Obama on accountability & excellence in education

Given we are now in the 2012 U.S. presidential election in earnest, I thought it might be interesting to look back to March 24th, 2009. At that time, I wrote:

Apart from Moira MacDonald of the Toronto Sun, little is being heard from the Canadian media on what the U.S. President Barack Obama is recommending happen in American schools and school boards. For example, here are some quotes from Ms. MacDonald’s column yesterday:

  • “This is not a review of George W. Bush’s education policies. These are a few ideas from a recent speech by President Barack Obama. It was the first major speech Obama has made on education since coming to office.”
  • “It was delivered nearly two weeks ago to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — business leaders from a community whose children are often amongst the most struggling academically…”
  • “But he did not shy away from hard truths — truths that would be like sticking a finger in the eye of many of those in our public education universe here.”
  • “‘In a 21st-century world,’ Obama said. ‘Where jobs can be shipped wherever there’s an Internet connection, where a child born in Dallas is now competing with a child in New Delhi, where your best job qualification is not what you do, but what you know — education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it’s a prerequisite for success….'”
  • “Although short on detail, Obama said good teachers ‘will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement.…'” [My italics.]

Wow! Increased expectations! Improved standards! That classroom teachers should be rewarded on the basis of student achievement!

Frankly, in Canada, even knowing how well individual students are achieving, let alone in comparison to their peers, is wishful thinking. In fact, the very notion that how well a student does should reflect on how well a teacher teachers, causes the teachers’ unions nightmares. Accountability? What’s that?

And, yes, I’m a former teacher AND teacher educator. Yet, I would have had no problem with anyone assessing how well I teach, no matter where my school was located or what the language, social or special needs of my students.

In fact, when I was in private practice, that is what I did. I helped children who were doing badly in school — by providing them with the learning strategies they needed to succeed, such as something as simple as using post-it notes to keep track of the main ideas in a story. Or, common sense approaches like using a tape-recorder to tape-record and listen to what you just read — thereby using all the senses.

Which makes me wonder what ever happened to all the “listening” centres that used to be a part of every primary and junior classroom? In fact, when “whole language” was first introduced, we were told they were essential, as were the phonics practise centres. And, so they were. 

But, the tape-recorders and earphones were expensive and required some careful teacher planning to shuffle the various reading groups through those centres. So, another policy was implemented well but modified over the years to the point where there is no longer anything “whole” about whole language.   

In any event, I will definitely be following these developments. They may be just what choice and other educational advocates have been hoping for — because reform of our educational systems is long overdue.

July 5, 2012: So, did the President achieve what he hoped to? Well, actually, yes. Did he achieve everything he wanted to? Obviously not, no one could in such a short period of time. But, make progress? Definitely. For full details of U.S. federal improvements and reforms to education, check out this White House link and scroll down to “Progress.”

Quebec students & Obama partisans prove some teachers indoctrinate rather than educate

Click image for frontpagemag.com

There is now plenty of proof that far too many teachers in both the United States and Canada are not “educating” their students about alternative political viewpoints.

Rather, they are indoctrinating them with a “my way or the highway” one-sided progressive ideology that, over the long term, could actually threaten our right to free speech and political affiliation.   

For example, check out this column by Mark Tapson from FrontPageMag.com and its link to a nine minute video of an unidentified female teacher and her students in a North Carolina high school classroom. (H/T bluecanada.ca)

As a former teacher and teacher educator, I find the video very difficult to listen to, not only because it is hard to follow given the noise in the background but because it is embarrassing. Clearly, the teacher is an Obama supporter which is her personal right. But, it is not her right to be an Obama apologist in her classroom.

Specifically, besides demonstrating an almost complete lack of classroom control, the video demonstrates the difference between indoctrinating and educating, especially when the teacher yells “stop” several times when a student argues they should be able to talk about Obama as they do Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, because “Obama is not God.”

Personally, I have no opinions or concerns about Obama one way or the other, although I have written about him several times on this blog in the past, most of it complementary (e.g,. here is my archive). Rather, my concern is with the type of political indoctrination we were witnessing.

Unfortunately, however, that type of “teaching” is not new. In fact, as I have written before, I was witness to such a phenomenon myself in Ontario between 1995 and 1999 when I was employed by a Mike Harris “Progressive Conservative” Member of Provincial Parliament (MPP). The teachers’ unions hate for Premier Harris and his government was over the top and eventually infected everyone in the profession.  

In fact, to this day, the effect of the indoctrination of students attending high school during the Harris years is still felt.  Now in their late 20s and early 30s, many are parents themselves and I read their “Harris ruined Ontario” comments on any blog or mainstream media column about the Harris years. When, in fact, the Harris government kept all their promises and completely turned the Ontario economy around.

Whatever! As the latest Quebec student protests demonstrate, the demonization of politicians we don’t agree with continues. Specifically, Chris Selley writes in today’s National Post, the student protestors in Quebec are now referring to “Liberal” Premier Jean Charest as a fascist. 

