Obama on charter schools
Exclusive: Barack Obama interview
Taking a position that could help him win a general election, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) said in an interview that the federal government should experiment with charter schools even if some Democrats oppose the idea.
In a joint interview with Politico WJLA/ABC 7, Obama was asked about issues on which he might oppose the mainstream of his party. Politico and WJLA also interviewed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.); Obama refused an offer to debate Clinton, however.
“I’ve consistently said I think we need to support charter schools,” Obama said. “I think it’s important for us to experiment in terms of how teachers are compensated — working with teachers but looking at how we can reward excellence in classrooms.”
Asked about the reaction of teachers’ unions, Obama acknowledged that they “haven’t been thrilled with me talking about this.
“My sister’s a teacher, so I am a strong supporter of teachers,” he said. “But I’m not going to be bound by just a certain way of talking about things in order for us to move forward on behalf of our kids. And I think a lot of teachers want to talk about how we can continue improving performance measures. We’ve got to get beyond a lot of the traditional categories.”
Conservatives have singled out overtures on education as perhaps the most promising way that Obama could convince Republicans, intrigued by his personal style, to cross over and vote for him if he is the Democratic nominee next fall.
“The Democratic Party is a big tent, and so there are a bunch of different positions that I might not agree with,” Obama said. “On something like charter schools and experimenting with our school system to make it work, I think that we really have to pay attention.”
A Defining Moment for Charter Schools?
It started four years ago, when New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein attracted a few of the most successful charter networks (the Knowledge Is Power Program, or KIPP; Achievement First; and Uncommon Schools) with dollar-a-year rent offers. All three accepted, but they did more than that: Rather than compete, they engaged in what could be called “coopetition,” often holding hands as they expanded in the city.
“Instead of fighting each other for resources, we ended up trying to figure out how we can deepen the pool and work together to make resources available for all to grow,” says John King from Uncommon Schools. “Each of us visited each other’s schools when we were starting up and learned tremendously important lessons.”
The intermingling, which began with shared “lessons learned” and expanded into shared training and more, could yield the “Internet” era of charters, a time when the real impact of the idea manifests itself, as the best schools get even better and the low-performing charters (and low-performing public schools and districts) face increasing pressure to improve or close. Powerful, yes. And also a long way from the early vision of charter schools, championed by many on the left as a way to launch more authentic and mom-and-pop public schools, and by many on the right as a way to introduce the relentless pressure of competition into ossified public school systems.
A Defining Moment for Charter Schools?
How Networking Best Practices May Revolutionize the Movement, and Reshape Urban Education
Many who bought early personal computers fired them up, wrote a few paragraphs, played some Tetris, and then asked: What’s the big deal?
Then came the Internet.
You might want to think of the charter school movement in a similar way. Since the first charter opened in 1992 in St. Paul, Minn., they have grown quickly, passing the 4,000-school mark. Now there are some outstanding ones and some lemons, but charter schools overall are not proving to be radically dissimilar to other public schools. So what’s the big deal?
Call it the “New York effect.”
Those Pell Vouchers
Those Pell Vouchers
January 30, 2008; WSJ editorial
If unrestricted federal education grants are kosher for college students, why not for grades K-12 too? That's the question President Bush is asking with his cheeky proposal Monday to create Pell Grants for Kids, a program to offer $300 million in scholarships that low-income students could use to attend the school of their choice.
Pell grants for college are among the most popular ways to spend money in Washington. Over the past seven years, Members from both sides of the aisle have lined up to expand the number and size of these grants that students can use to attend the college or university of their choice, public or private. Last year, 5.3 million students received a total of $14 billion in Pell grants, up from 4.3 million students receiving $8.8 billion at the start of the Bush Presidency. However, what no one wants to admit is that Pell grants are essentially "vouchers," with the decision about where to spend the money in the hands of parents and students.
