Learn ’em like Obamas

Betty Bean
Government/Politics columnist

When President Barack Obama touched down in Nashville last month to continue his State of the Union message about career-oriented education, he went out to McGavock Comprehensive High School, which has been redesigned as an “Academies of Nashville” model school with the help of a federal School Improvement Grant and the assistance of local businesses and industries. His message, boiled down to its essence, was this:

“A quality education shouldn’t be something that other kids get. It should be something that all our kids get.”

Amen, right?

McGavock, known as “Big Mac,” because it’s Tennessee’s largest high school, is a success story. Once a struggling school, it now (according to press releases) ranks in the top quartile for student achievement growth in the state. Obama was clearly impressed. But would he be impressed enough to send his daughters there?

Probably not.

The website www.TNParents.org breaks it down for us:

Malia and Sasha Obama attend Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., where:

Students do not do Common Core or state mandated standardized tests.

Their personal information isn’t integrated into a statewide 360 degree longitudinal database that aligns with other states and is shared with the federal government and with contracted third parties without parental consent (as Tennessee agreed to do to get the Race To The Top grant).

Middle school students are issued a personal laptop computer.

Elementary students have an iPad to enhance learning.

Every classroom has a SmartBoard or Epson Brightlink Whiteboard.

Every child participates in a rich arts program that includes music, theater and art.

There’s a strong athletic program and plenty of physical activity.

There are well-stocked libraries.

There are real teachers with real teaching degrees and experience.

Teachers and staff aren’t evaluated based on student test scores using a complicated formula that nobody can explain.

There are full-time counselors.

And teacher/student ratios for elementary grades are 1:12; middle and high school grades are 1:16.

Visit the Sidwell Friends School website to see pictures of the beautiful campus. You will not see: leaking roofs, broken windows, unkempt grass, cracking wall plaster, mold or mildew, water stains on ceiling tiles, children lacking supplies, or children in poverty.

Gov. Bill Haslam chose to duck out on the Obama visit, maybe because he had more important people to chat with than the President of the United States, or maybe because he doesn’t really want Tennesseans to figure out how little daylight exists between his views on education and those of the president. Tennessee Republicans probably don’t want to think about it this way, but when it comes to measures like Race to the Top and Common Core Standards, plus the high-stakes testing that accompanies them, Obama and Haslam are in lock-step agreement.

There’s really not a dime’s worth of difference between the educational philosophies of Obama and his education guy Arne Duncan and Haslam and his education gurus Kevin Huffman and James McIntyre.

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