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One Very Disappointing Part Of President Obama’s Speech Today


President Obama spoke at the Urban League today on education reform. You can read his speech here (and you can read what I had hoped he might say here).

I know the President and Secretary Duncan keep on saying they don’t think charter schools are the answer, only part of the answer, and that they are only talking about “good” charter schools.

Well, the President highlighted one of those supposedly “good” charter schools in his speech. Here is what he said:

So, no, I don’t support all charter schools, but I do support good charter schools. I’ll give you an example. There’s a charter school called Mastery in Philadelphia. And in just two years, three of the schools that Mastery has taken over have seen reading and math levels nearly double –- in some cases, triple. Chaka Fattah is here, so he knows what I’m talking about. One school called Pickett went from just 14 percent of students being proficient in math to almost 70 percent. (Applause.) Now — and here’s the kicker — at the same time academic performance improved, violence dropped by 80 percent -– 80 percent. And that’s no coincidence. (Applause.)

Now, if a school like Mastery can do it, if Pickett can do it, every troubled school can do it.

The problem is that Pickett did it with a 42% student attrition rate, which I also pointed out when TIME wrote a laudatory article about the school earlier this year.

Come on! Kicking-out “low-performing” students is an effective way to increase school scores, but is that really the model the President wants to raise up?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Of course I have to leave a comment about Mastery. It became the feeder school for my elementary school. They took over Shoemaker Middle School a few years ago.

    Why what Obama is saying is sad:

    1) They require a transcript and there is an application process. Don’t have good grades? Bad behavior? You can’t come.
    2) They kick kids out who misbehave or don’t go by the rules.
    3) They are a college prep program–totally test-focused
    4) The school is run like a military zone–students have cards around their neck with merits and demerits (KIPP does this too)
    5) The reason they didn’t ‘win’ to take over my school this year? “We’re a school not a community organization.” If that tells you anything.
    6) Got an IEP? If we don’t have the services, we don’t have to take you.

    That said, a lot of parents are happy that their child is at a successful school and in a safe environment. My former students tell me that they like Mastery. They enjoy the structure. They like knowing that the ‘bad kids’ get kicked out so that they can learn without distractions.

    THAT said, where do those problem kids go? To the overcrowded neighborhood school that doesn’t have the resources to fully serve them.

    I am really surprised that he didn’t mention the Promise Neighborhoods that you wrote about earlier. Seems like a smarter way to go.

    But I’m probably preaching to the choir here 🙂

  2. This illustrates perfectly why I wonder if President Obama simply blindly accepts what Arne Duncan is saying as truth, and then discounts many of us of educators who have tried to communicate to Arne Duncan & the White House that Charter schools are NOT the “saving grace” or “miracle cure” for all that challenges the us all in the school environment! We ALL want kids to be successful, but lets not use skewed data from exclusionary schools as a “report card” indicating that “schools everywhere are failing”! President Obama’s goals are admirable, but he is being mislead terribly by Arne Duncan in a sad & tragic manner!

  3. Great post!!

    I hear Obama praise schools that have gross attrition rates and then have the nerve to claim that the teacher unions are stuck in the status quo, implying selfish teacher-syndrome, and that his and Duncan’s reforms are in the name of the poorest and most disadvantaged children.

    I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    When I hear ‘reformers’ talk like this, I know they are not real educators and tha they are making uneducated guesses with solutions from their business world to solve classroom problems.


  4. It appears that President Obama is going to continue his misguided reform in spite of many educators telling him it is going to do more harm than the current NCLB. Just as he did in his speech and just as Secretary Duncan has been doing for months, he dismissed any opposition as “resistance to the status quo.” That is the easy way out. He does not have to make a case for his reform, nor does he have to listen to what those in opposition have to say. We all have been fooled by this President. We thought there would be open, honest dialogue about what reform would look like, instead Obama is just as deaf to educators as the previous administration. Sad to say the least.

  5. It is demeaning to me when educators do not have the decency to show the whole situation to politicians. It is up to us as professionals to be more transparent about the real issues in education. Integrity is found when we stand up for those who don’t advocate for themselves, for those who are vulnerable and underserved and when we reach those who learn only because of us, not in spite of us. It is just unprofessional and completely misleading when you have to read between the lines and in the subscript section to really understand the success of these charter schools.

  6. Any school that can hand pick its student body, and dismiss the undesirable students at will, is going to look better on paper. They’re not really improving student scores though. They’re just re-distributing them to get their skewed results.

  7. I would really like to see Obama spend a day walking through an inner-city school and take a look at sophomore gang leaders that have a 2nd grade reading level and then be able to comment on what teachers should be doing and what schools should look like. I can’t stand it when I see politicians quote only the statistics that they like and leave out the the real data because it’s bad press!

  8. With the amount of multi-tasking and google-reading and blog-reading that I do, I can’t imagine the President trying to understand what at all is going on in the world today. But with that said, I cannot believe that he could appoint people around him that would blindly lead him to such conclusions. I really don’t care anything at all about Charter schools (as I am a public educator in North Carolina). I really don’t see how Charter schools and Public schools can be held to the same or similar standards considering what is allowed and disallowed at each. However, that is another tangent that I will save for another time. As many of you have said, it is just disgusting to see that the President would back two school situations such as this…but the President does appoint those he wants to surround him and provide him with information…

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