Mr. Bush's proposal would give Pell grants to students stuck in public secondary and elementary schools that have failed to meet federal testing benchmarks for five years running or that suffer high drop out rates. The bulk of that money would go to inner-city students who otherwise have little chance of going to college or even finishing high school. In the same way, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship program has given 2,600 of the poorest students in Washington a better chance at a good education.
Neither of these programs is getting anywhere in the current Congress, however, and the new Pell grant proposal was immediately denounced by Democrats. The reason, as ever, is because K-12 education is dominated by a union monopoly that can't abide parental choice. Lucky for students the same unions don't yet run American universities.
Letters to the editor re. "Those Pell Vouchers"
Pell Grants for Kids Are Vouchers Writ Small
February 5, 2008; Page A15
Regarding your editorial "Those Pell Vouchers" (Jan. 30): President Bush's Pell Grants for Kids proposal is a voucher scheme undeserving of the Pell name. Pell Grants are intended to provide access to higher education for low-income students who might otherwise be unable to attend college. Vouchers, on the other hand, have been widely discredited as an educational panacea. The $300 million for President Bush's latest voucher venture would be much better invested in underperforming public schools that need the most help. Rather than reflexively supporting every voucher program that comes down the pike, the Journal would do better to support programs that, unlike vouchers, have been shown to improve student achievement, such as high-quality early childhood education, smaller class sizes, sensible testing and fair accountability measures.
Edward J. McElroy
American Federation of Teachers
February 11, 2008; Page A17
Edward McElroy's letter (Feb. 5) responding to the editorial regarding President Bush's Pell Grants for Kids states, "Vouchers . . . have been widely discredited as an educational panacea." From what I have read, much of the discrediting has come from Mr. McElroy and his cronies with financial and political investments in the teachers unions and their efforts to expand union influence. Mr. McElroy goes on to scold the Journal for not supporting programs that, to no one's surprise, are supported by the teachers unions.
If you translated Mr. McElroy's self-serving views to the classroom, students would decide what the curriculum would be, how much homework would be given, and the attendance policies. Fortunately, it does not work that way. The tyranny on public education exerted by Mr. McElroy and his posse of educational elitists should be reined in.
Mr. McElroy's letter asserts that President Bush's Pell Grants for Kids is just another voucher scheme, unworthy of the Pell name, which he wants reserved for low-income college students. If it's unworthy of the Pell name, perhaps we should just call it the GI Bill for Kids. The GI Bill, an unabashed voucher scheme, was one of the most successful programs in U.S. history. It allowed World War II veterans to choose private colleges of their choice. Yes, choice is good.
Government schools initially slowed the movement of underachieving kids to voucher schools through parent intimidation and unnecessary administrative hurdles. But once they realized that eliminating these low scoring kids from their testing rolls would make them look better, they began to cooperate. Vouchers work. If Mr. McElroy won't accept the research, perhaps he should ask the parents of voucher school kids what they think. Then again, what do parents know?
Mack R. Hicks, Ph.D.
Center Academy Schools
St. Petersburg, Fla.
There is an old saying: If you go to a butcher, you get meat. If you get the opinion of the teachers union president about Pell vouchers, you get a call for more money to be spent on public schools. The unions just don't get it. That huge sucking sound you hear is record property and income taxes being drawn into the public school black hole. Money is not the answer. The answer is to reward good teachers, sack the bad ones, and get teachers out of administrative positions and back into the classroom.
The one thing that no one mentions is parents. Private school parents care about education. They are making incredible sacrifices in order to give their children a better life. That's not to say there aren't concerned public school parents but the proof comes when you look at the percentage of parents who attend open school night. My mother, a public school teacher, sent me to private school. I think that says it all. As a parent of children in private school I am sick and tired of paying taxes to subsidize a failed public school system while paying for the best schools.
