Recently, Arne Duncan warned against letting teachers' unions interfere with his drive to privatize K-12 education with for profit charter schools, as if teachers were part or even all of the problem, saying states shouldn't weakening their overhaul plans simply to win buy-ins from unions. "Watered-down proposals with lots of consensus won't win," he said, implying that democracy as well as teachers are the problem.
Even if teachers WERE the problem, on every other issue, Obama has bent over backwards to find consensus with those who CREATED problems even if it meant alienating his progressive base.
He spent far more time in the healthcare debate trying to woo Republicans with market based solutions and delivered tens of millions of new customers to the health insurance companies who created the problem in exchange for some good but modest reforms that help consumers. Progessives, particularly single payer and public option advocates, only got token input even though both would be more cost effective and cover more people than the Rube Goldberg contraption that keeps private insurance in control, and making profits from money that could be going to actual medical care.
Likewise, when it comes to Wall Street, he put the architects of the deregulation, Larry Summers and Robert Rubin, and lax regulators like Geithner, in charge of our economic policy, whose collapse they largely caused.
And on energy, in spite of good action on going green, he gave a massive gift to oil companies by opening up new areas to offshore drilling. In case you haven't noticed, they repaid that kindness with an oil spill rivaling the Exxon Valdez, and they didn't exactly thank us for prying open Iraq for them with lower prices at the pump.
Even if public school teachers were the problem, if he followed the model he used with these other bad actors, he would give them everything they want--smaller class size, more autonomy in the classroom, tutors, social workers, and after school programs to make up for weak families, and a diverse curriculum to keep kids hooked in who aren't necessarily fascinated by practicing for standardized tests--and only then make a token effort at the charter school ''reform.''
Hell, he would give schools a $700 billion bailout while scolding them for the error of their ways. (no one seems to take about how thirty years of Republican budget and tax priorities have resulted in schools being required to do more and more with less and less).
Instead, he is taking the very opposite approach from those other issues. Teachers are not only vilified but ignored (unlike health insurance companies, Wall Street execs, and oil companies). Non-teachers who run for-profit charter schools and administrators willing to execute the whims of this profits over pupils approach without question are in the driver's seat and no teachers can contribute let alone question what they do. They must agree, get out of the way, or be fired. And even if they agree, they might be fired wholesale anyway in an effort to break unions and bring in more inexperienced, and therefore docile, teachers.
If Obama sincerely believes teachers are bad actors, why the difference from how he treats corporate bad actors, who he puts in the driver's seat of reform? It couldn't be because no teacher's union has enough money to match in campaign contributions what the corporate interests driving for-profit reform have? How many congressman and senators leave office for cushy, high-paying jobs as teachers' union lobbyists, executives, or board members? What kind of insider stock tips could they get from teachers? ''Short chalk and buy whiteboard markers''?
Obama's ideas for K-12 education reform are identical to the Bush administration's, and in that case we did not hesitate to call it what it was: corruption. When Democrats sell out our kids like so many subprime mortgages, we should not hesitate to call that corruption too.
It seems more and more like Obama made a Faustian bargain with the financial elite: let me make some moderate reforms in a few areas, and I'll let you continue to act like a chainsaw waving serial killer in all the others. The last president who seemed to make a deal like that, Lyndon Johnson, who got the Great Society and Civil Rights in exchange for the Vietnam War, was not treated kindly by history, and Obama won't be either if he continues down this path instead of purging the cancers like Duncan from his administration and making the more radical change that is necessary to keep us from slipping into a Third World kleptocracy.
BBC's Greg Palast on Arne Duncan
Washington Post on Duncan's problematic record
More on Duncan's disturbing record