President Barack Obama is making his bid to be "the education president." At the start of NBC's recent Education Nation summit in New York, Obama appeared on the Today Show and touted what he claimed were a wide-ranging set of reforms to improve America's K-12 schools.
Yet Obama's education vision deserves an F for at least three reasons:
1. Money Talks. Obama says that the educational system needs new ideas and more money. Despite a doubling in inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending since the early 1970s, student achievement is flat at best. But Obama is placing most of his bets on the money part. While he brags constantly about his Race to the Top initiative, in which states competed for $4 billion to fund innovative programs, he's spent more than $80 billion in no-strings-attached stimulus funds to maintain the educational status quo.
2. Choice Cuts. Candidate Obama said that he'd try any reform idea regardless of ideology. Yet one of his first education-related moves after taking office was to aid his Senate mentor, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in killing a successful and popular D.C. voucher program that let low-income residents exercise the same choice Obama did in sending his daughters to private school.
3. The Unions Forever. The two largest teachers unions, The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, overwhelmingly supported Obama with their votes and their contributions. Some 95 percent of the groups' campaign contributions go to Democratic candidates and the NEA, spends more money on elections that Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Walmart, and the AFL-CIO combined. No wonder Obama's big talking point is that he wants to add 10,000 more teachers to public payrolls despite the fact that there are already more teachers per student than ever.
Reforming education may not be politically easy, but the solution is pretty simple: Give parents and students more ability to choose - and exit - schools. This works for every other sort of business and it works for higher education, too. There's no reason to think it wouldn't work for K-12 education.
And sadly, there's absolutely no reason to think that Obama will embrace that sort of change.
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