An Interview with Michael Mc Shane: What Hath Obama Wrought?

Sep 14, 2012 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1)      Okay, I remember President Obama’s speeches for four years ago. I remember the words “world class education“.  Has he delivered?

That’s a tough question, because a world class education system isn’t really his to deliver.  The Federal government only spends about 10 cents of every dollar in K-12 education, so what it can do is rather limited.

2)      I like your opening line- “depending on whom you ask- Obama is either championing or destroying America’s public schools”. I am now asking you, Michael McShane to answer that rhetorical question, before I go for the jugular vein.

I (and our book) would probably pick (c) none of the above.  Several of his initiatives have made serious strides in improving the quality of education in America, and several of his have set the cause of education reform back.

3)      Now, what does Robert Maranto have to say- let’s give him a chance to respond also?

Feel free to shoot him an email at rmaranto@uark.edu

4)      Now let’s get specific- where do you guys see “reform”  and how do you define reform?

We see reform as steps to move the American education system to a system in which innovation is encouraged and excellence is rewarded.

5)      I am going to steal from Mitt Romney now and paraphrase “What has Obama done for the average teacher, in the average school, to help the average pupil”?

Barack Obama has encouraged that teacher’s state to adopt the Common Core standards, which, depending on whom you ask, is either a good idea or a bad idea.  Barack Obama has incentivized that teacher’s state to link the data on the performance of his or her students to him or her and to use that information to evaluate him or her.  Barack Obama has also pushed for more choices, in the form of public charter schools, for that teacher’s students.

6)      Race to the Top—is this real reform or real coercion- forcing schools to adopt some type of agenda or philosophy?

I think it is reform.  A large argument of our book is that the political interests are stacked against change, so it is going to take some real muscle to unseat the powers that be in state and district bureaucracies.  So, while Race to the Top certainly took a muscular stance, I would say that it stops short of coercion.

7)      The biggest question I have is- What has he done for students with special needs? What has he done to encourage more special education for those who truly need and deserve it?

Generally speaking, he has increased funding for schools and, through the stimulus, staved off massive layoffs for teachers that would most likely have hit special needs students particularly hard given the lower teacher to student ratios that they need.

8)      Do we need more creativity in the schools? Or do we need simply smaller class sizes or better trained teachers?

More creativity? Yes.  Better trained teachers? Yes.  Smaller classes? Probably not.

9)      Sir, I have been following education for the past four years. I keep up with the journals, the blogs and the rest. How much actual time has Obama spent in the school, and other than Race to the Top—-can you name five things he directly has done to help the average classroom teacher? (with the average family )

Given the decentralized nature of our education system the President can’t really do anything “directly” to classrooms, and to be honest, I don’t think we want him to.  What he has done, through competitive grants and through cajoling with the bully pulpit, is encourage state and district leaders to hold teachers accountable and to give students and families more choices.

10)  Joe Williams, executive director of Democrats for Education Reform; author of Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education has talked about “trade offs”. In your mind, what have these trade offs been?

He has, at times, put himself at odds with the teachers unions, who have traditionally been a large power base of the Democratic Party.

11)  I have to tell you, what I personally have heard and seen in the last four years—is more and more teachers retiring early or getting out of education early. Do you have any data on this?

I do not.

12)  There always seems to be this DISCONNECT between the Feds, and the State, and then the State governments and municipalities- as to the number of kids needing special services.  Has the President ever come out with a clear statement as to how many students have special needs, and what those needs are?

Not to my knowledge

13)  Now, your book comes at a good time- right before the election. If you were a Romney supporter, what would you tell him, and if you were an Obama supporter- what would you suggest he focus on?

I believe both candidate are trying to win swing voters, and both are (as far as education goes) moderates.  Gov. Romney, unlike some of his opponents in the primary, does not advocate for shutting down the Department of Education, and he just takes some of President Obama’s calls for choice and accountability a couple steps farther.  I think both candidates could use their moderate views on education to win middle of the road independents.

14)  Let’s get back to that average teacher in the average classroom—what would you tell Mr  Smith or Mrs. Jones about what he has done to help him or her? Has he provided any dry erase markers ?  (On my last visit to a certain school that shall remain nameless, I asked teachers what they needed—dry erase markers seem to be at a premium)

Well, if they were one of the teachers that was on the chopping block, I would say that he saved their job.

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