For reasons that no one can fathom, sitting United States presidents want to be remembered for their commitment to improving American public education.
Education reform is the single most challenging item on any president`s domestic agenda. The parallel in foreign policy would be promising peace in the Middle East.
Invariably, they fail—at both!
Veteran teachers remember the 1970`s "Classrooms without Walls," a short-lived idea designed to stimulate pupil creativity. In practice the concept distracted both teachers and students.
Then during the 1990s we had the widely anticipated voucher system that fizzled out during a flurry of debate about who the winners and losers would be.
The most dramatic education failure is also the most recent: George W. Bush`s "No Child Left Behind".
Teachers consider NCLB a cruel joke. With its blue sky promises about "raising standards" and impossible goals that include the crazy pledge that all students—100 percent of them—would reach proficiency levels in reading and math by 2014, its goals were always out of reach.
For those thousands of California teachers who have recently arrived, non-English speaking students in their classrooms, too bad. The Bush administration decreed that all students, whether poor immigrants or privileged middle class children, would meet preordained and lofty scholastic levels.
With the dismal performance of NCLB still painfully fresh in every educator`s mind, President Barack Obama has launched his deceitfully named "Race to the Top" (R2T) campaign.
Unfortunately, Obama`s plan is a rehashing of the same worn out ideas that have been unsuccessful under previous administrations.
Among the tired ideas are to insist students maintain higher standards, to pay bonuses to teachers whose students excel and to replace underperforming schools with charter academies.
When challenged by his detractors about the lack of innovation in R2T, Obama replied that his plan would only tap into proven strategies.
But what exactly are those strategies?
None were identified.
Reform-weary parents, teachers, administrators and even journalist skeptics like me wonder how Obama`s initiative could be any more effective than its predecessors when the politics of education remain as toxic as ever.
California`s overall K-12 academics are dismal with the state`s fourth- and eighth-graders at or near the bottom in basic academic skills. The state failed to qualify for one of the Obama administration`s R2T education improvement grants even though it had hurriedly and after vicious political infighting made the required school governance changes.
In the end, California could not put together the required level of support for Obama-style reform among school districts, teachers and unions to qualify for a grant.
Rejected for funding in the first round, California`s battle was so bruising some Sacramento bureaucrats predict that it will not try again.
California, and most other states, face severe budget pressures and have scripted plans to cut back on education by laying off teachers, packing more students into already overcrowded classrooms and eliminating music, science and field trips.
Under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger`s new budget, per-pupil spending which was already near the bottom of the states would shrink by nearly $1,000 over the next three years.
Most teachers I know are appalled by R2T which they view as an acceleration of all the worst policies of NCLB.
What is certain is that the R2T will waste approximately $4 billion in federal funds without measurably improving education.
Equally certain is that the most important things needed to improve education will never happen.
Those include responsible people having smaller families and stricter border controls.
I`ll believe that politicians have the solution to America`s education crisis when I hear them campaign on what they have accomplished rather than on what they promise to do.
Joe Guzzardi [email him] is a California native who recently fled the state because of over-immigration, over-population and a rapidly deteriorating quality of life. He has moved to Pittsburgh, PA where the air is clean and the growth rate stable. A long-time instructor in English at the Lodi Adult School, Guzzardi has been writing a weekly column since 1988. It currently appears in the Lodi News-Sentinel.