The Learning Disabled Education Expert (Kozol)
Gadfly was still a bit groggy from the holidays when this fine piece about Jonathan Kozol appeared in the Weekly Standard. The article traces Kozol's development, from failed novelist (an excerpt of his book Fume of Poppies: "The white of her belly was lovely and gay. The fire beat at us."), to teacher in an affluent Boston suburb, to Communist sympathizer, to angry old man. It's a sad story, really, about someone who has talents but simply squandered them, preferring to rail against private schools and those many decent people he perceives to be racists than to actually help improve the squalid state of inner-city classrooms. (Others have of course noted this before.) Is he still on that partial hunger-strike, or whatever it was?
"The Learning Disabled Expert," by Jonathan Leaf, Weekly Standard, December 31, 2007
Here's the summary of the article:
As we have seen, Kozol dislikes the current public schools, is against choice and competition among schools, disdains vocational instruction, and sees state-mandated testing of students as misleading, unhelpful, and biased. He is a deeply frustrated man. We live in a prosperous society that rejects his goal of radical social reform, and so Kozol spends his life promoting resentment. Confronted by facts and evidence that stand contrary to his ideals, he seeks to poison the wells of argument by throwing in intellectually dishonest terms like apartheid and by emphasizing half-baked notions for which there is no consistent evidence.
A wealth of research now exists arguing for school choice, and decades of failure by a unionized, monopoly public school system presents a clear message about what needs to be done to improve our schools and to better the lives of those rich and poor who attend them. But Jonathan Kozol, like so many true believers, is past examining the facts. Ironically, he is an education expert incapable of learning.
The Learning Disabled Education Expert
Jonathan Kozol's crusade to prevent school reform.
by Jonathan Leaf
12/31/2007, Volume 013, Issue 16
Friday, February 22, 2008
Response to Misleading Reports Concerning Senator Obama's Position on Vouchers
Response to Misleading Reports Concerning Senator Obama's Position on Vouchers
Statement from Sen. Obama's campaign, 2/20/08
There have been misleading reports that Senator Obama voiced support for voucher programs in an interview with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Senator Obama has always been a critic of vouchers, and expressed his longstanding skepticism in that interview. Throughout his career, he has voted against voucher proposals and voiced concern for siphoning off resources from our public schools. The misleading reports that have been circulated about Senator Obama's position took excerpts of an interview out of context.
A rough transcript of the interview and a link to the video are included below. The video and transcript make clear that Senator Obama: (1) repeated his longstanding opposition to vouchers; (2) expressed incredulity that the Milwaukee voucher program has never been studied to see if it works (in light of the argument of voucher proponents that we should experiment with vouchers to study their effects); and (3) re-stated his view that, to date, there is no evidence that these programs are in the best interest of our kids. He then laid out his own ideas on reforming our schools.
These misleading reports are particularly disturbing given that Senator Obama has laid out the most comprehensive education agenda of any candidate in this race – an agenda that does not include vouchers, in any shape or form. Obama's Pre-K to 12 agenda offers preparation that begins at birth and continues with world-class schools, outstanding teachers, and transformative principals:
- The first part of his plan focuses on providing quality, affordable early childhood education to every American child. As President, Obama will launch a Children's First Agenda that provides care, learning and support to families with children ages zero to five. He'll create Early Learning Grants to help states create a system of high-quality early care and education for all young children and their families. He'll increase Head Start funding and quadruple Early Start to include a quarter of a million at-risk children. And Obama will create a Presidential Early Learning Council to coordinate this effort across all levels of government and ensure that we're providing these children and families with the highest quality programs.
- The second part of his education plan is to recruit, support, and reward teachers and principals to ensure that every school in
- To prepare our new teachers, Barack Obama will require that all schools of education are accredited, and he will evaluate their outcomes so that we know which ones are doing the best job at preparing the best teachers. He'll also create a voluntary national performance assessment so we can be sure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively. To support our teachers, Obama's plan will expand mentoring programs that pair experienced, successful teachers with new recruits. And to reward our teachers, Barack Obama will follow the lead of cities like Denver that have found new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them.
