Tag Archives: Barack Obama


tour djpegAfter the 10th stage of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong sits in third place.  Amazing.  What an athlete.  The Tour de France has to be one of the most grueling events in competitive athletics and he continues to put himself in a position to win in that legendary bicycle Race to the Top

Now that has a ring to it: “The race to the top.” And evidently President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan think so too.  In fact, they have set aside BILLIONS of federal dollars as part of a stimulus package to encourage states to “race to the top” in school reform.

At this point in the race, however,  we don’t have many details.  For example, no one seems to know what the rules are for the race or where exactly  the “top” is.  There definitely is a “Race to the Top Fund” that is a component of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that Congress approved in February, but there are no guidelines to tell you when you win or when you lose or even when you can climb off  your freakin bicycle and have a cold gatorade.

arnejpegPundits seem to think there are some clues in Duncan-speeches that suggest that the states on the inside track in this epic Race to the Top  are those who 1) are committed to improving low performing schools; 2) states that are lifting caps on charter schools; 3) states that are big on improving teacher quality; 4) states that are moving their data systems into the 21st century, and 5) states that are on board with the whole “national academic standards” drive.

Given that description, states that are in the back of the pack about a small French village away from the leader group, include: 

• Alaska, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas—because they don’t want to play the national standards game.  

• Indiana and Maine because they  are considered “unfriendly” to charter schools.  Shame on them.

• California, New York, and Wisconsin who are all guilty of constructing “firewalls” between student and teacher data.

• Illinois because, in general,  their school system (even under the leadership of Arne Duncan) just suck.

The current leaders… that is, those who are vying with Lance Armstrong for the yellow jersey include:  Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana. (Nearly 70% of the schools that re-opened in New Orleans after Katrina are charter schools!)

up hillSo I wonder…  as the facts and the details of the Race for the Top Fund come to light, what kind of pressures will individual states bring to bear on their schools?  California is facing a $26.5 billion deficit and while the federal money won’t bridge that gap, it would certainly encourage re-investment into the system.  It would suggest we are headed down (or up) some positive path and maybe that we have a half a clue of how to catch up with the race leaders and sprint to the finish.  

I wonder if Arne Duncan is prepared for the kind of innovation that the lure of $5 billion can buy.

Billions of dollars on the table.  Bragging rights.  A poorly fitting yellow jersey that nevertheless looks pretty nice on the cover of Sports Illustrated.  New standards and expectations. 

I suspect that high stakes testing is about to get higher stakes.


1 Comment

Filed under California budget, California charter schools, charter schools, President Obama, public education, school reform, standardized testing


A picture is worth 1000 words… except when it requires a caption.  Like this picture of two middle-aged African American couples embracing in a hotel room in Boston right after Barack Obama was sworn in a the 44th President of the United States.


This is more than just another poignant scene captured on America’s most magic of days. For the two gentlemen in the photo…  it HAD to be such a powerful, emotional, exhilarating moment of sweet redemption.  

Forty years ago, they took a courageous stand on the world stage.  Not unlike Rosa Parks, theirs was an act that horrified  much of white America– while it simultaneously inspired a whole generation who were growing weary of the slow pace of change in the late 1960’s.   

They have paid dearly for that moment of defiance… but it too was captured in an iconic photograph that, I can assure you, is worth at least 1000 words.  


For Tommie Smith and John Carlos, winners of the 200 meter gold and bronze medal at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, January 2oth no doubt brought sweet redemption and  1000 words.

None of them necessary.


Filed under President Obama

We Will Arise and Walk Again

mural2I celebrated another birthday this week and I realize with each passing year how much I have learned in my life. Every day, every week, every year.  And the lessons keep coming.  But the ultimate lesson of where we all go from here– no matter how deeply I reflect– I can never quite resolve. I only know that we are here and we are gone.  And that somewhere our spirits and our souls are transformed and we slip quietly out of view of those we leave to the Earth.

In the meantime, we live and we learn.  And we enjoy occasional moments of profound transformation.

flagsThis weekend, we are all on the precipice of such a moment.  One that stirs our history and our hopes. There is an unmistakable spiritual presence emerging even while our nation reels from conditions that might otherwise seem awfully bleak.  In three days, we will arise and walk again.

