Obama Leadership Academy, Anyone?

My guess is most Ricochet readers cringe every time they see a Republican straining himself while “reaching across the aisle” to find a “bipartisan solution” to one of our nation’s many crises.  Fortunately, in Wednesday night’s Republican debate there were few moments of such reaching.  But there were a couple.  One instance of flagrant open-minded bipartisanship was Newt Gingrich’s explanation of his support for “Race to the Top,” part of the Obama education plan.  According to Gingrich, the president showed great courage in supporting charter schools and the broader issue of choice against the will of the teachers’ unions and radicals in his own party.

Could this be true?  Can the Left and the Right find common ground on putting our children’s future first?  Is education the one issue we can all agree on?  Don’t bet on it.

It would be useful to remember the direction given by a union boss in the Midwest to his top soldiers in response to the first charter schools: “Crush them if you can; co-opt them if you must.”  Charter schools, for those who need a tutorial (as most of us do), do not follow a certain philosophy, curriculum, or set of policies.  They are public schools of choice that have a certain amount of independence from the school district.  A charter can be most anything, according to what sort of school the founders choose.  A charter school can teach Latin, the great books of the Western world, and American history through original sources with A Patriot’s History as a backup textbook.  Its faculty can be wholly non-unionized teachers who have never stepped into an ed-school class and are instead the best liberal arts and sciences graduates from around the country (though only in about six states due to certification requirements in the majority of states).  Or, the charter school can use whole language as its reading program, “teach” children to count by painting horses or mountains, read the most radical anti-Western literature, and follow the American narrative from a Howard Zinn perspective.  It can also be staffed by pro-union teachers who have made straight A’s in their ed-school classes and straight C-minuses in everything else.

So, if you are a betting man or woman, which of these two charter school scenarios would you wager the president has in mind?  The preponderance of charters are in the so-called urban environments, that is, geared toward the poor and minority students.  While some impressive things are being done with many of the urban charters—at least in teaching children the basic skills of reading, writing, and math—the great majority of these schools are progressive in their educational and political leanings.  Now do you really believe that Barack Obama, the former community organizer, does not know this?  While earning the reputation in the eyes of so clever a fellow as former Speaker Gingrich for bravely taking on the unions; while being able to throw a lot more federal money at both the existing system and the charters he chooses; and while further nationalizing a reform in education that was supposed to be essentially local, Mr. Obama also sees the opportunity of being able to teach a progressive liberal curriculum more effectively.  Co-opt them if you must.  Just imagine what the curriculum of an Obama Leadership Academy might look like.

That possibility—that reality in some places—does not mean we should oppose charter schools or the renewal of urban education.  Far from it.  It does mean, however, that we should realize what these supposed reform-minded politicians may be up to.

  1. The Mugwump

    I spent nine years at a charter school teaching geography, history, econ & government.  The local school district tried to strangle the babe in the crib at our founding.  We survived and went on to be successful which only made the district look bad.  The bolshies eventually found a pretext to take over the school and purge the faculty.  What’s left of our once successful school is just a shell of its former self.  My experience suggests that a charter must be 100% independent of the local school district to survive.              

  2. Diane Ellis
    C

    Good points, Terrence.  When I hear “charter school,” I think more choice for parents and students, which charter schools do provide; but as you point out, not all charter schools are created equal.

  3. R. Craigen

    This seems an appropriate place to point to this poignant Onion piece about tests that “discriminate against students who don’t give a D@#%” (Mild obscenity warning).

    They make an important point about “equality of outcomes” versus “equality of opportunity”.  Humor aside, I wonder if even Onion would dare to run a similar piece about other entitlements such as welfare, EI and poverty in general.  Or one that argues that tenure is necessary for professors who are lazy, incompetent or abusive because their “basic human right to teach” would be violated by discriminating, standards-based administrations.  New variations present themselves before the old are done.  Trouble is, there is a bit too much truth in these thoughts for them to yield good satire.

    As for the charter school business I believe the basic appeal to conservatives has little to do with the specifics of the politics or curriculum of these schools in general, but that they represent choice and equal opportunity, and force the schools to navigate the waters of an open market for survival.  If we believe in these forces it matters less what specifics apply to individual schools today; we have confidence in how they will evolve.

  4. Keith Preston

    As a teacher, I just want to see education become like any other part of American society.  An organization of profession that produces a product for the “consumer” so that they can choose that institution which they feel is doing a good job and will be best for their child.  

    I am almost in despair at the crap that is masquerading as “education” today.  Most is a lot of “edutainment”.  Very little knowledge is imparted to students in the classroom, and even less is absorbed by the target.  If good teachers were treasured and rewarded, and bad teachers were purged, our school would become much more effective in preparing our future voters.

    None of this will ever happen while teachers’ unions exist…

  5. Duane Oyen

    You know what?  I don’t care if they push the lefty agenda- if they actually do significantly improve the reading, math, and basic science capability of the kids.  How is that different from what we have now? 

    Today, we get no learning and a lot of propaganda.  I’d rather have actual fundamental skills learning with the propaganda. 

    It is criminal what lefty politicians and the NEA are doing to inner-city kids.  This is a far bigger civil rights issue than affirmative action and drugs.  If they learn to read well enough, some of them will eventually be able to figure out the lies they’ve been taught about income redistribution not hurting the economy.

    Charter schools are OK, as long as they co-exist with low income vouchers so that it is more difficult to strangle the infant the way they killed Paules.  We need it all.

  6. Sisyphus

    Vouchers, please. If we are all going to pay for a public education, let it be the best public education the parents can arrange.

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