Obama’s Speech on Education

July 6, 2007

Lots of people are blogging on this, and Whitney Tilson has a good compilation of responses. Unfortunately, some are criticizing Obama for not talking about choice, or specifically, vouchers. Whitney Tilson’s friend John Kirtley, who is involved in the Florida school choice movement, is among these. John takes Obama to task for not supporting private school choice (he does not specifically say that he is talking about vouchers, but when you read the comments it is pretty clear that is what he has in mind).

For example, John asks:

Is [Obama] committed to the idea of public education, or to a system? What is his definition of public education? Is it using an adequate amount of taxpayer dollars to educate children well, regardless of who is educating them? Or is his definition a closed system of schools that children cannot venture outside of? Miami Union Academy is a faith-based school in a poor Dade County neighborhood that graduates 99% of its kids and sends 95% to college. Its tuition is $4,000 per year. It is a faith-based school. Why does Obama not want a low-income single mom to be able to send her child to that school with taxpayer help? How will her doing so be a negative thing?

As I read this complaint, John’s comments amount to a single claim: unless the candidate does not support vouchers, reform-oriented Democrats should be pissed off.

But lots of folks have good reform ideas that do not include vouchers. Education Trust, for example, is by no means beholden to the Democratic party, and they don’t advocate vouchers.

As for Obama’s focus on teachers, John’s comments criticize him for saying that teachers are not the most important thing. But tons of people argue that teachers are the most important factor determining student achievement. Ed Trust says this. In fact, do does Whitney Tilson, who argues in his powerpoint presentation that, “Numerous studies have shown that the most important determinant of student achievement, by far, is teacher quality.”

The bottom line is that some people agree with John that vouchers are really important. But others don’t; some think they are a terrible idea, others are not sure, and lots more think they might do some good but will never greatly impact the majority of low-income kids in America. To suggest that reform-oriented Democrats have to support vouchers (or even charters for that matter) is to incorrectly impose an ideological straight-jacket on people.

I think the real thing to focus on is the merit-pay point, and the fact that Obama made the important argument that criticizing NCLB cannot be the end of the game for Dems. They need to have a proposal, and Obama made clear that his was going to be about improving teacher quality. That is a terribly important idea.


2 Responses to “Obama’s Speech on Education”

  1. […] the question of choice across school districts. John’s original post and my response are here, and John’s response back to me can be found here on Whitney Tilson’s blog. […]

  2. Bobbie Hausherr Says:

    As a Florida teacher, I can assure you that NCLB is not working!
    Of course, it sounds great to the general public. After all, who doesn’t want to “leave no child behind.” As you stated, there are some positives. We are disaggregating data to take a closer look at the achievement of all subgroups. The problem is that all we do is test! We have our FCAT tests and constantly have to take practice tests. The AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) target goals continue to rise each year, so the majority of our Title I schools in this state can’t meet these goals. By 2013, all of our students are expected to be at grade level, including Exceptional Ed students and ESOL (speakers of other languages.) The authors of NCLB had to know that these expections are virtually impossible to meet. I am a believer in high expectations … just not unreasonable expectations. Every year we don’t make AYP, more of our Title I dollars are pumped into the private sector to private tutoring companies, many of which were formed just to take advantage of the chance to cash in on this money.
    I truly believe that the real goal of NCLB was to funnel the money from Title I into the private sector. More privatization from the Repubs!

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