In the views of many public school parents, he has consistently ignored our concerns about overcrowding and inequitable distribution of resources and space. See this account, for example, of the proposal to place the Hebrew Language Academy charter school within Marine Park middle school; here are also videos of the highly contentious hearings.
During the proceedings, he called the 150 children who would attend the Hebrew charter school the “jewels” of the DOE, which hugely offended the parents of the 1100 children currently attending Marine Park MS, as well as the community’s elected officials, including Rep. Anthony Weiner.
White also supported the creation of a middle school called “Quest to Learn” based on video games, despite the opposition of District 2 parents and the Community Education Council. He promised it would not go into an existing school building but that it would find its own building. That never happened, of course. Instead it was inserted into the Bayard Rustin building, eliminating precious gym space for students at the schools already housed in the building. His refusal to consult with parents and the CEC led to a lawsuit.
More recently, White has been pushing the rapid and costly expansion of the Izone, or online learning, to 400 schools, despite the fact that it has little or no research to back it up, as today’s NY Times points out. Yet he wants to spend $500 million on technology next year to make this possible. As quoted in this recent report on the Izone, White said, “We are trying to make achievement the constant and adults the variable.”
It is no wonder that White would want to leave NYC, considering the negative feelings he has aroused; and the fact that approval ratings for Bloomberg’s handling of education is at an all-time low of 28%. Despite all the money spent and often wasted, achievement has lagged, especially among black and Hispanic students.
John White also led the campaign to close schools. Below are videos of public hearings at which he presided concerning the closing of Jamaica HS in Queens and Metropolitan Corporate Academy in Brooklyn.
Jamaica HS Closing Hearing: James Eterno Presents the Real Data from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.Hey, just so we know what we're getting into... Lovely to know that, if I were the parent of an RSD child, White would see me - and RSD teachers - as a "variable".
So today, as part of the Education Writers Association seminar here, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who infamously said "The best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans was Hurricane Katrina," will be addressing seminar attendees today. If any of you are going, can you ask Duncan why his policies deviate so much from what the president feels about education?
In a town hall meeting hosted by Univision, President Obama was asked by a student named Luis Zelaya if there could be a way to reduce the number of tests that students must take.Barack...Barry...Dude...after you've met with Boehner about keeping the government working, get with your education guy and figure out where you guys' signals have crossed, because this country desperately needs your kind of thinking. Yesterday and today.
His answer was superficially reassuring, but underneath, rather alarming.
"... we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there's nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at.
"Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn't a high-stakes test. It wasn't a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn't even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn't study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.
"Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let's find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let's apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let's figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let's make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well.
"Because there are other criteria: What's the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not."
Then he said something really radical.
"So what I want to do is—one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to the test. Because then you're not learning about the world; you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test. And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in. They're not going to do as well if it's boring."
The Department of Ed's responses to Anthony Cody's questions on Obama's thinking versus policy are here.
Further extrapolation in a two-part "Obama Knows Best" series is here and here.
Let me explain why I think this is resonating so much.
The Obama campaign relied on the energy of millions of us, activated by a call to our hopes and dreams. We were exhausted by eight years of Bush, seven years of No Child Left Behind, and Obama promised a fresh start. We have not seen that fresh start in education. Instead we are seeing a deep entrenchment on the part of the Department of Education, finding ever more creative ways to pretend that making the tests more frequent will somehow make them benign. Those of us who are experiencing the effects of these policies are not deceived. We see how they are destroying schools, and stealing opportunities from children.
Three years ago, in 2008, I actively campaigned for Barack Obama during the primary. I knocked on doors in my neighborhood, and brought together more than a hundred educators to raise thousands of dollars for his campaign. About 18 months ago, deeply disappointed by the way that President Obama was continuing the test-aholic traditions of NCLB, I wrote him an open letter. I posted it here on my blog, and launched a Facebook group called Teachers' Letters to Obama in order to gather more letters, and create a forum for educators to gather and discuss how we might reshape the education debate. We gathered 107 letters, which were sent to both President Obama and Secretary Duncan. We eventually had a brief conversation with Secretary Duncan, but otherwise, our concerns have been ignored.
Last week, President Obama reminded us all why his election gave many of us so much hope. In 338 words he spoke of how he wanted his daughters, Sasha and Malia, to have their learning tested. He described a low-stakes, low pressure environment, with the results used not to punish them, their teachers or their school, but simply to find out what their strengths are, and where they might need extra support. He spoke of the need to avoid teaching to the test, and the value of engaging projects that would make students excited about learning. President Obama has made sure his daughters can learn this way. If only Department of Education policies would allow students in our public schools this same privilege!
President Obama needs to understand. Those of us who care deeply about our children and public schools cannot support his candidacy if he does not fix his education policies so they align with what he said on March 28th.
We have created a petition asking President Obama to support the Guiding Principles of the Save Our School March and National Call to Action, which are aligned with his. Please sign it here.