Sunday, November 23, 2008

Union Backs Obama Teacher Pay Plan

Good to see Randi embracing differential pay based on student achievement, teaching in the toughest schools, and subject areas with teacher shortages.  Obviously, the devil's in the details, but it's a big step forward to be talking about HOW to implement differential pay, rather than WHETHER there should be differential pay:

Union Backs Obama Teacher Pay Plan
Published: November 17, 2008
Filed at 5:32 p.m. ET
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A teachers' union said it supports President-elect Barack Obama in trying to tie pay raises to student performance.

Many teachers dislike the idea; Obama was booed when he mentioned it at union meetings in 2007 and again this year.

Yet Randi Weingarten, the newly elected president of the American Federation of Teachers, said Monday there is a role for teacher raises based on how students are learning.

''Of course there is,'' she said in a speech at the National Press Club.
She described the teacher pay system in New York City, where school-wide bonuses are based on overall test scores in high-poverty schools. Weingarten, as head of the New York teachers' union, negotiated the system last year with Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The new system is working, she said: Teachers already are getting bonuses for improving student achievement in 128 of 200 eligible schools.

''If an innovation is collaborative and fair, teachers will embrace it, and it will succeed,'' she said.
Monday's speech was the first major address for Weingarten as newly elected president of the 1.4 million-member AFT.
It came at a time of great anticipation by the two big teachers' unions -- AFT and the larger National Education Association. Both were effectively shut out of the administration of President George W. Bush. Bush's first education secretary, Rod Paige, once labeled the NEA ''a terrorist organization.''

In her speech, Weingarten avoided serious controversy. Though she mentioned the New York system -- and was introduced by Bloomberg -- she said nothing about the thornier issue of pay raises for individual teachers, as opposed to school-wide bonuses. Under such a system, pay raises would go to teachers whose students do better on standardized tests, something being done in Denver and a few other public school districts.

Obama, too, navigated away from this contentious idea, saying during the campaign that teacher raises should be tied to test scores but not based solely on them. Like Obama, Weingarten argues that performance pay should be negotiated by teachers, not imposed upon them.

And Weingarten said teacher pay should go beyond bonuses for student performance. ''Why not pay teachers more for working in hard-to-staff schools or in subjects with shortages of qualified teachers?'' she said. These ideas are in place in many districts around the country.

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Obamas' school choice

An email from a friend:

One of the good readers of Whitney's offerings recently commented that they hoped that President-elect Obama and the First Lady would set "an example" by sending their daughters to a local public school or charter school.  As a career education reformer, with three children of my own, and a native and former resident of Hyde Park, I would urge us not to "require" that the Obama's use their children to send messages or set examples.  As adults, we should work endlessly to improve public education for all.  As parents, we should not make our children statements in that work.


The Obamas made an appropriately personal and private choice in sending their daughters to an independent school in Hyde Park, rather than the local public schools or a very good charter option.  We should honor and respect that choice.  Similarly, if they chose an independent school option in Washington, DC., we should honor and respect that choice.  We know that we will have vital leadership from President Obama on education--that is what we should expect.

I agree.  I would never suggest that the Obamas do anything but what they think is best for their daughters.  The point that I (and a number of articles) made was that it would be the height of hypocrisy to exercise school choice for themselves and then seek to deny it to other parents in DC.

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Grading New York: An Evaluation of New York City's Progress Report Program

Marcus Winters is out with a report reinforcing NYC's innovative and powerful system of grading schools:

Grading New York: An Evaluation of New York City's Progress Report Program

by Marcus A. Winters, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, Manhattan Institute

Executive Summary

In 2006-07, New York City, the largest school district in the United States, decided it would follow several other school systems in adopting a progress report program. Under its program, the city grades schools from A to F according to an accumulating point system based on the weighted average of measurements of school environment, students’ performance, and students’ academic progress.

The implementation of these progress reports has not been without controversy. While many argue that they inform parents about public school quality and encourage schools to improve, others contend that grades lower morale at low-performing schools. To date there has been too little empirical information about the program’s effectiveness to settle these questions.

This paper incorporates student-level data in a regression-discontinuity design to study the impact of a school’s receipt of a particular grade – A, B, C, D, or F — on student proficiency in math and English one year later.