- The Obama plan would provide resources to try these innovative programs in school districts all across
- The third part of his plan is to work with our nation's governors and educators to create and use assessments that can improve achievement in school districts all across America by including the kinds of research, scientific investigation, and problem-solving that our children will need to compete in a 21st century knowledge economy. Finally, Obama understands that government alone cannot solve the problems in our education system and that parents have to meet their own responsibilities and get involved in their children's education.
- Obama believes our commitment to education has to be real and not just rhetorical. He often says the problem with No Child Left Behind is that George Bush left the money behind. As President, Obama will reform No Child Left Behind so that it is funded, offers a broader range of assessments, and has an accountability system that is focused on improving schools.
[Here’s my transcript of the entire interview: http://edreform.blogspot.com/2008/02/obama-on-vouchers-transcript-of-sen.html]
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Obama On Vouchers; Transcript of Sen. Obama's answer to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
"...let's see if this experiment works, and then if it does, whatever my preconceptions, my attitude is you do what works for the kids," Mr. Obama said.
Told a current longitudinal study is ongoing, Mr. Obama said he would respond to its findings with an open mind.
The executive director of the lobbying group Democrats for Education Reform, Joseph Williams, said the response was unusual for a Democratic politician, praising Mr. Obama for making his bottom line helping children learn rather than ideology.
"I don't think anyone can call him a voucher supporter out of this, but it is an intriguing response," Mr. Williams said. "It is a different kind of answer than most of us are used to hearing from politicians."
Obama On Vouchers,"Intolerable" Status Quo, Replicating Charter Success
Because I used to be completely immersed in writing about the politics of vouchers in Milwaukee, I have studied pretty closely over the last 18-years as politicians have swung through Brewtown and offered their thoughts on the program. I watched Bill Clinton do the NEA Two-Step Backtrack after sending Democratic Assemblywoman Annette "Polly" Williams a letter congratulating her on her leadership with the original voucher law for Milwaukee in 1990. (He fretted in the letter that the "traditional Democratic party establishment" hadn't given her more encouragement.)
I watched Democratic candidates like Al Gore pander to the NEA by voicing steadfast oppostion to vouchers, only to see him concede later that if he was a parent of a child in the kind of non-functioning public schools we're talking about, then hell, yeah, he'd be a voucher user.
And just as bad, I watched Republican candidates gush with support for vouchers without any sort of nod to the complexities that attach themselves to a program that is obviously loaded with them - i.e. what exactly do we do with the public school system once we let people vote with their feet, especially since history has proven in Milwaukee that a vast number of parents who choose schools for their kids do in fact choose public schools. (Also, I watched them pretend they would fight for poor parents even though, in hindsight, the only fights they were really imagining were overseas.)
So when I watched the 6-minute video of Obama's answer to the question, I was struck by something. In the long history of the "voucher soundbite" from politicians, Obama may have provided one of the most interesting answers I've ever heard.
Granted, talking about the "V-word" as a Democrat can be problematic, especially when you are still running in some primaries and the teachers union can karate chop you at a most inconvenient time in your political career. Even at DFER we have people all over the map on their feelings about vouchers. Our official stance is along the lines of "We agree 100% that vouchers are a controversial topic."
So what did Obama say? He is skeptical of using private schools to solve the "intolerable" status quo problem because he worried that vouchers wouldn't generate the kind of supply of high-quality schools we will need. (A somewhat valid concern, I think.) But, and this is the interesting part, he said if studies end up showing that children are benefiting from vouchers, he wouldn't allow his skepticism to stand in the way of doing something to help them.
"You do what works for the kids," Obama said.
I am pretty sure that was what former Washington Post editor Ben Bradley would call a "Holy Shit Moment." He didn't lock the door, like our candidates usually do. He didn't declare anything a success without any evidence to back it up. He actually approached the topic with…. an open mind!...
Private school choice is indeed a controversial topic. But our tendency as Democrats to scream Nyet! before we even poke around a bit not only takes us out of an important debate about educating our young people, it alienates us as a party from hundreds of thousands of parents who simply want a better education for their kids and can't understand why the rest of us are so willing to take possible solutions off the table.
