Townhall Magazine: School of Barack

Posted: Sep 01, 2010 12:06 PM
From the feature piece, "School of Barack," in the September 2010 issue of Townhall Magazine. Order your subscription today to ensure you get this powerful issue.


President Obama’s education agenda will -- surprise! -- serve only to diminish the role of parents in our schools and strengthen the federal government’s control of our kids. His plan is more of a “tumble to the bottom” than a “race to the top” -- and his man, Arne Duncan, is here to make sure it all happens just as the progressives planned.

As the first half of his term in office has slowly ticked past, one thing quickly became apparent: Barack Obama isn’t a man interested in change; he’s a man obsessed with fundamental transformation.

He’s overhauled health care and reconstructed Wall Street, and now he’s setting his lofty sights on remodeling the nation’s classrooms.

As public schoolhouses throw open their doors to welcome back students this fall, they may be inviting in more than they bargained for, including expanded federal influence over local curriculum standards, dubious incentives for achievement and diminished roles for the nation’s most important educators -- parents.

With the unquestioning support of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Obama is quietly laying the foundations for a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s school system.

When the president nominated him to take over the Department of Education in 2009, Obama bragged about Duncan’s work as chief executive officer of Chicago’s public schools, appointed in 2001 by Mayor Richard Daley. But Duncan’s tenure as CEO was hardly praiseworthy.

He may openly oppose school choice as a matter of education policy, but while serving as Chicago public schools chief, Duncan meticulously maintained a list of special favor requests from high-profile politically connected individuals for certain children to attend some of the city’s best schools.

The list surfaced as federal authorities investigated admissions practices at the city’s top high schools. The list was reportedly maintained by a top Duncan aide, David Pickens, who currently serves as chief of staff to the president of the Chicago Board of Education. Pickens says he created the log at Duncan’s behest and acknowledged that it was kept confidential during Duncan’s tenure.

“We didn’t want to advertise what we were doing because we didn’t want a bunch of people calling,” Pickens told the Chicago Tribune.

When Duncan arrived in Washington with the Obama administration, they affirmed their opposition to school choice. One of the Education Department’s first actions was withdrawing scholarships for low-income students who had been admitted to the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, forcing these students back into lower-performing schools as a result.

In addition to his Chicago-style politics, research from a Chicago civic group shows the city made “little progress” during Duncan’s time at the helm. The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago, a one-time supporter of Duncan and Mayor Daley’s joint push for expanded city control over schools, even describes the city’s high schools as “abysmal.”

When Obama nominated Duncan to head the department, the president -- who coincidentally sent his children to private school in Chicago rather than entrust their education to the then-CEO -- praised Duncan’s work in expanding city control over education. During his time leading Chicago’s schools, the president boasted, Duncan successfully boosted elementary school test scores “from 38 percent of students meeting the standards to 67 percent,” a significant gain of 29 percentage points -- if it were accurate.

Research conducted since Duncan’s federal appointment shows that when adjusted for changes in tests and procedures, Chicago students’ pass rates grew by only eight points. And despite President Obama’s praise and endorsement, Duncan’s track record as an education administrator left much to be desired.

Under Duncan’s leadership, an astonishing 69 percent of students would enter the Chicago City Colleges not prepared for college-level reading; 79 percent not prepared for writing; and 95 percent not prepared to do math.

In other words, Duncan’s nomination and the president’s endorsement of Chicago’s expanded government control in education were dishonest at best, relying on the false impression of progress rather than actual improvement.

Since the Education Department’s inception, the federal government has taxed states, laundered the money through the Washington bureaucracy and sent it back to the states and local school districts in an attempt to improve education. But for 30 years, this spending cycle has failed to improve public education.

Despite its short history, the Department of Education’s discretionary budget has quickly grown to be the third-largest of all federal government agencies, trailing only the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services. Despite commanding a budget of more than $50 billion, academic achievement in America has remained stagnant.

Read the entire exclusive, in-depth report on the Obama plot for our nation's schools and the state of our education system in the September issue of Townhall Magazine.