The main findings of the paper are as follows:

  • Students in schools earning an F grade made overall improvements in math the following year, though these improvements occurred primarily among fifth-graders.
  • Students in F-graded schools did no better or worse in English than students in schools that were not graded F.

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Letter Grades Look Simple, but Realities Are Complex

Yet another nit-picking article in the NY Times about the school grading system.  The grades are based on a blend of school environment, student performance and student progress, so of course -- across 1,400 schools! -- there will be some schools that score high on student performance (because the students entered the school at a high level), but poorly on progress (because they school failed to add much if any value) and therefore get a poor grade -- and vice-versa.  I think this is great.  If one looks past the nit-picking, one will see that this grading system is INCREDIBLY powerful, both in giving parents a wealth of valuable information as well as creating accountability and reform among principals and teachers.

James S. Liebman, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer and the architect of the progress reports, says the problem is that the public rarely looks beyond the letter grade even though the reports contain a variety of other guideposts. It is possible, for instance, to see what percentage of the weakest students improved by at least one grade level, and what percentage of higher-performing students improved on state tests from one year to the next.

“What the parents want to look for in schools is to see how well they do with ‘a kid like mine,’ ” Mr. Liebman said. “All of that is in the progress report. There is a lot of information in there that is directly useful for parents if they take a look at it.”

A closer look, though, can often be confusing to the layman. At 14 of the high schools that received A’s last week, for example, fewer than two-thirds of the students graduated in four years. Students at the 113 A-rated high schools had median SAT scores of 1209 out of a possible 2400, a score that ranked in the 17th percentile nationally...

...This year, officials broke the overall grade into three parts, assigning letter grades to school environment, student performance and student progress. And underneath the big A or F is a wealth of information, detailed in color.


Letter Grades Look Simple, but Realities Are Complex

Published: November 15, 2008

The A-through-F grading system for New York City schools is billed as a public information tool, helping people sort out which schools are teaching children and which schools are just moving them along. Instead of inscrutable education jargon and endless score charts, the letter grades act like billboards broadcasting achievements and failures.

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Charter Success in L.A.

I missed this editorial in the WSJ last month:
OCTOBER 14, 2008

Charter Success in L.A.

School choice in South Central.

With economic issues sucking up so much political oxygen this year, K-12 education hasn't received the attention it deserves from either Presidential candidate. The good news is that school reformers at the local level continue to push forward.

This month the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF), a charter school network in Los Angeles, announced plans to expand the number of public charter schools in the city's South Central section, which includes some of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the country. Over the next four years, the number of ICEF charters will grow to 35 from 13. Eventually, the schools will enroll one in four students in the community, including more than half of the high school students.

The demand for more educational choice in predominantly minority South Los Angeles is pronounced. The waitlist for existing ICEF schools has at times exceeded 6,000 kids. And no wonder. Like KIPP, Green Dot and other charter school networks that aren't constrained by union rules on staffing and curriculum, ICEF has an excellent track record, particularly with black and Hispanic students. In reading and math tests, ICEF charters regularly outperform surrounding traditional public schools as well as other Los Angeles public schools.

ICEF has been operating since 1994, and its flagship school has now graduated two classes, with 100% of the students accepted to college. By contrast, a state study released in July reported that one in three students in the L.A. public school system -- including 42% of black students -- quits before graduating, a number that has grown by 80% in the past five years.

Despite this success, powerful unions like the California Teachers Association and its political backers continue to oppose school choice for disadvantaged families. Last year, Democratic state lawmakers, led by Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez, tried to force Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a bill that would have made opening a new charter school in the state next to impossible. Mr. Nunez backed down after loud protests from parents in poorer neighborhoods.

School reformers in New York, Ohio, Florida, Connecticut, Utah and Arizona have faced similar challenges of late. Last year in Texas, where 81% of charter school students are minorities (versus 60% in traditional public schools), nearly 17,000 students had to be placed on charter waiting lists. Texas is currently bumping up against an arbitrary cap on the number of charters that can open in the state. Unless the cap is lifted by state lawmakers, thousands of low-income Texas children will remain stuck in ineffective schools.

