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Obama Defends Education Policies Amid Mass Education Layoffs

Protest in Los Angeles, March, 2010 (photo: los.angelista on Flickr)

After criticism increased over the President’s education policies, he took to the National Urban League to defend them today. However, he ignored the elephant in the room: that holding back education funding from the stimulus to pursue an untested “reform” agenda is costing tens of thousands of teachers their jobs and a generation of students their futures.

President Obama particularly defended the “Race to the Top” program today to the National Urban League, one of several civil-rights groups who recently criticized it in a paper:

“I am 110 percent behind our teachers,” he said. “All I’m asking in return — as a president, as a parent, and as a citizen — is some measure of accountability.” […]

The Urban League and six other civil rights groups released a report this week criticizing the program and saying the quality of education offered to minority students reflects a “state of emergency” in the system.

Even as he acknowledged these concerns Thursday, Obama challenged teachers, parents, and student alike to embrace “increased accountability,” and likened the program to his administration’s efforts to reform healthcare and Wall Street.

To many, that was probably the wrong comparison to make.

Here’s the point. Arne Duncan was handed $4.3 billion dollars for Race to the Top. He’s spent $600 million of it so far, on two states – Delaware and Tennessee. Nineteen other states were announced as finalists for the second round of Race to the Top this week, with over $3 billion of funding earmarked. But none of that money has gone out, over two school year cycles, and presumably there will be another winnowing process that takes months before schools actually receive the money.

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost because cities and municipalities have seen their revenues plummet.  . . .Many of those layoffs will come in the education sector, and all the while Arne Duncan is sitting on $4 billion dollars. I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist about education policy to know that losing teachers and increasing class sizes hurts students. Duncan and Obama had a chance to mitigate that with the swift deployment of already-appropriated stimulus funding. But they chose to drag it out, and entice more states into their untested reform theories, which the Urban League and other civil rights groups find unhelpful. You don’t even have to wade into that debate to know that hoarding education money while teachers get the ax makes no sense whatsoever. The President and his Education Secretary are taking advantage of an emergency at the expense of children.

This is a dumb statement:

“Competition leveraged change at the state level,” he said, adding “the states that didn’t win have strengthened their applications for the second round … and even those states that haven’t gotten a grant, their students have benefited from the reforms.”

No they haven’t. They’ve lost valued teachers, and they’ve seen their class sizes balloon. Their schools don’t have the money to educate them. And when House Democrats tried to provide $10 billion to supplement school district budgets – a comedown from $23 billion – the White House threatened to veto the bill it was attached to, because it sliced a sliver off of Race to the Top. As a result, no education money got through, and students suffered. I don’t think the veto threat necessarily killed the edujobs funding, but it certainly didn’t help. What’s more, it showed this Administration’s priorities.

Nobody’s comfortable with the status quo in education policy. But people are really uncomfortable with losing hundreds of thousands of education jobs while the President ignores that crisis.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Obama Defends Education Policies Amid Mass Education Layoffs

After criticism increased over the President’s education policies, he took to the National Urban League to defend them today. However, he ignored the elephant in the room: that holding back education funding from the stimulus to pursue an untested “reform” agenda is costing tens of thousands of teachers their jobs and a generation of students their futures.

President Obama particularly defended the “Race to the Top” program today to the National Urban League, one of several civil-rights groups who recently criticized it in a paper:

“I am 110 percent behind our teachers,” he said. “All I’m asking in return — as a president, as a parent, and as a citizen — is some measure of accountability.” […]

The Urban League and six other civil rights groups released a report this week criticizing the program and saying the quality of education offered to minority students reflects a “state of emergency” in the system.

Even as he acknowledged these concerns Thursday, Obama challenged teachers, parents, and student alike to embrace “increased accountability,” and likened the program to his administration’s efforts to reform healthcare and Wall Street.

To many, that was probably the wrong comparison to make.

Here’s the point. Arne Duncan was handed $4.3 billion dollars for Race to the Top. He’s spent $600 million of it so far, on two states – Delaware and Tennessee. Nineteen other states were announced as finalists for the second round of Race to the Top this week, with over $3 billion of funding earmarked. But none of that money has gone out, over two school year cycles, and presumably there will be another winnowing process that takes months before schools actually receive the money.

In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be lost because cities and municipalities have seen their revenues plummet. Many of those layoffs will come in the education sector, and all the while Arne Duncan is sitting on $4 billion dollars. I don’t think you have to be a rocket scientist about education policy to know that losing teachers and increasing class sizes hurts students. Duncan and Obama had a chance to mitigate that with the swift deployment of already-appropriated stimulus funding. But they chose to drag it out, and entice more states into their untested reform theories, which the Urban League and other civil rights groups find unhelpful. You don’t even have to wade into that debate to know that hoarding education money while teachers get the ax makes no sense whatsoever. The President and his Education Secretary are taking advantage of an emergency at the expense of children.

This is a dumb statement:

“Competition leveraged change at the state level,” he said, adding “the states that didn’t win have strengthened their applications for the second round … and even those states that haven’t gotten a grant, their students have benefited from the reforms.”

No they haven’t. They’ve lost valued teachers, and they’ve seen their class sizes balloon. Their schools don’t have the money to educate them. And when House Democrats tried to provide $10 billion to supplement school district budgets – a comedown from $23 billion – the White House threatened to veto the bill it was attached to, because it sliced a sliver off of Race to the Top. As a result, no education money got through, and students suffered. I don’t think the veto threat necessarily killed the edujobs funding, but it certainly didn’t help. What’s more, it showed this Administration’s priorities.

Nobody’s comfortable with the status quo in education policy. But people are really uncomfortable with losing hundreds of thousands of education jobs while the President ignores that crisis.

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David Dayen

David Dayen