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Differences Between Obama's Education Speech And His Adminstration's Actions

Lisa Snell
March 18, 2009, 6:30pm

My new column looks at President Obama's recent education speech, which had some good rhetoric that would appeal to those of us interested in seeing some real education reforms. The president endorsed the expansion of innovative charter schools, performance pay for teachers, and the elimination of ineffective teachers. Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be any real legislative action planned on any of those items:

Most of the reform policies that Obama mentions, from charter schools to performance pay, are completely missing from the actual legislative agenda.

Charter schools received almost no funding from the stimulus package and there was no requirement for states to remove destructive charter school caps in exchange for billions. Similarly, while he plans to fund a few teacher incentive pilot programs, President Obama missed the opportunity to tie the billions in new federal education dollars to outcomes that could result in serious personnel reform.

Mr. Obama has also remained silent about the children who have escaped Washington, DC,’s failing public schools and used vouchers to attend higher performing private schools. At the very moment, he was giving his speech on how to fix America’s schools, Senate Democrats voted to effectively kill the DC voucher program and prevent more poor kids from fleeing failing schools.

Obama’s staff has hinted they’ll try to preserve the voucher program, at least for the kids already in it.

"I don't think it makes sense to take kids out of a school where they're happy and safe and satisfied and learning," Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said. "I think those kids need to stay in their school."

And Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said that “it wouldn't make sense to disrupt the education of those that are in that system, and I think we'll work with Congress to ensure that a disruption like that doesn't take place.”

We’ll see if the administration follows through. Right now the president’s education plan is rife with inconsistencies. He is willing to spend more on Pell Grants (vouchers) for adults to attend college, but opposes them for children. He calls for professionalizing the teaching profession, yet effectively gives the unions huge amounts of new money to preserve the current rigid staffing models. He says the education system is failing, but wants that failing education system expanded to include universal preschool.

President Obama often talks about challenging the status quo. Education offers him the chance to do just that. Unfortunately, right now it looks like we’re just throwing more money at that status quo.

Full Column
Obama Can Help Michelle Rhee Fix DC's Schools


Lisa Snell is Director of Education


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