Back in California, ICEF says that its ultimate goal is to produce 2,000 college graduates each year, in hopes that the graduates eventually will return to these underserved communities and help create a sustainable middle class. Given that fewer than 10% of high-school freshmen in South Los Angeles currently go on to receive a college diploma, this is a huge challenge. Resistance from charter school opponents won't make it any easier.

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The Unlikely Scrum

I loved this story from the front page of Friday's NY Times about a DC charter school's rugby team:
The rugby practice field at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School bears little resemblance to the manicured lawns of the English boarding school where the sport was born. It is more brown than green, and sirens sometimes drown out the shouts of players. Then there are the occasional interruptions, like when play was briefly halted during a recent practice as a man darted about wildly on a nearby street, calling football plays and evading imaginary tacklers.

But this patch of mud and grass is more than the home of what is believed to be the nation’s first all-African-American high school rugby team. It is also where a growing number of students have been exposed to a sport they once knew nothing about and to parts of society that once seemed closed to them.

Hyde players have a hard time explaining rugby to friends who do not attend their school and who do not know much about the sport. Others say things like, “You’re crazy, that’s a white person’s sport,” said Lawrenn Lee, a senior on the team. One parent, Clifford Lancaster, recalled his reaction when his son Salim announced he was going to play: “My eyes got this big. I said, ‘That’s a wild sport.’ ”...

...Hyde players are accustomed to being pioneers. Salim Lancaster and a fellow sophomore, Antoine Johnson, barely thought it was worth noting that they were the only two African-American players at a rugby camp in California last summer. Just getting to Berkeley proved to be a challenge because neither had been on an airplane before. They barely made their flight after Johnson went to the wrong airport and Lancaster’s ride failed to appear.

Lancaster said he was initially a little nervous on the plane, although he settled in and took advantage of the airline’s satellite television service, tuning in to — what else — international rugby.

He rises at 4:30 a.m. to make it to Hyde on time every day. Between rugby and school, he said, “I don’t have time to get in trouble.” Relaxing in his southeast Washington apartment with his family on a recent Friday night, he said going out with friends was the last thing on his mind. There was a game on Sunday, anyway.

That game was part of the annual Ambassador’s Shield tournament, sponsored by the New Zealand Embassy. The embassy has been a friend to the Hyde program, promoting New Zealand’s national sport while helping raise money for the school’s team.

Hyde lost the game, but the players enjoyed the international atmosphere and were impressed by the New Zealand expatriates who played later in the afternoon. Mathew Brown, a Hyde senior, provided the ultimate seal of approval, saying, “Those Samoans are ballers,” as a New Zealand player of Samoan descent took off down the field.

Afterward, the team attended a reception at the New Zealand embassy. While diplomats and representatives from USA Rugby sipped cocktails and mingled, the Hyde players escaped the formalities and gathered outside. One of them found a rugby ball. Before long, he was teaching youngsters how to play on the moonlit lawn.


The Unlikely Scrum

Published: November 14, 2008

WASHINGTON — The rugby practice field at Hyde Leadership Public Charter School bears little resemblance to the manicured lawns of the English boarding school where the sport was born. It is more brown than green, and sirens sometimes drown out the shouts of players. Then there are the occasional interruptions, like when play was briefly halted during a recent practice as a man darted about wildly on a nearby street, calling football plays and evading imaginary tacklers.

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Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm OK

After being an Obama emailing/blogging machine for the past few months, I took a rest after the sweetest victory ever!  Apparently it was too long of a rest because I got an email from a friend last week wondering if I was OK -- or if I was being so quiet because I was being vetted for a position in the Obama administration.  LOL!  Yes, I'm fine -- just exhausted (being in the money management business these days is no picnic!) -- and it's way too early in my career to do public service full time; I'm waaaaay too busy with three businesses (investing, conferences and a newsletter, plus writing monthly columns for the Financial Times and Kiplinger's and book underway) and various nonprofit activities.  Maybe when Cory Booker is elected President (in 12 or 16 years I'd guess) I'll be ready to serve...

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Democrats for Education Reform petition

Democrats for Education Reform has launched a petition to encourage Obama to support giving parents in DC (and elsewhere) the same educational choices that he and Michelle have -- please sign it at: (more articles on this topic below):
Parent Letter to President Elect Obama

Dear President Elect Obama:

We write with pride to congratulate you on making history.

