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Posted at 12:05 AM ET, 03/12/2011

Obama’s odd embrace of Jeb Bush

This was written by educator Anthony Cody, who taught science for 18 years in inner-city Oakland and now works with a team of science teacher-coaches that supports novice teachers. He is a National Board-certified teacher and an active member of the Teacher Leaders Network. This post appeared on his Education Week Teacher blog, Living in Dialogue.

By Anthony Cody

President Obama last week proved his point. Education is not a partisan issue. Both Democrats and Republicans are pushing terrible ideas. In order to endanger the great institution of public education in America, both parties have been working together. And in order to save it, teachers, parents and students will need to stand up to leaders of both parties.

The president went on Friday to Florida, where he shared the stage with former Republican governor Jeb Bush. Obama said,

“We are also honored to be joined here today by another champion of education reform, somebody who championed reform when he was in office, somebody who is now championing reform as a private citizen -- Jeb Bush...The truth is I’ve gotten to know Jeb because his family exemplifies public service. And we are so grateful to him for the work that he’s doing on behalf of education. So, thank you, Jeb.”

President Obama immediately got some flack for this. Jennie Smith, the one teacher on the Educator’s Roundtable that followed, expressed her views:

“I expressed to the President how I (and so many like me) felt about this apparent collaboration with the Bush privatization agenda. I told him directly that I and so many other teachers were very disappointed to see him on stage with Jeb Bush, considering the assault on public education he has led in this state and how his foundation has continuously tried to eliminate our contracts and our collective bargaining.”

President Obama’s response? Jennie Smith summarized:

“Education should not be a partisan issue, and we must work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact reform. He said that he was aware of the decertification issues for our unions and that he did not support that, but that we had to be willing to compromise in the interest of improving education for our children, and that teachers had to be willing to be held accountable. He said that instead of fighting reform, we should get in front of it and lead it. He also said there was a difference between Rick Scott and Jeb Bush, and that it was important to distinguish.”

In her commentary Jennie Smith does an excellent job explaining exactly what Jeb Bush has done for education in the great state of Florida. Remember the fight over Senate Bill 6 last spring? This law would have required pay and evaluations to be tied to test scores. As Smith brilliantly explains:

“Everything about their pet legislation discourages qualified career teachers from working in the state of Florida, let alone in a struggling school. Even the most effective teacher recognizes the variability of test scores from year to year and class to class, and the unreliability of those measures. Statistic variations are such that a teacher who is rated “highly effective” one year could be rated “ineffective” the next simply from having a different group of students sitting in front of her.”

But I noticed something else in the president’s comments. He also said:

“You know, I was reading the other day an article -- this is just a couple days ago -- in The New York Times about how teachers were just feeling beat up, just not feeling as if folks understood how much work went into teaching and how dedicated they were to the success of their students. And so I want to be very clear here. We are proud of what you guys do each and every day. We are proud of what you do each and every day. We need to honor teachers. Countries that are successful right now academically, typically teachers are considered one of the top professions.”

I was quoted in that New York Times article. What I said was this:

“What we need in these schools is stability,” said Mr. Cody, 52, who writes a blog about teaching. “We need to convince people that if they invest their career in working with these challenging students, then we will reward them and appreciate them. We will not subject them to arbitrary humiliation in the newspaper. We will not require they be evaluated and paid based on test scores that often fluctuate greatly beyond the teacher’s control.”

President Obama needs to understand that we do not need the combination of fulsome praise and punitive policies that have been the trademark of Arne Duncan’s Department of Education. It may impress members of the media and politicians, but at the end of the day, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot claim to be all about honoring our profession and schools, and then support policies that are in danger of destroying them.

My great appreciation goes to Jennie Smith for speaking truth so clearly. Every time our leaders meet teachers, I hope this is what they hear. This week we broke through the noise. With the help of Jon Stewart and Diane Ravitch, our views punctured the false consensus that has been portrayed about education reform.

President Obama is right about one thing. Education reform is not a partisan issue. Teachers have to stand up to Democrats and Republicans alike. And we will not be holding fundraisers or walking precincts for candidates of either party that pursue these destructive policies.

Florida teachers showed us last year how to fight this trend. They made a powerful alliance with parents, and put immense pressure on their political leaders to stop Senate Bill 6. They ultimately convinced Republican governor Charlie Crist to veto the bill. This year they have launched a campaign called Awake the State that is holding dozens of rallies across Florida to oppose the huge budget cuts that loom for schools and social services.

Teachers have been called a sleeping giant. The giant is stirring. President Obama hopes to soothe us back to sleep with his sweet words of praise. But we are experiencing the nightmarish policies that his administration is enabling across the country. When you have a nightmare, the thing to do is WAKE UP. Stand up. And so we will. Find out how you can get involved - teachers, parents, students - we all need to stand together. We are marching next July 30, at the Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action.

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By  |  12:05 AM ET, 03/12/2011

 
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