By Mark Naison
The war on public-school teachers — and on public education in general — continues to be one of the most disturbing aspects of the Obama administration’s seven-year tenure. With the President’s nomination of John King for the position of Secretary of Education, he reaches a new low.
Appointing Arne Duncan, someone with no teaching experience, as Secretary of Education, Barack Obama set the tone for his administration. Shortly after his election, he offered praise for the mass firing of teachers in Central Falls, Rhode Island, who refused to accept dramatic modifications of their contract to lengthen the school day.
The attack escalated with the unveiling of Race to the Top, which gave huge grants to states that rated teachers on the basis of test scores, closed schools designated as “failing” — again on the basis of test scores — and gave preference to charter schools over public schools. The Department of Education’s enthusiastic support for the Common Core Standards — formulated with little teacher input — and grants to Teach for America set the tone for national education policy.
Secretary Duncan attacked the nation’s public-school teachers as poorly trained, poorly qualified and in dire need of replacement by higher-achieving students from the nation’s top universities.
Democratic politicians like Rahm Emmanuel, Andrew Cuomo and Dannel Malloy jumped on the “reform” bandwagon—driving teacher morale to unheard of depths. Teachers and their supporters pushed back—defending public education with organizations such as Save Our Schools, United Opt Out, BATS and Network for Public Education.
In the face of this uprising, President Obama nominated John King, the most reviled education commissioner in the history of New York State, and one who helped generate an Opt Out movement that included well over 200,000 families, as Secretary of Education.
What a shameful way to treat public-school teachers, one of the largest subgroups in the nation’s disappearing middle class, and what a tragic legacy for a president who embodied hope and change for so many of us. We won’t forget.