As parents, we appreciate the great care you and Michelle are taking to make sure your daughters will fare well when you (and your new puppy) make the move to your new neighborhood in Washington.  We understand how much thought your family will put toward finding the best schools for your children.

As parents who have selected public charter schools (and other schools of choice) for our own children, we understand the importance of having excellent educational options.

We encourage you to include public charter schools in your school shopping list. More importantly, however, we encourage you to remember that all parents should be able to make these kinds of crucial, life-changing decisions on behalf of their children. And they should do so with as many excellent options in front of them as we can possibly provide.

Please join us in fighting for parental choice so that every child in America has the kind of opportunities they deserve.



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Revenge of the Black Nerd

I'm convinced that Obama's election is going to be a game-changer for education reform and closing the achievement gap -- for many reasons, including this:

Revenge of the Black Nerd

Finally, an end to the myth that being bookish means you’re “acting white.”

In his speech at the Democratic convention four years ago, Barack Obama memorably challenged the myth that holding a book is “acting white.” Now that he’s been elected president, he might actually be able to do something about it.

Black students are too often scorned by their peers as “thinking they’re white” for making A’s, and many let their grades slip in order to have black friends. Some educators and academics dismiss it as an unimportant thing to focus on when addressing black-student achievement. Some sociologists have even claimed that the whole “acting white” notion is a myth by showing that black students who make good grades also say that they are popular. But as Harvard economist Roland Fryer puts it, “Asking teenagers whether they’re popular is like asking them if they’re having sex.” Fryer’s work has shown that black students do in fact have fewer social connections the higher their grades, to a much greater extent than white students.

The problem dates from desegregation. Black teens only started calling each other “white” for liking school in the mid-sixties. Feeling unwelcomed by the white students they were now suddenly going to school with, black kids started identifying school as “other.” Recently, teachers and black parents have been addressing the acting-white problem, but it’s hard. Teenagers have a variety of identities open to them for trying on anti-Establishment postures. White kids can be stoners or goths. Black kids can be “nonwhite.” As of last Tuesday, however, there’s a new weapon, and it’s Barack Obama himself. Whenever a black nerd gets teased for thinking he’s white, all he has to say is four words: “Is Barack Obama white?”

It remains to be seen what an Obama presidency will mean for the nuts and bolts of education policy. But those four little words could do more to improve black-student achievement than any number of new charter schools and reading tests.

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Obama may make parents a stronger player in education

John Kirtley sent me the article below with this comment:

Today we had an event in Jacksonville celebrating our tax credit scholarship program for low income children. I wish President-elect Obama could have seen it. It was held at a school in a poor neigborhood that has a 99% graduation rate, in a city that graduates less than half its minority students. Our MC was a black Democrat, one of many in attendance. Please see this clip (2 min):

For those like Obama who are "pro parental choice but anti-voucher", consider this: there are private schools in Jacksonville serving low income kids on this program. There are five charter schools in the city. Would the President elect tell the parents who were at this event today that this program is wrong? Would he tell parents whose children are in schools not working for them that they should wait until a charter school comes to their neighborhood? They should wait when 95 other schools like this one are eager to take their kids?

These are real lives we are talking about. These parents don't care that he "proudly proclaimed his history of public school choice" to the NEA. They have a simple question for him: why can't we choose these schools?

Here's an excerpt from the article:

I was thrilled that he knew he was wading into hostile territory, and did it anyway. He stood up before the largest national teacher assembly in the country and announced, in effect, that while he admires teachers and wants badly to help schools, the union agenda sometimes gets in the way. And it does.

Unions first took hold in the United States because they were the only countervailing force to monstrous practices of America’s growing Big-Business. Only by banding together could workers unions force management to the bargaining table. There, unions won such rights as we take for granted now — the 40-hour work week, safety regulations and fair treatment of the 50-year-old whom management wants to replace with a young buck.

But now, in public education, there is no real countervailing force to the unions. The taxpayers have some representation at the bargaining table, but kids and parents have none. Families will never have the kind of monolithic power that can fight in contract negotiations because they’ll never become a bureaucracy in their own right. Nor should they have to. But more than anything, a well-established union is a bureaucracy. Teachers unions came into being to stop the exploitation of teachers, but grew into private businesses whose main concern is to support themselves. And bureaucracies that outlive their usefulness fight like piranhas to stay alive.