I think that backdrop actually makes Obama's answer somewhat remarkable - if the results are convincing, and it helps children, it probably ought to be something we are at least looking at.
Obama On Vouchers,"Intolerable" Status Quo, Replicating Charter Success
Warning: This post will use the "V-word" so if that is a problem for you, this may be a good time to go get your nails done or get that massage or something.
"You do what's right for the kids." — Barack Obama. Read on…
So The Obamanator has taken his "Yes We Can" tour to Favreville, or as some maps still insist on calling it, Wisconsin. And he decides to sit down with the editorial board from my old stomping/scribbling ground, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. And the editors, who know how to take a local issue and use it to squeeze some substance out of a guy like The Obamanator, decide to ask him about Milwaukee's groundbreaking private school voucher program. (In framing the question, one editor notes the political contours of the debate, i.e. it is a program that is very popular with low-income parents but, uh, not so much with the teachers union, whose members earn too much to qualify for a voucher. OK, the editor didn't mention that last part but my fingers couldn't help moving around on the keyboard.)
How is Obama not an unreconstructed lefty
But at the end of the interview he declares:
I will not allow sort of my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn. We're losing several generations of kids and something has to be done.
You think that's what he said when he answered the NEA's questions earlier in the campaign? ... Update: Back in July, he responded to the American Federation of Teachers questionnaire with what the AFT wanted to hear:
We need to invest in our public schools and strengthen them, not drain their fiscal support. And for this reason I do not support vouchers. In the end, vouchers would reduce the options available to children in need. I fear these children would truly be left behind in a private market system. [E.A.]
Hey, it's his contradiction. Let him explain it. But I note that back in July he was a dark horse candidate sucking up to the unions like every other Dem. Now the power relations is at least partly reversed--if he says something the union doesn't like, it's not clear what they can do about it. They could back Hillary, but that's not likely to endear them to Obama if he wins.
How is Obama not an unreconstructed lefty--Part III: Not only does he support charter schools, but--at least according the buried lede in the Democrats for Education Reform web site--he's willing to point out in public which major Dem interest group is against them:
Obama Open to Private School Vouchers
BY ELIZABETH GREEN - Staff Reporter of the Sun
February 15, 2008
Senator Obama said this week that he is open to supporting private school vouchers if research shows they work.
"I will not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn," Mr. Obama, who has previously said he opposes vouchers, said in a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. "We're losing several generations of kids, and something has to be done."
Education analysts said Mr. Obama's statement is the closest they have ever seen a Democratic presidential candidate come to embracing the idea of vouchers. Vouchers are taxpayer-funded scholarships that allow families to opt out of public school and use their government-allotted education dollars to attend a private school instead. They are despised by teachers unions, powerful players in Democratic politics.
Poverty Is Poison
Poverty Is Poison
“Poverty in early childhood poisons the brain.” That was the opening of an article in Saturday’s Financial Times, summarizing research presented last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
As the article explained, neuroscientists have found that “many children growing up in very poor families with low social status experience unhealthy levels of stress hormones, which impair their neural development.” The effect is to impair language development and memory — and hence the ability to escape poverty — for the rest of the child’s life.
So now we have another, even more compelling reason to be ashamed about America’s record of failing to fight poverty.
L. B. J. declared his “War on Poverty” 44 years ago. Contrary to cynical legend, there actually was a large reduction in poverty over the next few years, especially among children, who saw their poverty rate fall from 23 percent in 1963 to 14 percent in 1969.
But progress stalled thereafter: American politics shifted to the right, attention shifted from the suffering of the poor to the alleged abuses of welfare queens driving Cadillacs, and the fight against poverty was largely abandoned.
Fresh Start Conservatism
Third, the next president has to loosen the grip of the teachers’ unions. Certification rules have to be radically reformed to attract qualified college graduates. Merit pay has to become the norm. Reforming superintendents need the freedom to copy the models — like KIPP Academies — that actually work.
