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Obama Blasts His Own Education Policies

If only the Department of Education could hear this guy Obama, boy, they would have to rethink their approach!

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.

His answer was superficially reassuring, but underneath, rather alarming.

He replied:

"... 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."

I think I am going to see if President Obama would like to speak at the Save Our Schools rally we have planned this summer protesting his administration's policies!

But here is what is alarming: Either President Obama is trying to mislead people, or he is unfamiliar with the policies being advanced by his very own secretary of education, who was seated just a few feet away from him at this event.

As someone who campaigned and raised money for Obama, I find both of these alternatives unacceptable.

Is President Obama aware:

  • that Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!
  • that his Secretary of Education is proposing to evaluate teacher preparation programs by tracking the test scores of the teachers they produce?
  • that his administration's plan for the new version of No Child Left Behind continues to place tremendous pressure on schools attended by the poorest students, ensuring that there will still be extremely high stakes attached to these tests? This creates the most invidious inequity of all -- where students most in need of the sort of wholistic, project-based curriculum the President rightly says is the cure to boredom remain stuck in schools forced to focus on test scores.
  • that his Department of Education is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested, and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the "value" each teacher adds to their students?

President Obama, I loved the way you described the role of assessment. It should be occasional, not punitive, and used to help diagnose where students need help. What Sasha and Malia are getting is wonderful. Is there a way we could get your Department of Education's policies to align with your personal vision?

UPDATE: Someone at the press office at the Department of Education has requested that I issue a "correction" to this post, because they believe I have misinterpreted President Obama's remarks. I have submitted several questions to them that I hope will clarify these matters. I will share their answers as soon as I get them.

UPDATE 2:
The press team at Dept of Ed says they will have answers soon, and asked me to hold off on posting my questions until tomorrow. Stay tuned!

What do you think? Should we invite President Obama to speak at the Save Our Schools March? How can we get Federal policies aligned with his vision?

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