So Obama wooed the teachers, but did not woo the union bureaucracy.

By supporting the parents’ right to choose where their children go to school, just as an example, Obama signaled that he was willing to shift some power back to the families who have too long been left out of the education equation. Mandating parents to send their child to a school they don’t like serves no one but the bureaucracy protecting the employees’ paychecks. Empowering parents with options gives weight to a countervailing force that would, at last, bring the kids’ interests into a better balance with the grown-ups’. The interests of students and teachers should never be divided, and if unions cannot serve and nourish the common goals of teachers, families and taxpayers, they deserve to go away.

Here’s hoping that Obama’s momentum will inspire the Democratic Party to examine, finally, and fix this very broken part of its own machine.


Obama may make parents a stronger player in education

01:00 AM EST on Sunday, November 9, 2008

Last summer, presidential candidate Barack Obama addressed the National Education Association’s annual convention, by way of video stream projected onto a big screen. A YouTube version of the speech, with reaction shots of the massive audience of teachers union delegates, was posted soon after the July 5 event. It’s still up, if you’re curious. It has surprises. It gave me some hope.


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Obama and Our Schools

Nick Kristof with a great article calling on Obama to focus (and spend political capital) on education reform:

So let’s break for a quiz: Quick, what’s the source of America’s greatness?

Is it a tradition of market-friendly capitalism? The diligence of its people? The cornucopia of natural resources? Great presidents?

No, a fair amount of evidence suggests that the crucial factor is our school system — which, for most of our history, was the best in the world but has foundered over the last few decades. The message for Mr. Obama is that improving schools must be on the front burner...

...No family underscores the power of education more than Mr. Obama’s. His father began as a goat-herd in a remote village in Kenya, but his studies carried him to the University of Hawaii. And Mr. Obama himself has ridden the education escalator to the White House.

So Mr. Obama, let’s give others the chance to board the escalator that you and your father enjoyed. Let’s pick up where we left off in the 1970s and mount a national campaign to make high-school graduation truly universal, and to make a college education routine.

November 13, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Obama and Our Schools

President-elect Barack Obama and his aides are sending signals that education may be on the back burner at the beginning of the new administration. He ranked it fifth among his priorities, and if it is being downplayed, that’s a mistake.

We can’t meaningfully address poverty or grow the economy as long as urban schools are failing. Mr. Obama talks boldly about starting new high-tech green industries, but where will the workers come from unless students reliably learn science and math?

The United States is the only country in the industrialized world where children are less likely to graduate from high school than their parents were, according to a new study by the Education Trust, an advocacy group based in Washington.


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Obama and the War on Brains

Another brilliant column by Kristof:

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.

We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.

Almost half of young Americans said in a 2006 poll that it was not necessary to know the locations of countries where important news was made. That must be a relief to Sarah Palin, who, according to Fox News, didn’t realize that Africa was a continent rather than a country.

Perhaps John Kennedy was the last president who was unapologetic about his intellect and about luring the best minds to his cabinet. More recently, we’ve had some smart and well-educated presidents who scrambled to hide it. Richard Nixon was a self-loathing intellectual, and Bill Clinton camouflaged a fulgent brain behind folksy Arkansas aphorisms about hogs.

As for President Bush, he adopted anti-intellectualism as administration policy, repeatedly rejecting expertise (from Middle East experts, climate scientists and reproductive health specialists). Mr. Bush is smart in the sense of remembering facts and faces, yet I can’t think of anybody I’ve ever interviewed who appeared so uninterested in ideas.

November 9, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

Obama and the War on Brains

Barack Obama’s election is a milestone in more than his pigmentation. The second most remarkable thing about his election is that American voters have just picked a president who is an open, out-of-the-closet, practicing intellectual.

Maybe, just maybe, the result will be a step away from the anti-intellectualism that has long been a strain in American life. Smart and educated leadership is no panacea, but we’ve seen recently that the converse — a White House that scorns expertise and shrugs at nuance — doesn’t get very far either.

