Education Talk With the Obama 2012 Team: Thinking Outside the Box

There has never been a moment where my family or my children have fit inside the box.

I’ve talked before as to why we have chosen to send our kids to a public charter school, as opposed to our neighborhood school. And I’ve talked a million times about our family’s quirks and progressive attitude when it comes to education.
You know your kids are in the right school when this is what greets them every morning

I am the product of a public school education. It never even occurred to me that we’d consider anything else for our children unless the public schools near our home were failing.

Of course the public schools in our very nice suburb of Los Angeles are nowhere near failing and they excel by every standard used to measure a typical American public school.

Unfortunately, that amazing, typical, American public school nearly sucked the life out of my then-5 year old son as he stood against a brick wall, watching the other children play at recess. His crime? Not sitting still during story time.

But this is how it went with 36 kindergarteners and one teacher. This is what you did in order to make sure everyone could fill in that bubble properly and sit still while doing it. Distractions, such as my son’s pencil twirling, was an offense worthy of punishment. A punishment that forced his tiny body to unnaturally hold in all that energy again, when it should be setting it free on the playground.

After one tearful parent-teacher conference my husband and I knew this was not the education we wanted for our son, or for our daughter who would be following in his footsteps in just a few short years. But what is a middle class family to do when they can’t afford private school and neither parent can home school?

We are not alone. Millions of parents have round peg kids being stuffed into square holes.

So when I had a chance to talk with Former Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council Melody Barnes for a few minutes this week I had a million questions, as any parent would. But I took to facebook and twitter and asked YOU what you wanted to hear and know from this administration.

Some highlights from the conference call (you can see the tweets with the hashtag #edu2012 here): the administration says they understand standardized tests are only ONE way to measure how well a child is learning, a teacher is teaching, and how a school is performing. They are working to measure in other ways.

That idea from Barnes made me very happy. To finally come up with ways to measure how the WHOLE student is learning, not just the bubble filling in, memorizing and then forgetting portion of the child.

Barnes said they aren’t talking about ditching tests all together, but also assessing critical thinking skills and supporting teachers in trying to make those assessments. Of course none of this is easy to do.

And I understand entirely. We get those STAR test results at our house and stomachs churn. But then our teachers remind us this is just ONE way they can tell if a student is learning. Just one.

And then of course there was discussion about the differences between what an Obama 2nd term would do (and what the first term has done) and what a Romney-Ryan administration would do. Let’s just say they are worlds apart. WORLDS.

President Obama has expanded Head Start, he has used savings from student loan reform to fund and expanded Pell grants. Romney/Ryan would roll all this back.

One of the questions I asked was about teachers in this country, and how we save their jobs. So many seem to have been laid off, when what we need are MORE in the classroom. The Obama administration has fought to SAVE  hundreds of thousands of teacher jobs across the country, while Mitt Romney has been quoted (and his surrogates have since defended) saying he would slash funding for teachers, firefighters, and police officers.

And of course I had to ask if there was anyway Congress might be provided basic biology and sex ed courses, given the idiotic and entirely uneducated statements by Rep. Todd Akin on rape and the female reproductive system. I was glad to have gotten a chuckle from the Obama team, but also a very serious answer, reminding those of us on the call that the choice for women and families could not be more clear come November.

If you want more information on the Obama/Biden education plan you can find plenty over at – and if you have any questions for the Obama/Biden team, I have been given the ok to send over a few more questions so please, ask away in the comments below and I will do my best to get you answers.



  1. As a public school administrator, I would love to hear more details about the administration’s plans to diminish the scope of high-stakes testing. Nothing in the first term leads me to believe they truly want to do so. The Race to the Top competition and the NCLB waiver process stressed testing and test performance. The move to Common Core State Standards appears to be leading to even more testing on the horizon, even if it’s a different type of testing (cue that comment about critical thinking). As long as schools and districts are in a position where the test results are tied to funding, teacher evaluation, and school choice, it will be difficult for us to move away from focusing on the tests.

    In my 22 years of work in public education, I’ve watched this pendulum swing much too far toward the test being the only important thing. And, guess what, we haven’t seen overall education outcomes improve dramatically because of it. It’s more than time to back off and seek moderation.

  2. Wein, you are lucky that a charter school is even an option. Since I live in the suburbs of Chicago, my choice is the public school that is on year 3 of the no child left behind naughty list. Charter schools for us in the suburbs don’t exist. Our only option has been private school which is costing me an arm and & a leg plus my property taxes that keep going up as the value of my property keeps going down for a school my kids don’t even go to.

    I guess my question is what are parent to do?

  3. Lisa – I know on the call there was a lot of talk about trying to find ways to assess critical thinking skills, etc. And that those are taking some time. They mentioned they didn’t want to make it harder on teachers (not just coming up with ways to test the students with projects or research or whatever) to assess the kids as well. I know on the link above there was a twitter mention of a question that didn’t get asked about ESEA blueprint- I’ll see if we can get that clarified and the actual steps being taken to get away from the standardized tests.

  4. Oh believe me Lisa, we were nearly in your position. Private school or home school would have been our only choice. We are in a suburb that has great schools, so our charter was the first to open and when it opened, no one understood why it would even be needed. Our charter was founded by a parent that saw the need- so it was a true grassroots effort for kids that just don’t fit into the traditional school box. Perhaps that is something that will happen in your area- something parents do. Since we were a suburb.. that’s what happened by us. But in the meantime, was SHOULD a parent do? I will send this question off as well!

  5. What about bad teachers? Right now we have a mix of real teachers and pseudo-educated teachers that are a product of the very system that is failing. Like the case of the teacher in New Jersey who was fired for teaching religion in the science classroom but claimed First Amendment rights in court. Will the administration look at (or maybe they already are) providing support to school districts trying to maintain the integrity of the next generation’s education? How about teacher re-training and a separate scoring system for teachers that isn’t based on their students’ performance but on theirs?

  6. Testing is necessary but should only be one of the ways to evaluate. They say that but don’t necessarily back it up. There is a lot of pressure on teachers because those tests are now connected to them keeping their jobs not always taking into consideration the societal issues going on around them. My main issue with parents is that as difficult as it is, we have to plug into our schools. It’s really hard for me because I’m so busy, just like most moms, but we need to stop pitting ourselves against our teachers first and work to see if there is a solution. I need to follow my own advice… Just actually wrote a blog about this subject and the Viola Davis movie, “Won’t Back Down”

  7. I would like to see the administration reach out to those of us who are secular homeschoolers. Heck, I’d like that from my governor. Are you listening, Jack Markell? There are many homeschoolers not fitting “in the box’ people have for homeschoolers, and the Democratic Party as a whole lumps us in with the right and ignores us. In my experience people homeschool for a wide variety of reasons… I have a friend who homeschools as active military to keep her kids’ education consistent. I have many friends who homeschool special-needs children, and some who started homeschooling during family emergencies due to parental illness. My choice to homeschool isn’t a statement against teachers, or the value of public education, any more than using a bike makes me an enemy of road repair. Tell the Obama team that, please. And give them my number.l

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