I am reminded of the dangers of attributing superhuman qualities to one man.  But for nearly a decade Americans as a people have sputtered and flailed and failed mightily to grasp or hold the greatness that we once believed we were pre-ordained to achieve.  Our world is is in turmoil.  The fabric of America, is in tatters.  And we have turned to a person possessed with uncommon wisdom and natural gifts– not the least of which is his deeply inspiring spiritual intelligence.  

daughtersjpgThis week, as he braces for Inauguration Day and the ride of a million lifetimes,  Barack Obama published a letter that he has written to his daughters: “What I Want for You– And Every Child in America”.  In it he says:

“When I was a young man, I thought life was all about me-about how I’d make my way in the world, become successful, and get the things I want. But then the two of you came into my world with all your curiosity and mischief and those smiles that never fail to fill my heart and light up my day. And suddenly, all my big plans for myself didn’t seem so important anymore. I soon found that the greatest joy in my life was the joy I saw in yours. And I realized that my own life wouldn’t count for much unless I was able to ensure that you had every opportunity for happiness and fulfillment in yours. In the end, girls, that’s why I ran for President: because of what I want for you and for every child in this nation.” 

For those of us who have raised our own children and who know what it means to delay our own personal ambitions and dreams so that our babies might realize theirs– it is an extraordinary admission.  

How many parents have watched their infants sleeping and longed to provide the world for them?  We so desperately want to remove the heartaches and failures and disappointments that might discourage them.  We sacrifice to provide for them.  Each generation stretches to the very boundaries of its collective talent  to make the lives of the next generation that much easier, that much more fulfilled.  It is what parents are expected to do.  “Devotion” is listed in the job description.

dad-daughter1So for his part, Barack Obama has merely ascended to the most difficult job on the face of the earth– to become the most powerful living human being– to make the world a better place for the daughters he loves so dearly.  He has risen above paralyzing political divisions for the opportunity to change the course of America.  To become president, he merely had to transcend centuries of racism, intractable prejudice, and a tortured national history of self-hatred that manifests itself in bigotry and intolerance.father-daughter1

Uncommon devotion.

And he writes:

“That was the lesson your grandmother tried to teach me when I was your age, reading me the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and telling me about the men and women who marched for equality because they believed those words put to paper two centuries ago should mean something.

She helped me understand that America is great not because it is perfect but because it can always be made better-and that the unfinished work of perfecting our union falls to each of us. It’s a charge we pass on to our children, coming closer with each new generation to what we know America should be. 

These are the things I want for you-to grow up in a world with no limits on your dreams and no achievements beyond your reach, and to grow into compassionate, committed women who will help build that world. And I want every child to have the same chances to learn and dream and grow and thrive that you girls have. That’s why I’ve taken our family on this great adventure. 

I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had. Not just because you have an obligation to give something back to this country that has given our family so much-although you do have that obligation. But because you have an obligation to yourself. Because it is only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you will realize your true potential.”

For those of us who have devoted our life’s work to the service of children– whose schools reflect our own beliefs in the virtues of justice and equality– the Inauguration of Barack Obama is a moment of blessed redemption.  

I forwarded President Obama’s letter to Keenan and Kira and I am looking forward to discussing it with them.  

“I hope both of you will take up that work, righting the wrongs that you see and working to give others the chances you’ve had .”

I am not usually so reflective on my birthday.  But at this moment, the past and future seem to be aligning.  The lessons of the universe… the mysteries of life.  The devotion of our ancestors… our hopes for our children. Our historical struggle… our resurrection.  

So on we go.  January 20, 2009. We change the world.


Leave a comment

Filed under President Obama, public education


A flurry of blogs—including Scott McLeod’s Dangerously Irrelevant” have invited their readers to write an open letter to President-Elect Obama.  It is a cool idea so I decided to write one.  If you scroll down to the next post you will find it.  But then I saw Larry King interview Maya Angelou about her poem “On The Pulse of Morning” which was written for Bill Clinton on the occasion of his first inauguration.  Dr. Angelou said she has not yet been asked to write an Inaugural Poem for President Obama but said she would write one for him anyway– which is also a cool idea.  So I wrote one of those too. 

This is my Poem on the Inauguration of America. It was written moments after CNN announced Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States. It gives voice— at least for me— to the deep emotions, the catharsis, and the extraordinary pride I feel in him. And in America.  And the very long road we have walked.


“Here on the pulse of this new day, you may have the grace to look up and out and into your sister’s eyes, into your brother’s face, your country and say simply, very simply, with hope, good morning.”

–Maya Angelou “On The Pulse of Morning” 



January 20, 2009
Written for Barack Obama,  the 44th President of the United States
By Kevin W. Riley



I  am.

Hope has, even for America’s moment,
Brought more than this moment of redemption.

Though I am shackled and thrown upon the swollen deck,
Seaborne and riding the stench of slavery to some new world- lost to life.

Hope. Though I am asleep in Lincoln’s apocalypse.
I am Gettysburg and Manassas and Shiloh.
The dead stacked and shoveled into history’s silent pocket.
In the atrocities a war wrought, even the birds were lost for song;
their throats clutched
In witness of humans who could be so calloused and so cruel.
All in the name of Freedom.