A fascist? Talk about magical thinking and hyperbole! Is the Quebec government using death squads to round up protestors, never to be seen again? Of course not. All Charest is doing is raising post-secondary tuition fees to be closer to what they are in the rest of Canada.  There is also the issue that progressive politicians ignore what doesn’t fit their agenda.

Anyway, whatever the examples of indoctrination by teachers or bias by progressive politicians, whether during the late 1990s in Ontario or in North Carolina and Quebec today, the results speak for themselves — free speech is at risk!

As such, I would remind all those with a one-sided political viewpoint, that as far back as Athenian democracy itself, Socrates taught his students the importance of the dialetic — a method of “dialogue between two or more people holding “different” points of view about a subject, who wish to establish the truth of the matter by dialogue and with reasoned arguments.”

A truth we should all remember!

Obama rejects Keystone & NDP’s Megan Leslie applauds

Syncrude Reclamation South Bison Hills

The news coming out of the U.S. yesterday and today is primarily about the fact that President Barack Obama has rejected the Keystone Pipeline deal, although an alternative route might be possible at a later date. For more on that topic, check out the SunNews Network’s Ezra Levant. (H/T BLY).

However, it is the news about the NDP’s position on Obama’s decision that concerns me the most. For example, when I was listening to the NDP Environment Critic, Megan Leslie, yesterday, on various Canadian TV networks, I couldn’t believe my ears. Surely, no Canadian Member of Parliament would actually be applauding the decision not to approve something that could improve Canada’s prosperity and economic well being.

Yet, there she was, claiming a victory for the NDP. In fact, on CTV’s Power Play, she is reported to have actually applauded Obama’s negative decision, going on to say:

“‘President Obama listened to Americans, that’s what you do in a democracy…But here in Canada we don’t see that by this government, it’s just about fast tracking, selling our raw material to the quickest bidder.'”

It’s just about fast tracking or selling our raw material to the quickest bidder? Not listening to Canadians? Am I missing something? Did the Conservative Party not just win a majority government — from Canadian voters in a democratic election?

Naivety? Hypocrisy? Or simply magical thinking? Are most of us surprised? Of course not. Remember, Megan Leslie, representing the NDP Official Opposition, is the same parliamentarian who recently went to Washington to lobby against the approval of Keystone — the same NDP that consists of members who would be delighted to see the Alberta oil sands completely shut down.

So, why do so many NDP pick on the Alberta oil industry, which is, in the final analysis, the main source of wealth for the Canadian equalization program? And, what about oil exploration in other provinces, like Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland? Do those sources of oil production not harm the environment or the fish and other underwater sea life?   Would Megan Leslie’s Halifax constituents, or the Nova Scotia NDP Dexter government, not be concerned if she campaigned on shutting down the Nova Scotia oil industry?

Such hypocrisy and tunnel vision — in my view, the exact opposite of progressive thinking — by both Obama and the NDP’s Megan Leslie.

Endnote: To those who are anti-Alberta oil sands,  here is a link to the Syncrude reclamation photos (see also example above), which proves that sustainability is not only possible, but realistic.

What’s not to like about Obama’s back-to-school speech?

Today, as a Canadian, I witnessed political partisanship that is so over the top, and so beyond common sense, it is hard to know where to begin. No, I am not talking about Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff or Prime Minister Harper. I am talking about the Republican reaction to a back-to-school speech President Barack Obama gave to students in an Arlington, Virginia high school.

And, what did Mr. Obama say that so outraged Republicans? He essentially told the students that they should stay in school, study hard, find out what they were good at and pursue it, take full responsibility for their own behaviour and lives and be ready to contribute to the future of their country.  Here, for example, are some of the President’s own words:

  • Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is.”
  • “You can’t drop out of school and just drop into a good job. You’ve got to work for it and train for it and learn for it,” Obama warned, adding “this isn’t just important for your own life and your own future.”
  • “What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country.”
  • “What you’re learning in school today will determine whether we as a nation can meet our greatest challenges in the future.”
  • “You’ll need the knowledge and problem-solving skills you learn in science and math to cure diseases like cancer and AIDS, and to develop new energy technologies and protect our environment.”
  • “You’ll need the insights and critical thinking skills you gain in history and social studies to fight poverty and homelessness, crime and discrimination, and make our nation more fair and more free.”
  • “You’ll need the creativity and ingenuity you develop in all your classes to build new companies that will create new jobs and boost our economy.”
  • “If you quit on school — you’re not just quitting on yourself, you’re quitting on your country.”
  • “At the end of the day, the circumstances of your life — what you look like, where you come from, how much money you have, what you’ve got going on at home — that’s no excuse for neglecting your homework or having a bad attitude.”
  • “That’s no excuse for talking back to your teacher, or cutting class, or dropping out of school. That’s no excuse for not trying.”
  • “Where you are right now doesn’t have to determine where you’ll end up. No one’s written your destiny for you. Here in America, you write your own destiny. You make your own future.”
  • “That’s the opportunity an education can provide.”