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Obama Is Expected to Put Education Overhaul on Back Burner

Let's hope this article is wrong about Obama's priorities.  A key litmus test of whether he's serious about reform is who he picks to be Sec. of Education (more thoughts on this later):

Critics of the Bush administration's education policies had hoped that putting a Democrat in the White House would mean dramatic changes, including the potential scrapping of the No Child Left Behind law and its reliance on standardized testing, as well as more federal dollars for schools.

But with the financial crisis and other priorities bearing down, President-elect Barack Obama's education initiatives -- at least early in his term -- are expected to be more about tinkering than bold change.

Although he has said education is an issue close to his heart, in an interview late last month with CNN he listed it as fifth among his priorities, after the economy, energy independence, a health-care overhaul and tax cuts for the middle class.

As American students fall behind many of their peers abroad, business leaders and others have said education must be a top priority if the nation is to produce a work force that is more competitive.

NOVEMBER 11, 2008

Obama Is Expected to Put Education Overhaul on Back Burner

Critics of the Bush administration's education policies had hoped that putting a Democrat in the White House would mean dramatic changes, including the potential scrapping of the No Child Left Behind law and its reliance on standardized testing, as well as more federal dollars for schools.

But with the financial crisis and other priorities bearing down, President-elect Barack Obama's education initiatives -- at least early in his term -- are expected to be more about tinkering than bold change.

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School of choice for Obama girls?

A USA Today article about the school choices the Obamas have:

How about a charter school? Obama has championed these publicly funded, privately run schools, bragging that he doubled the number of charters in Illinois.

There's a great charter school just four blocks north of the White House: SAIL, the School for Arts in Learning. But it's for "children with learning differences." There are plenty more choices, though.

In a sense, the Obamas face a dilemma that many upper-middle-class families do in most big cities: Open, egalitarian systems offer lots of school choices - but the best ones fill up fast (and admission each fall is by lottery if applicants outnumber slots). Still, few can match the offerings of pricey private schools...

...It's unlikely the Obamas will choose a charter school, but if they do, says Brian Jones of the city's Public Charter School Board, the first family would have to tread lightly to avoid the impression that they "inappropriately jumped the line" to score two slots.

This year, 1,900 D.C. kids attend private schools with a congressional voucher that faces the chopping block. What if the Obama girls go the private school route, as many predict? Would President Obama soften his stance against it? Jones hopes so: "I'd love to see President Obama stand up and support the D.C. voucher law so that low-income kids in the city could have that same opportunity."


School of choice for Obama girls?

By Greg Toppo, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON - Great news for the Obamas: If they want to strike a populist note and send their two daughters to a District of Columbia public school, there are lots of choices.

But will they have to get in line like everyone else for the most sought-after schools?

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A Crucial Decision For the Obamas: Public or Private?

Jay Mathews with another article on this topic -- and some wise comments from Michelle Rhee:

Like many parents moving their children to Washington, Barack and Michelle Obama will be told to avoid D.C. public schools. Is that good advice?

This is a tricky subject. School choice is very personal. The president-elect's fifth-grade daughter, Malia, and second-grade daughter, Sasha, have been attending the first-rate, private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. I bet they transfer to Georgetown Day School, a good fit because of its similarity to their current school, its historic role as the city's first racially integrated school and the presence of Obama senior legal adviser Eric H. Holder Jr. on its board of trustees. It would be a sensible decision by two smart, caring people.

But it wouldn't hurt to look around first. Georgetown Day, like other private schools, would charge them nearly $56,000 a year for two kids. Why not see what their tax dollars are paying for? One educational gem happens to be the closest public school to their new home...

...The last president to send a child to a D.C. public school was Jimmy Carter. He was so hot on the subject that he had a line in his 1976 Democratic convention acceptance speech about the political and economic elite who "when the public schools are inferior or torn by strife" send their children "to exclusive private schools." Amy Carter did fine at Thaddeus Stevens Elementary and Hardy Middle schools, but education experts think it's better to focus on training teachers to raise achievement rather than tweaking famous parents about their school choices.

Even D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, with two children at a D.C public school, says she does not believe "in people sending their kids to either public schools or a particular public school because they want to make a political statement." The D.C. schools have options for the Obamas "that are incredibly compelling," she said, but they should follow their own instincts and send their children to a school "they are fully confident is going to ensure that those kids get a great education."

A Crucial Decision For the Obamas: Public or Private?

