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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 09/06/2012

The ed speech Obama should give to help him win

Many of the nation’s more than 3 million teachers are unhappy with Obama administration school reform policies that they believe are using them as scapegoats for problems in failing schools.

Both the National Education Association and the American Federation
(LARRY DOWNING/REUTERS)
of Teachers — the two teachers unions with, collectively, more than 3 million members — have endorsed Obama because they see important differences between the Democratic and Republican investment in public education. But many teachers are unhappy with the president’s support for initiatives such as standardized test-based teacher evaluation systems. Some have said they won’t vote for either Obama or Mitt Romney.

Here is a piece written by education historian Diane Ravitch, a research professor at New York University and author of the bestselling “The Death and Life of the Great American School System.” This first appeared on her blog.

By Diane Ravitch

By all accounts, the election of 2012 will be close.

For educators, the stakes are high.

Mitt Romney supports every kind of privatization, from charters to vouchers to full-time online schools, and he has no problem with for-profit schooling.

His agenda threatens the survival of that most basic of democratic institutions, the public school.

Educators supported President Obama when he ran in 2008. They enthusiastically embraced him as a true change agent, expecting that he would make major alterations to the noxious federal law No Child Left Behind.

But after his election, instead of calling for a major change in NCLB, he launched his Race to the Top, which builds on the flawed strategies of NCLB. Although President Obama has won the endorsement of the NEA and the AFT, many of the nation’s nearly four million teachers are discouraged by his policies. If they sit home or if they are lukewarm, he could lose the election.

We can’t let that happen.

So I am doing my part by writing a short speech that would win educators back. If he uses this speech, he would win the election. He could incorporate the following into his acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Charlotte, N.C., or use it on a subsequent occasion:

I want to address a few words to the nation’s hard-working teachers and principals, to its dedicated leaders and school board members. You hold the future in your hands. Your work will determine whether America is a great society, a just society and a creative society in the future.

I know you have been disappointed in my approach to education. I know that teacher morale is at a low ebb. I know there is far too much pressure to teach to the test. That degrades the joy of learning.

I know that most of that pressure comes from mistakes we made when we launched a ‘Race to the Top.’

I know now we were wrong.

Judging teachers by the test scores of their students is wrong. I understand now that this method doesn’t work. I apologize to you for letting it happen.

You know that I have spoken out repeatedly against teaching to the test. I would not want this for my children, and you should not want it for yours or the children in your care. This is mis-education.

Our country is now spending billons of dollars on testing and test preparation that should be spent in the classrooms of America, bringing back the 300,000 teachers who lost their jobs. reducing class sizes, restoring libraries, and providing services directly to children.

Our nation’s must out-innovate the world and it won’t happen by picking a bubble on a standardized test. It will only happen if we encourage critical thinking, free inquiry, and a sense of wonder and imagination in every classroom.

We want our students to lead the world in their love of learning. We want them to be the best in creativity. We want them to know history and foreign languages, science and mathematics, literature and geography. And we want them to have physical education every single day so that they are healthy and fit.

One more thing. I realize that we were wrong to require states to allow more privately managed schools as a condition of getting money from the Race to the Top.

Through our mistakes, we inadvertently unleashed a movement to privatize our nation’s public schools and to turn them into for-profit centers for equity investors and technology corporations.

This is unacceptable. Folks on the right have wanted to privatize our schools for half a century. We can’t let that happen.

When we look around the world, we see that the top-performing nations have great public systems. We do not want to revive a dual school system in our nation’s cities, dividing up our public funds between a weakened public system and aggressive charter chains.

And so I am directing my Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as of this day to cancel the Race to the Top. The fact is that learning is not accomplished in a “race.” Races are fine on the sports field, but not in the classroom. Learning is accomplished because of the patient effort of students, teachers, principals, parents, and communities working together.

From this moment on, the U.S. Department of Education will dedicate its efforts to improving public education; to supporting equality of educational opportunity; to enforcing the civil rights of our students; to funding the districts where need is greatest; to strengthening the research and information that we need to upgrade our schools; and to recognize that the primary responsibility for reform lies with the states and districts that are closest to the problems.

Yes, we must improve public education. But we must do it in ways that makes our communities and our democracy stronger. We must do it in ways that respect the dedication of our educators. And we must do it in ways that recognize that many children and families need extra help because of the burdens of poverty. We must do what we can to lift those burdens and to bring about the greatest of American goals: equality of educational opportunity.

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