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The Obama administration's mixed message

President Obama said Thursday night that his jobs plan is the right thing to do, and that he will take the message to "every corner of this country."

Here's hoping he'll do a better job selling it than his secretary of education, who spent Thursday reinforcing the myth of failing public schools to a northwest Indiana audience. It's a message that does little to encourage investment of any sort in public education.

"It's a tough truth, it's a hard truth," Arne Duncan told about 600 business people, educators and government leaders. "Many other nations and many other states are outperforming Indiana, including some of your highest-performing schools."

I wonder if Obama realizes the message his ed chief sends is often contrary to his own. While the president earlier this year denounced the effect of standardized testing on curriculum and students, Duncan embraces "reform" heavily balanced on the results of such tests.

The president said Thursday that he rejects "the idea that we have to strip away collective bargaining rights to compete in a global economy." But Duncan's message, according to the Times of Northwest Indiana, was that he was thrilled that Indiana is addressing its problem of chronically under-performing schools. Never mind that it's doing so by handing them over to unproven turnaround school operators, some of whom are well-connected politically.

What these turnaround operators all have in common, of course, is that collective bargaining is not allowed in their schools.

If the president is serious about selling his jobs plan, he should skip Duncan's Radisson Hotel ballroom circuit and visit some of the urban and rural school districts that the plan would benefit. I can suggest two right here in northeast Indiana: Fort Wayne Community Schools, which someone in Duncan's office seems to be aware of; and Garrett-Keyser-Butler Schools, which is taking advantage of his original stimulus program to build a 21st century high school. In Fort Wayne, he'll meet students in a high-performing urban district, learning in spite of decrepit, outdated buildings. In Garrett, he'll meet local construction workers brimming with pride to be building a new high school with cutting-edge technology.

In fact, Duncan himself should visit here. I think he will be surprised at what he finds.

Karen Francisco, editorial page editor for The Journal Gazette, has been an Indiana journalist since 1981. She writes frequently about education for The Journal Gazette opinion pages and here, where she looks at the business, politics and science of learning as it relates to northeast Indiana, the state and the nation. She can be reached at 260-461-8206 or by e-mail at kfrancisco@jg.net.

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