Why Does the Obama Administration Keep Getting It Wrong on Education Policy?

By Amy B Dean, Truthout | Interview –

A Dialogue With Albert Shanker Institute Executive Director Leo Casey

arne duncan

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan speaks with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, center, during a speech by President Barack Obama at the Miami Central Senior High School in Florida to speak about education, March 4, 2011. (Stephen Crowley/The New York Times)

Albert Shanker Institute executive director Leo Casey talks about community schools, public education, teacher evaluation, standardized testing, Common Core, the political dimension of corporate education “reform” and what policies are needed to revitalize public education.

Maintaining and directing the federal bureaucracy is one of the most important (and underappreciated) presidential tasks. When Barack Obama was elected, progressives had high hopes that, after eight years of Republican rule, federal agencies would take significant turns for the better. In some instances, this has been the case. But the priorities of the Obama administration’s Department of Education seem little changed from the failures of the Bush administration.

The administration’s signature policy, Race to the Top, is designed to help only those states (19 so far) that encourage the proliferation of charter schools and increase reliance on high-stakes testing. This is not entirely surprising, given that Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary, came to Washington with a suspect record. As Chicago’s public schools chief, he closed 44 public schools and opened over 100 charters, advancing a pro-corporate “reform” agenda while doing little to meet the city’s actual needs.

Why has the administration’s education agenda gone so badly awry? What should progressives be demanding at the present moment? And if Democrats and Republicans have very similar priorities for education, are there any improvements we can hope for under a future administration?

To answer these questions, I recently spoke with Leo Casey, a former vice president of New York City’s United Federation of Teachers. Currently, Casey is executive director of the Albert Shanker Institute, a think tank named for the iconic leader of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) who is credited with developing the high professional standards associated with today’s teaching profession.

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Reprinted with permission