By Jay Mathews
Monday, November 10, 2008; B02

Like many parents moving their children to Washington, Barack and Michelle Obama will be told to avoid D.C. public schools. Is that good advice?

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

One more prediction and a call to action

I just sent the email below to my Obama email list.  In it, I confidently predict that historians will judge Obama to have been one of our top half-dozen greatest Presidents, but in order for this to happen, he will have to be the greatest education President (admittedly -- and sadly -- not a very high bar!).  I define this as follows: Obama needs to do for education reform what Bill Clinton did for welfare reform, by taking on entrenched interests in his own party to reform a horribly broken system so that it better serves the millions of people who desperately need it to work.
The single most important decision President-elect Obama will make in this area is picking his Secretary of Education because -- let's be honest -- with so many urgent priorities (the economy, Iraq, Afghanistan, healthcare, etc.), Obama himself isn't going to have the time or political capital to spend on education reform in the early part of his first term, so the Secretary of Education is going to have to do a lot of heavy lifting.
But he/she won't be able to do it alone.  Reforming our schools will also depend on all of us continuing to be involved to keep PUSHING.  As Obama has said many times, "power does not concede easily", so take a day to relax and then let's get back to work!
Words can't describe how fired up I am, so I won't even try.  You know the feeling...
Not to do too much of a shameless victory dance, but I want to establish my credentials before making one more major prediction:
-- More than four years ago on June 7, 2004, an hour after I first ever met Barack Obama, many months before pretty much anyone outside of Illinois had ever heard of him, I sent the following email to 100+ friends:

A few years ago, I said that Cory Booker would be our first black President.  I was wrong -- he'll be our 2nd (only because of his youth).  I met the first tonight: Barack Obama, who is running for the Senate in Illinois.  He is strikingly similar to Cory -- young (42 vs. Cory's 35), brilliant, eloquent, visionary and able/willing to cut across political lines.  For example, most Democrats are afraid to take on the teachers' unions and support charter schools and school choice, but Obama (like Cory) champions this issue.


After hearing him speak, answer some tough questions and meeting him, I'm convinced he's the real deal.


He won the primary by 30 points in a 7-person field and is currently 22 points ahead of his Republican opponent.  If elected, he would be only the third African-American to take a seat in the Senate since Reconstruction.


This is NOT a solicitation to give money to his campaign -- rather, an FYI.  I'm sort of embarrassed that I hadn't heard of this guy...


Below is his bio (from his web site, and an Op Ed in the NY Times about him from last Friday.

-- Nearly two years ago, when Obama declared that he was running for President, I compared him to a small growth company with extraordinary potential and said that, while his odds were long, he was the only candidate in either party that had the potential to win in a landslide.
-- Earlier this year, I predicted that the housing market would get much worse, triggering a big economic downturn that would turn a close race into a landslide for Obama.
-- On Sunday (, I made the following predictions: 
After meeting him for the first time (the same day I'd ever heard of him, in fact), I predicted Obama's presidency 4 1/2 years ago, so I'm now feeling my oats (that's a joke!) and am making the following (serious) predictions:
A) Obama wins in a landslide on Tuesday, by wider margins than generally expected, thanks to the remarkable ground game, fueled by hundreds of thousands of highly motived volunteers -- see stories below from two of them.
B) The economy will be awful for the next two years, the fiscal realities of which will force Obama to scale back his plans for tax cuts and spending initiatives.
C) Obama will provide a steady hand and the economy will start to pick up in years 3 and 4.  Bush will be blamed for the recession, yet Obama will get the credit for the recovery, which will lead to an even bigger landslide win four years from now.
D) Americans will so appreciate Obama's leadership style -- and become so comfortable with a black President -- that the route to the White House will be paved for Cory Booker, who will become America's second black President (maybe not in 8 years, but within 16).
So (drumroll please), what's my latest prediction?  That historians will judge Obama to have been one of our top half-dozen greatest Presidents, for reasons outlined in my blog post from February 2007, What percentage of your support for Obama has to do with him being black? ( and in the article I sent around yesterday, Obama Will Be One of the Greatest (and Most Loved) American Presidents (
For this prediction to come true, however, he's going to need all of our help, so take a day to relax and enjoy this magnificent victory -- and then it's back to work!
Best regards,

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