Santorum Booed For 'Taking One For The Team' On No Child Left Behind

Rick Santorum's performance in Wednesday's debate was not his best. Perhaps the pressure of being criticized by news outlets including his own Fox News is getting to him. Or maybe he was tired. Or maybe he has been made to accept the fact that

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Rick Santorum's performance in Wednesday's debate was not his best. Perhaps the pressure of being criticized by news outlets including his own Fox News is getting to him. Or maybe he was tired. Or maybe he has been made to accept the fact that Mitt Romney will be the Chosen One, no matter how well he performs on the campaign trail or in debates.

Still, this moment was weird for a couple of reasons. First, he admitted voting for NCLB without being prompted. This, of course, generated the already-primed audience to erupt in a series of boos, which prompted this response from him:

I have to admit, I voted for that. It was against the principles I believed in, but, you know, when you're part of the team, sometimes you take one for the team, for the leader, and I made a mistake.

(BOOING) You know, politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you've got to rally together and do something. And in this case, you know, I thought testing was -- and finding out how bad the problem was wasn't a bad idea.

Here's the thing. No Child Left Behind passed the Senate on a vote of 91-8. So what, exactly did he "take for the team?" Yes, he managed to insert an irrelevant and insulting intelligent design amendment into it, but he could just as easily have voted against it altogether and stayed true to his "conservative principles."

But what came next? Well, that was rich indeed.

SANTORUM: What was a bad idea was all the money that was put out there, and that, in fact, was a huge problem. I admit the mistake and I will not make that mistake again. You have someone who is committed.

(APPLAUSE)

I know the importance of local control of education. And having gone through that experience of the federal government involvement, not only do I believe the federal government should get out of the education businessI think the state government should start to get out of the education business and put it back to the state, -- to the local and into the community.

Two points of order here. First, there's the small matter of this home-schooling dad utilizing an online school in Virginia which taxpayers in Pennsylvania were on the hook to pay, and no small sum -- $72,000.00. That strikes me as inconsistent with those "conservative principles."

But beyond even that, there is a disturbing pattern in his reference not once, but twice, to the "education business." Education is not a business. It is what civilized societies do. I repeat: Education is not a business. I don't care what Rupert Murdoch and the rest of them say. It's just not, nor is making it a business the pathway to academic competitiveness on a global level. I also loathe NCLB and always have, because it separates students from real-life experiences and forces teachers to teach to the test and standards without regard to what is actually going on in their lives or their communities.

However, since standardized tests are (for now) the measure of success, let's consider the international ranking of the United States education system as it stands today, which is "mediocre." This is something that Michelle Rhee, President Obama and Arne Duncan all use as the hammer for education reform. That's fine, but the problem is what they propose to do with it.

Taking assessments and turning the educational system on its head by privatizing schools in the name of improving test scores has one result: discriminatory education weighted toward communities who can afford to feed the for-profit beasts. Or government feeding it. It means variance in curriculum and no assurance that the quality of education will be any better than a publicly funded school.

But wait, there's more. Rhee's formula of firing teachers by test score rankings is one that is gaining traction nationwide. New York recently reached an agreement with their teachers' unions to use this particular method of assessment, and as Diane Ravitch writes, the consequences will be ugly:

This agreement will certainly produce an intense focus on teaching to the tests. It will also profoundly demoralize teachers, as they realize that they have lost their professional autonomy and will be measured according to precise behaviors and actions that have nothing to do with their own definition of good teaching. Evaluators will come armed with elaborate rubrics identifying precisely what teachers must do and how they must act, if they want to be successful. The New York Times interviewed a principal in Tennessee who felt compelled to give a low rating to a good teacher, because the teacher did not “break students into groups” in the lesson he observed. The new system in New York will require school districts across the state to hire thousands of independent evaluators, as well as create much additional paperwork for principals. Already stressed school budgets will be squeezed further to meet the pact’s demands for monitoring and reporting.

President Obama said in his State of the Union address that teachers should “stop teaching to the test,” but his own Race to the Top program is the source of New York’s hurried and wrong-headed teacher evaluation plan. According to Race to the Top, states are required to evaluate teachers based in part on their students’ test scores in order to compete for federal funding. When New York won $700 million from the Obama program, it pledged to do this. What the President has now urged (“stop teaching to the test”) is directly contradicted by what his own policies make necessary (teach to the test or be rated ineffective and get fired).

No high-performing nation in the world evaluates teachers by the test scores of their students; and no state or district in this nation has a successful program of this kind. The State of Tennessee and the city of Dallas have been using some type of test-score based teacher evaluation for twenty years but are not known as educational models. Across the nation, in response to the prompting of Race to the Top, states are struggling to evaluate their teachers by student test scores, but none has figured it out.

You should read the whole thing. As Ravitch says, "this is madness," but what it isn't, is a business. To hear Rick Santorum refer to education as a "business" is chilling and indicative of how all of these candidates view education in this country. The problem is, they're all so insane I can't see how we can actually have a decent conversation around the issues. And yes, that means on all sides of the debate, including President Obama.

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