Republican reaction has been fast and furious — literally. The words and phrases to describe it: socialist brainwashing, indoctrinating kids with socialism ideology and proof of the worship of Barack Obama, the Pied Piper. 

Pardon me? How can the recognition of hard work, patriotism, self-reliance and  personal responsibility be considered socialist indoctrination?

I suppose the speech is in the ear of the beholder. But, from where I sit, I can only assume that Canadian conservatives are not at all like American Republicans because when I ask myself the question: What is not to like about Mr. Obama’s back to school speech? I would have to say nothing. It was an inspiring speech and probably one of the best I have ever heard.

Notes: This is from the google cache as I lost this post when I moved to a new hosting service. For the original 47 comments on this threat, check the cache here.

Obama on accountability & excellence in education

Apart from Moira MacDonald of the Toronto Sun, little is being heard from the Canadian media on what the U.S. President Barack Obama is recommending happen in American schools and school boards. Not surprising I guess, given that what Mr. Obama is saying sounds positively conservative.

For example, here are some quotes from Ms. MacDonald’s column yesterday:

  • “This is not a review of George W. Bush’s education policies. These are a few ideas from a recent speech by President Barack Obama. It was the first major speech Obama has made on education since coming to office.”
  • “It was delivered nearly two weeks ago to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — business leaders from a community whose children are often amongst the most struggling academically…”
  • “But he did not shy away from hard truths — truths that would be like sticking a finger in the eye of many of those in our public education universe here.”
  • “‘In a 21st-century world,’ Obama said. ‘Where jobs can be shipped wherever there’s an Internet connection, where a child born in Dallas is now competing with a child in New Delhi, where your best job qualification is not what you do, but what you know — education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it’s a prerequisite for success….'”
  • “Although short on detail, Obama said good teachers ‘will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement.…'” [My italics.]

Wow! Increased expectations! Improved standards! That classroom teachers should be rewarded on the basis of student achievement!

Frankly, in Canada, even knowing how well individual students are achieving, let alone in comparison to their peers, is wishful thinking. In fact, the very notion that how well a student does should reflect on how well a teacher teachers, causes the teachers’ unions nightmares. Accountability? What’s that?

And, yes, I’m a former teacher AND teacher educator. Yet, I would have had no problem with anyone assessing how well I teach, no matter where my school was located or what the language, social or special needs of my students.

In fact, when I was in private practice, that is what I did. I helped children who were doing badly in school — by providing them with the learning strategies they needed to succeed, such as something as simple as using post-it notes to keep track of the main ideas in a story. Or, common sense approaches like using a tape-recorder to tape-record and listen to what you just read — thereby using all the senses.

Which makes me wonder what ever happened to all the “listening” centres that used to be a part of every primary and junior classroom? In fact, when “whole language” was first introduced, we were told they were essential, as were the phonics practise centres. And, so they were. 

But, the tape-recorders and earphones were expensive and required some careful teacher planning to shuffle the various reading groups through those centres. So, another policy was implemented well but modified over the years to the point where there is no longer anything “whole” about whole language.   

In any event, I will definitely be following these developments. They may be just what choice and other educational advocates have been hoping for — because reform of our educational systems is long overdue.

If anyone from the Ontario PC leadership campaign reads this, guaranteed this would be a winning policy platform. Who, for example, could condemn the ideas when it would be condemning Mr. Obama?

H/T Educ8m.

President Barack Obama on education reform

While this is a Canadian site, I have to congratulate U.S. President Barack Obama. Who would have thought that it would be a democratic president who would say what so many of us have wanted to hear for so long?

He wants to recognize and reward excellence in teachers. He puts the responsibility for learning on teachers and students alike. And, he sees the need for measuring student achievement on methods that, not only test for rote math and literacy skills, but also creative thinking and problem solving — so that our children and grandchildren are ready for tomorrows world.

And, last but not least, President Obama apparently sees the benefit of parents having choice when it comes to how they want to educate their children — including setting up charter schools where and when needed.  

Here then, in his own words, is what the President said on education on CNN (note pause between videos) and in print from the White House website:

The President explained why, on education in particular, we cannot afford to wait, noting that even within a few years America will see a different reality: ‘By 2016, four out of every ten new jobs will require at least some advanced education or training.’

The President pledged to end pointless partisan finger-pointing, and to ensure that new investments also came with new reforms.” 

He pointed to deep commitments both in the recovery act and his budget proposal, while also telling the audience that ‘It is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.'”

He proposed four pillars of reform:

  1. Investing in early childhood initiatives like Head Start;
  2. Encouraging better standards and assessments by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in;
  3. Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers by giving incentives for a new generation of teachers and for new levels of excellence from all of our teachers.
  4. Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools by supporting charter schools, reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day.”

 Well, one hopes Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the Conservative government in Ottawa and all the provincial and terroritial premiers — especially Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty — are paying attention. One also hopes that the Ontario Progressive caucus and possible leadership contenders are tuned into this issue because, without a doubt, this opens up a Pandoras box for Ontario’s Liberals.

Update: Another link has been provided by Educ8m with thanks. Check it out here. It apparently has the full text.