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Education Policies One Reason for the "Enthusiasm Gap"

As we approach the midterm election there are reports circulating of an "enthusiasm gap" between Republican and Democratic party voters. While 59% of voters who associate themselves with the Republican party say they are "enthusiastic about voting," only 44% of Democratic voters put themselves in this category.

The reason enthusiasm matters is that there is a huge drop-off between the Presidential election and the mid-term, and the electorate may shrink by as much as 40 million voters. The degree to which one's base is motivated to turn out to the polls can be decisive.

As one of about six million of America's teachers, I must say I feel decidedly unenthusiastic myself, a year and a half into to the Obama/Duncan administration. I am sure that I will vote, and most likely vote for Democrats, but it will be different this time. In 2008 I walked my precinct during the primary for candidate Obama, and organized a fundraiser focused on teachers that raised about $10,000 for him. I was excited and hopeful. But as readers of my blog have gathered, the bloom is off the rose.

Someone recently told me I would be even less happy with what a President Palin might do with No Child Left Behind, so I should be a bit less critical and get with the program. I imagine President Palin might do worse, but honestly I am not sure how. And at least I would not feel as if I were administering the punishment to myself.

In California we have a microcosm of this dilemma. Jerry Brown is running as the Democratic candidate for governor, and while he has had a decent track record on education, he has yet to spell out his policies in this arena or even feature education as one of the big issues for his campaign. This has left him open to attacks from his Republican rival, which is frustrating. There is a lot of pent up energy among teachers who would be thrilled to have Brown emerge as an advocate on this issue.

Beginning with my open letter to President Obama last November, I have sought to provide the administration with feedback, not just from myself, but from hundreds of teachers. We even delivered our thoughts directly to Secretary Duncan a month ago in a rather frustrating phone call. But when we hear that Secretary Duncan is reporting to members of Congress that teachers support Race to the Top, and the Department of Education's Blueprint for ESEA reauthorization, we feel not only unheard, but actually betrayed. Because the principles that seem to guide Race to the Top and the Blueprint are cut from the same cloth as No Child Left Behind. Build accountability systems based on flawed test score data, encourage pay based on higher test scores, aggressively expand support for charter schools while punishment and ritual cleansings are focused on the poorest schools.

Teachers have a lot of constructive alternatives to these policies. We know what works to strengthen our schools. We need opportunities for teachers to collaborate, to investigate and reflect on their practice, to strengthen assessment practices and figure out what students are actually learning - beyond the standardized tests. We need strong mentoring programs, and decent pay so people can afford to choose teaching as a lifelong career rather than a short-term resume-builder after college. We need deeper and more authentic evaluation processes that contribute to real professional growth. We need to be able to individualize and differentiate instruction, so we meet our students where they are and build on their strengths. If you want to hear more, just come to our Teachers' Roundtable, Assessment Done Right, this coming Monday night, June 28, 5:30 to 7:30 pm Pacific Time. (register here. )

First-term Southern California Congresswoman Judy Chu has emerged as a surprising leader on the issue of turnaround schools. The Duncan team has in place four bad options once a school has been labeled "chronically low-performing." But Chu, who sits on the House Education and Labor committee, has introduced a bill called Strengthening Our Schools, that offers far more flexible options.

This is the sort of leadership that will unleash the enthusiastic support of teachers, who are seeking real reform of our schools, not rehashed NCLB methods dressed in new clothing.

What do you think? How enthusiastic are you about the upcoming election this fall? How do you feel about the way the Obama/Duncan administration has handled our schools?

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