Fourth, Democrats like to talk about college affordability, but that’s the least important explanation for why so many students don’t complete college. The real reasons are that students are academically unprepared and emotionally disengaged.
Fresh Start Conservatism
By DAVID BROOKS
In the 19th century, industrialization swept the world. Many European nations expanded their welfare states but kept their education systems exclusive. The U.S. tried the opposite approach. American leaders expanded education and created the highest quality work force on the planet.
That quality work force was the single biggest reason the U.S. emerged as the economic superpower of the 20th century. Generation after generation, American workers were better educated, more industrious and more innovative than the ones that came before.
That progress stopped about 30 years ago.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
The Tightrope of Promising a Genuine Transformation
it’s hardly an accident that the language, vision and policies of Newark’s mayor, Cory A. Booker, mirror the man he’s supporting: Mr. Obama.
So when Mr. Booker gave his annual address to the city on Thursday, after 19 months in office, it was a reminder of many things.
It was a reminder that Mr. Obama, for all the extraordinary elements of his campaign, is hardly a solitary figure in American politics, but one representative of a new generation of young black politicians that includes Mr. Booker, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty of Washington, Representative Artur Davis of Alabama and former Representative Harold Ford Jr. of Tennessee. It reflected the way race hasn’t been transcended, it has just been transformed. While Mr. Obama has to prove to voters nationwide that he’s not “too black,” Mr. Booker has had to convince voters in Newark he’s black enough. The multi-ethnic America of today is not the black and white world of the past.
The Tightrope of Promising a Genuine Transformation
The language was soaring, the racial elements muted, the mood upbeat even though the road ahead remained unclear.
Newark's Recent Drop in Crime Highlights Mayor's Annual Speech
Thursday night’s State of the City speech was the annual occasion for Mayor Cory A. Booker to highlight his accomplishments and broadcast his grand plans, but for many here — including, to a significant extent, Mr. Booker himself — the actual state of the city can be summed up in a single digit: 2.
That is how many murders there have been in Newark so far this year, down from 12 at this time last year. And, as Mayor Booker exulted, 109 fewer people were shot last year than in 2006, earning Newark plaudits from a national police executives’ organization.
Newark’s Recent Drop in Crime Highlights Mayor’s Annual Speech
Saturday, February 09, 2008
A Walk to Beautiful
A Walk to Beautiful (2007)
Healing Cultural Wounds
Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher’s documentary “A Walk to Beautiful,” about the mistreatment of mothers suffering from childbirth injuries in Ethiopia, starts out quietly furious, detailing how its female subjects were ostracized by their villages, husbands, siblings, even parents.
The women have obstetric fistulas, holes between the vagina and the bladder or rectum. The holes are caused by prolonged labor and difficult birth, traumas that often deliver a dead infant and cause the mother to leak blood, urine or feces. Ethiopian women afflicted with these injuries can find themselves living in a shack behind their family home, cut off from normal social interaction and marginalized like incontinent pets.
The film follows a group of such women to a clinic in Addis Ababa, where they wait to have their injuries repaired by surgery and form the sorts of peer groups that their condition denied them back home.
While the narrative of “Beautiful” seems straightforward — women suffer and then get better — the film is a complex and quietly devastating indictment of chauvinist societies that see women as lovers, mothers and servants, and treat anyone who can’t fulfill those roles as a nonperson.
A WALK TO BEAUTIFUL
Opens in Manhattan on Friday.
Directed by Mary Olive Smith and Amy Bucher; in English, Amharic and Oromiffa, with English subtitles; directors of photography, Tony Hardmon, Ms. Smith and Jerry Risius; edited by Andrew Ford; music by David Schommer; produced by Ms. Bucher, Steven Engel and Ms. Smith; released by Engel Entertainment. At the Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street, Greenwich Village. Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes. This film is not rated.
34 West 13th Street, New York, NY 10011Map It