I am innocence: Emmit Till and Little Linda Brown
and Addie Mae Collins and her three young friends.

I am the blessed martyrs. I am Medgar Evers.
I trust Malcom X with my fury.
I marched from Selma to a Birmingham Jail.
I ripped away the judge’s hood that silenced Bobby Seale
and enjoined the Freedom Riders to endure the flames at Anniston.
I heard the chilling voice of Bull Connor and the sting of riot dogs.
The fire hose.
I saw school buses ignite Roxbury and trigger decades of white flight.
And still I stand.

I am the preacher-prophet who foretold that we would reside one day
in a promised land.
He must be with us now.
Though the years have kept his visage young…
His eternal voice is crisp as fire
As he sings from the mountain top.
This morning I heard the sky rejoice-
like the deafening wail of 10,000 hurricanes.

I am Lazarus.
I have redeemed the blood of a beloved brother, gone 40 years.
(Bobby’s picture is still among a shrine of holy cards
in a little house in San Antonio
Where Abuelita says her morning rosary
To Cesar Chavez and a wall of popes whose names she cannot pronounce).

I am JFK for whom Ireland still weeps.

I am redemption for centuries of sorrow;
For a word so foul it sticks in civil throats like drying cactus–
Thistle and rust, decapacitating…
A poison elixir that not all our years combined can exorcise.

I am first Hope. Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Mashall.
I am the first black pilot, the first black principal,
the first black business owner, the first pioneer.
I am first to serve, first to play, first in science,
and first to sail deep into space. 
And yet I am last.

I am Hope.
I ride a mighty wave.
I stand on shouldered giants, most for whom history has not reserved a name.
I am beneficiary of the wishes and the words and the blood of legions.

I rise by the toil of Chisholm and Jordon;
on the scaffold stairs built by Jackson and Charles Houston
and Andrew Young.

I am
Hope– tempered, with no guarantee.
But if ever He loved a people
Surely now He has heard our prayers…
Whispered through days and years and generations–
Through all America’s time
To let us be who we must be;
To even once know what it means to be ONE nation.

I am only Hope.
My arms are thin.
I speak as if all of God’s angels have somehow filled my lungs
with righteous air.
I am your mouth. His voice.
Our hands–
That the promise of humankind might at last be realized.

But I cannot be who YOU will not be…

So now my name is nailed above Katrina’s door,
Above the Wall Street debacle and the house of cards.
My name is nailed to Iraq and Jerusalem, to all ancient Persia–
And to the suffering of Darfur.

And as I go, so go a hundred nations.

Freedom shines,
A loud bell tolls the moment.
We are astride a wondrous day.
History will remember us as giants…
Or it will not.

Redemption has a name.
I am Obama. And mine is a holy song.



Filed under charter schools, El Milagro


I noticed the other day as I conducted my walkthroughs in all of our classrooms throughout our K-8 campus, there was little evidence that we are in the final weeks of an historic Presidential campaign. For that matter, there was little evidence that we were in an economic meltdown or even the baseball play-offs.

I wondered: Why is it that we continue with our text books and lesson plans and curriculum maps regardless of the compelling teachable moments that are occurring outside the classroom walls? The experts can’t explain the collapse of Wall Street so I am not sure our kids would understand it either. But there are math lessons in abundance:  liabilities v assets, percentages and interest, how much is a billion (700 billion?).

And like the stock market, baseball is a game of numbers and mathematics, too. As are the polls and surveys and data trends leading up to the election. But it’s not just the math. There are civics lessons, history and social studies lessons and engaging models for teaching science and the strategies of debate. These exciting times ought to translate into exciting classrooms… classrooms that are for many children their one reliable window to the real world.

Then something startling happened later in the week. I was watching CNN and saw the anger and vitriol and racism coming from the McCain and Palin rallies and it was frightening. It called to mind the dangerous events of the 1960’s. And while on the one hand I thought perhaps we should pull the blinds down and shield our children from that particular “window to the world”…  I realized that this too is a teachable moment.  

Are we teaching children how to debate and disagree with one another in a civil and respectful way? Are we teaching children to listen to alternative viewpoints? Are we teaching children about the fundamental strengths of our democracy– the blessings inherent in living in freedom balanced against the obligations that accompany free speech? Are we teaching them that hate speech and violence (and the threat of violence) have no place in our political discourse?

On CNN, I heard threats aimed at one of our Presidential candidates and I immediately thought of the prophetic speech of Robert F. Kennedy called the Mindless Menace of Violence. Check it out. Share it with your teachers and students. This is, after all, an extraordinary time…a teachable moment.

(Cross-posted at http://www.leadertalk.org/)

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized