You Wouldn’t Like David Brooks When He’s Angry

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And boy-oh-boy is he pissed at Barack Obama, citing campaign finance shenanigans while ignoring the blatant criminality of John McCain’s own shenanigans. This anti-Obama fervor is probably to be expected — Brooks is a smart, perceptive, conservative Republican and Obama is not a conservative Republican so I wouldn’t expect Brooks to find his campaign appealing. But earlier in the cycle, Brooks seemed surprisingly positive about Obama, and his current wave of detraction is a bit odd.

After all, it was just one week ago today that Brooks wrote a column on “Obama, Liberalism and the Challenge of Reform” laying down as a key test for Obama whether he would embrace an education reform agenda that goes beyond calling for more resources and “emphasize[s] things the status quo camp doesn’t: rigorous accountability and changing the fundamental structure of school systems.”

So then Obama gave a speech on economic competitiveness in which he did exactly what Brooks said he should do, but predicted he wouldn’t do:

We can fix the failures of No Child Left Behind, while focusing on accountability. That means providing the funding that was promised. More importantly, it means reaching high standards, but not by relying on a single, high stakes standardized test that distorts how teachers teach. Instead, we need to work with governors, educators and especially teachers to develop better assessment tools that effectively measure student achievement, and encourage the kinds of research, scientific investigation, and problem-solving that our children will need to compete.

And we need to recruit an army of new teachers. I’ll make this pledge as President – if you commit your life to teaching, America will pay for your college education. We’ll recruit teachers in math and science, and deploy them to under-staffed school districts in our inner cities and rural America. We’ll expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. And when our teachers succeed, I won’t just talk about how great they are – I’ll reward their greatness with better pay and more support.

But research shows that resources alone won’t create the schools that we need to help our children succeed. We also need to encourage innovation – by adopting curricula and the school calendar to the needs of the 21st century; by updating the schools of education that produce most of our teachers; by welcoming charter schools within the public schools system, and streamlining the certification process for engineers or businesspeople who want to shift careers and teach.

We must also challenge the system that prevents us from promoting and rewarding excellence in teaching. We cannot ask our teachers to perform the impossible – to teach poorly prepared children with inadequate resources, and then punish them when children perform poorly on a standardized test. But if we give teachers the resources they need; if we pay them more, and give them time for professional development; if they are given ownership over the design of better assessment tools and a creative curricula; if we shape reforms with teachers rather than imposing changes on teachers, then it is fair to expect better results. Where there are teachers who are still struggling and underperforming, we should provide them with individual help and support. And if they’re still underperforming after that, we should find a quick and fair way to put another teacher in that classroom. Our children deserve no less.

But instead of following up on the topics, we get today’s extended rant about campaign finance reform. It’s all very strange — the bottom line is that Brooks is a conservative and Obama’s a liberal so there’s no real reason Brooks should like Obama but for some reason he was super-enthusiastic about him in the past and now seems unduly bitter when it turns out that, yes, Obama’s a liberal.