Monday, May 2, 2016

A Pair of Presidential Proclamations

Because somebody has a dark sense of humor, this week is both National Teacher Appreciation Week and National Charter Schools Week. And President Barrack Obama has issued proclamations for both.

There's something to be learned about this administration's feelings about both charters and teachers from looking at these two proclamations, so let's do that. Spoiler alert: there will be no pleasant surprises forthcoming.

Here's the first line from one of the proclamations. See if you can guess which one:

Our Nation has always been guided by the belief that all young people should be free to dream as big and boldly as they want, and that with hard work and determination, they can turn their dreams into realities. 

That would be the opening sentence from the proclamation in praise of charter schools.

The proclamation is laudatory, leaving one with the impression that charter schools are the whole education show. Schools are awesome, and "we celebrate the role of high-quality charter schools" in achieving this awesomeness. Also, "we honor the dedicated professionals across America who make this calling their life's work by serving in charter schools.

Charter schools "play an important role in our country's education system" and work in our underserved communities where they can "ignite imagination and nourish the minds of America's young people" while finding new ways to do the education thing. Obama reinforces the notion that charters experiment and find new ways to help underperforming schools (though we must close them when they don't do well).  This language continues. "Forefront of innovation."

Also, "different ways of engaging students" including personalized instruction, technology and rigorous/college-level coursework. This administration has supported charters big-time because Obama has remained committed to "ensuring all of our Nation's students have the tools and skills they need to get ahead." All of which leads me to wonder A) what he thinks public schools are doing and B) if he knows that charters don't serve all students and actually sap the resources for many other students still in public schools.

Educating every American student and ensuring they graduate from high school prepared for college and beyond is a national priority. This week, we honor the educators working in public charter schools across our Nation who, each day, give of themselves to provide children a fair shot at the American dream, and we recommit to the basic promise that all our daughters and sons -- regardless of background or circumstance -- should be able to make of their lives what they will. 

Wow. That is some high praise. Those charter schools and charter teachers are like great American heroes, doing the work that, apparently, nobody else could or would do.

What about Teacher Appreciation Week?

Well, the charter proclamation was 562 words long, while the teacher appreciation one clocks in at 1,015. So maybe that means he likes teachers even better? How does this one open?

Our country's story, written over more than two centuries, is one of challenges, chances, and progress. As our Nation has advanced on our journey toward ensuring rights and opportunities are extended fully and equally to all people, America's teachers -- from the front lines of our civil rights movement to the front lines of our education system -- have helped steer our country's course. They witness the incredible potential of our youth, and they know firsthand the impact of a caring leader at the front of the classroom. 

There is a lot of civil rights language throughout this proclamation, as well as the continued assertion that teachers are the most important factor in school.

More notably, while the charter proclamation is all about the great things that charters have accomplished, the teacher proclamation focuses on all the things we haven't gotten done yet. Our nation's story is about forging a "more equal society," but "there is still work to be done." If we are going to do better, that will require work from "people that represent the wide range of backgrounds and origins that compromise our national mosaic." Our teachers need to create a Nation "that better reflects the values we were founded upon."

Obama took office intending to "foster innovation and drive change," so he has tried to "build and strengthen the teaching profession."  All of our success, defined as higher grad rates and "holding more students to high standards that prepare them for success in college and future careers" is thanks to "dedicated teachers, families and school leaders who work tirelessly." let's appreciate teachers for bearing the brunt of administration policies like Common Core?

Just as we know a student's circumstances do not dictate his or her potential, we know that having an effective teacher is the most important in-school factor for student success.

So remember-- if students aren't achieving, it's because teachers are failing. There follows an entire paragraph cataloguing policy initiatives like the stimulus funds and grants for teacher training. Oh, and they have worked to make sure that teachers have a "seat at the table." Also don't forget that requirement that all states have a plan to shuffle high quality teachers around. Hey, and remember that time in 2011 when he mentioned STEM in the State of the Union address-- wasn't that cool?

Annnnnnd Obama also just signed the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is really cool-- also his testing action plan! And computer science! We have now made it through two entire paragraphs of the Teacher Appreciation Week Proclamation without thanking teachers for anything.

