Canada who explains in the film that he waited in vain for Superman to save him as a kid.) For the first time ever, substantial numbers of Democrats back real reform, though important reformers like Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia face tough campaigns this fall.

The two major teachers' unions have diverged recently. The American Federation of Teachers, headed by Randi Weingarten, even helped enact a teacher- tenure-reform bill in Colorado that's a national model. By contrast, the hidebound National Education Association is still bitterly opposed to any accountability. Obama insists that education policy center on what's good for students, not adult interest groups. Through that lens, everything clarifies.

The national conversation is still more focused on diversions like Sarah Palin's antics than strengthening our education system and, by extension, our economy and collective future. When we look up in the sky, Superman isn't coming. But a social movement "more powerful than a locomotive" is headed down the tracks, if only we'll hop aboard.


Obama's Class Project

U.S. education reform has made more progress in the last year than in the previous 10. How the president is driving the effort.


by Jonathan Alter

September 13, 2010


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