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The Re-Education of America Will Be No Picnic

Education Secretary Arne Duncan and President Barack Obama play basketball together. During Obama’s major education policy address last week it became clear that they are not just buddies on the court—they play together for the cause of education reform. Obama recognizes that if the United States is to pull out of this recession for the long term, we must invest in education. I learned that lesson as Governor. A chief executive can tout myriad assistance programs, ranging from food stamps to Medicaid, but there is only one program that sweeps the canvas with a broad brush, hitting almost every sector of the population, and that is education. Presidents have not become widely engaged with education because in America, it has been largely a state and local responsibility. I must give credit to President George Bush for taking some federal responsibility for the inequities that exist among White, African American and Hispanic children, as revealed in test scores and graduation rates. “No Child Left Behind” has many detractors because of its laser focus on test scores without taking a broader look at the causes of both success and failure. But the law has forced Americans to focus on the reality that a child’s opportunity to learn depends on who he or she is, and where he or she happens to reside, whether that is an affluent suburb or an inner city school. It took Republican President George Bush to be the first to step on “local control” zealots’ toes—an initiative that now makes it more possible for a Democratic President to take his federal reform efforts further. There is little doubt that students in Mississippi will never catch up to students in Massachusetts without federal carrots and sticks. The watered down tests that many states have devised to avoid tough national standards tell us that states will continue to take the easiest way out, unless the federal government hovers over them. Obama covered the landscape from increased early childhood education to greater access to a college education. He focused on the importance of teachers—rewarding the good ones with merit pay and getting rid of the bad ones, somehow. Having worked in the U.S. Department of Education as Deputy Secretary for three and a half years in the Clinton administration, I know his reform proposals won’t go down easily. Lengthening the school day and the school year will mean fighting against a long established tradition, even as some school districts are going in the opposite direction—to four day school weeks—because of budget cuts. The greatest power the President has, in addition to recommending hefty budget increases to the Education department, is his bully pulpit. Every time he tells the story about his own mother, he sends a strong message about parental involvement. It was his mother who woke him up at 4:30 in the morning, before she went to work and he went to school, in order to teach him material from a correspondence course. When he complained about getting up so early, his mother told him, “This is no picnic for me either, buster.” It’s time that parents, communities, states and the nation recognize that improving our children’s chances to fulfill their own great potential will only be possible if we make sacrifices for them, and that will be no picnic either.

Tourist Eyes

For two weeks my husband and I traveled to London, Paris, Zurich and Bern—familiar haunts where one can drink water from the tap. Read More..

Gays in the Military

We’ve come a long way in the sixteen years since the policy of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” was adopted to deal with the question of gay and lesbian members of the military.

This time, advocacy for repeal did not come from any outside group; it came from the apex of the military establishment itself. Read More..

The Supreme Court and Corporate Electioneering

The Supreme Court decision which will allow unfettered campaign contributions from corporations and unions poses a threat to the very workings of our democracy.

Read More..

In the Wake of Massachusetts

A political earthquake hit Massachusetts last night. The tectonic plates of the Democratic Party shifted with the election of Republican Scott Brown to the United States Senate and left untold amounts of debris in its wake. Read More..

Greeting the New Year

This time of year we automatically say "Happy New Year" to friends, acquaintances, and even strangers, days after the champagne corks have popped and the fireworks are but a memory. It has become a standard greeting for the first days of January, partly to cheer ourselves up so we can face the rest of the winter. Read More..