Here's a good line: "Our future is written in schools across the country." Children are the something of tomorrow. "We look to the women and men standing in front of vest America's daughters and sons with the hard skills they will need to put their dreams within reach and to inspire them to dream even bigger."

On National Teacher Appreciation Day and during National Teacher Appreciation Week, let us ensure our educators know how much we value their service in the classroom, how much we appreciate all they do for our students and families, and how thankful we are for their contributions to our national progress. 

Oh, I call my students on this dodge in their writing all the time. Ensuring that educators know "how much we value their service" doesn't really say anything about how much that actually is.

So, bottom line.

Charter schools got some unambiguous praise, a list of specific things they're doing right (which public schools also do), and honor for being dedicated professionals who made "this calling" their life's work (even though are loaded with TFA folks and others who have no intention of making teaching their lives' work).

Teachers got a list of administration policies (including the failed ones), a reminder of how much we are to blame for what hasn't happened in schools, and a list of things we haven't achieved yet, finished off with an ambiguous line on  the order of "We hope you get exactly what you deserve."

In fact, I'd call the charter school proclamation a better appreciation of teachers than the actual proclamation about appreciating teachers.

As I said at the top-- there's not any real news here, though this is one of the rare occasions where the love of charters and the disinterest in teachers is right there under the President's name and not, say, a Secretary of Education or other functionary. Sure, Obama didn't write these himself. But they are in his name, over his signature, in his voice. Charter schools are awesome and spectacularly successful. Public school teachers-- take your week of weak praise and get back to finishing the work you haven't done yet.

And yeah, this is a picky piddly thing to get bothered by. But still, would it be so hard, just once, for an administration to actually recognize and praise the work of teachers in this country without attaching it self-congratulation for crappy policies that hurt us or unsubtle digs at how we aren't really all that great. I know they can do it-- because they did it for charter schools.

So thanks a lot, sir. You have a great week, too.


  1. he has tried to "build and strengthen the teaching profession." ?

  2. We are all so much stronger for putting up with his bs policies and teaching anyway, he has strengthened us greatly. If I were any stronger I would just break.....

  3. Yeah, I can't stand Obama. Some of my liberal friends like him well enough but I believe he his administration has done irreparable damage to the teaching profession. I also believe he has continued the Democratic tradition, started by Bill Clinton, of not providing any support to the working and middle classes. When it comes to income inequality and workers' rights, the man is nowhere to be found. Labor unrest, no Obama. Two teacher strikes in his hometown, no Obama. Juts keep lurching further to the right, you once-mighty advocates of the working and middle classes, you Democrats. (Yes, Republicans are far worse. They abuse the backbone of America. The Democrats simply abandon it.)

  4. Obama's charter man-crush started in the Commercial Club of Chicago.

    "Lo, like pedagogical kudzu, the charters came forth: forty-six of them, with names like “Infinity Math, Science, and Technology High School,” “Rickover Naval Academy High School,” “Aspira Charter School,” and “DuSable Leadership Academy of Betty Shabazz International Charter School.” Although, funny thing, rather than resembling the plucky, innovative — “flexible” — startups the rhetoric promised, the schools that flourished looked like factories stamped out by central planning. The skills most rewarded by Chicago’s charter boom became corporate marketing, regulatory capture, and outright graft."

  5. Obama administration's approach to education improvement emerged quickly as the Obama administration seized on the "opportunity" of available stimulus funds to push a narrow carrots and sticks strategy. I wrote this in 2010 ( Sadly, they have not learned much since.

  6. Like all Presidents in their final months in office, Obama is concerned about his legacy. Let me tell you what historians in the future will say: Obama's most enduring achievement was the destruction of the American public school system.

    Not Obamacare, not the taking out of bin Laden -- beyond all his other accomplishments, Obama made possible, irretrievably, the
    privatization of American public education. This was the purpose of Common Core. This was the infamous mission of Obama's
    Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan -- and of his replacement, John King.

    But a troubling question remains: What if the public school was, and still is, essential to American Democracy? Today, the public school
    is disappearing. Charter schools rule! What, then, happens to the Democracy we all cherish?

  7. As a former inner city district public school teacher, parent, PTA and father of 3 graduates of urban district public schools, I thought both proclamations were well done.