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Tim Slekar: Tucson Tragedy No Reason to Follow Failed Strategies

For those of us that have dedicated our professional lives to education, it is unbelievable that powerful people like Bill Gates, Davis Guggenheim, Michelle Rhee, Arnie Duncan and others are attempting (and succeeding in places) to dupe the American public into believing that our public education system is in crisis. Yes, there are serious problems in some schools, but films such as Waiting for Superman and The Cartel use teachers and unions as a smokescreen that hides the real problem. Children in some inner city, and rural, and suburban schools are failing. However, the failure most of these students experience is directly related to poverty.


I know it is easier and more palatable to put the blame on teachers and unions, but unless we (Americans) address the issue of poverty in this country we will continue to see children "fail." However, by refusing to address poverty, it is the reformers who are failing children--not teachers. Before we go any further with a reform agenda that will dismantle our public schools I wish President Obama (who should know better) would take the time to read Gerald Bracey, Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, and Anthony Cody. The "crisis" is manufactured!

However, just when you thought it could not get any worse. Leave it to Peggy Noonan (Meet the Press, January 16, 2011) to remind us of an issue all Americans supposedly support. As our Nation mourns the loss of life in Tucson a week ago and when the President and other pundits remind us not to use this tragedy for political gain, Ms. Noonan slipped in a whammy that I'm sure will go unnoticed by most media outlets.

While discussing the nature of and the new direction of political discourse after the Arizona shootings in a round table forum, the participants all agreed that bipartisanship and collegial respect should dominate the new discourse. When asked about an issue where Congress and the President might be able to set the example for the public and demonstrate how political discourse might be seen as civil, Ms. Noonan quickly pointed out education reform. According to Noonan, since the release of the films Waiting for Superman and The Cartel, Americans all agree that our public education system must be reformed. Boom! So much for not using Tucson for political gain.

To be fair, I should also mention that President Obama's State of the Union address will most likely take advantage of this tragedy too. In an effort to demonstrate bipartisanship and set the example of civil discourse, the President will renew his call to "reform" the American public education system. He will remind us that this is an issue in which all Americans should agree. And Republicans and Democrats (some of them sitting together for the first time) will stand and cheer.

However, can somebody please tell President Obama and Ms. Noonan that now is not the time to use the Tucson tragedy or any tragedy to promote a bogus reform movement that will harm our Nation's public school system?

Timothy D. Slekar is an Associate Professor of teacher education and Head of the Division of Education, Human Development, and Family Studies at Penn State Altoona. He has also worked as an elementary school teacher. Dr. Slekar co-hosts a local talk radio show in central PA focused on education reform issues. (Tuesdays at 11:00 am eastern on WRTA 1240 am)

What do you think? Is it time for bi-partisan unity around education reform? Or is President Obama listening to the wrong advisers?

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