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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

President Obama Makes Broad Educational Strokes

Today, President Obama laid out his educational platform.

After weeks of pleasing Democrats by overturning policies set by the previous administration, President Barack Obama Tuesday for the first time confronted a powerful constituency in his own party: teachers’ unions.

Obama proposed spending additional money on effective teachers in up to 150 additional school districts, fulfilling a campaign promise that once earned him boos from members of the National Education Association.

“Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools,” he said in a wide-ranging education speech before a meeting of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Washington.

Obama’s embrace of merit pay won’t go over well among a group that often provides key funding and foot soldiers for Democratic campaigns.

Obama has laid out a lot of broad strokes and many of them I agree with. I am in great favor of merit pay. To me though, merit pay suffers from what Yogi Berra once referred to

in theory there's no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is

I agree with merit pay in theory. In practice though, I am weary of its application. How do we ensure that merit pay is applied in something that resembles fairness? How will merit pay be applied when comparing a teacher teaching in the inner city compared to one teaching in a posh suburb? So far, President Obama has not given any such specifics.

President Obama also made his intention to back the increase of charter schools. This is another policy that I support. That said, I believe that we shouldn't favor one alternative school over another. I would be much more in favor of expanding the D.C. voucher program to the entire nation than simply expanding charter schools. Vouchers give parents a choice, whatever they want. Expanding charter schools merely expands one alternative.

On the other hand, President Obama has also announced a major expansion of federal spending on education. This is a very dangerous endeavor. So far, it is unclear how all of this will be spent. Will it be spent to build more classrooms and increase salaries for teachers, or will it be spent to increase bureaucracy? Once again, President Obama has not been specific about how it will be spent.

Make no mistake, in this speech President Obama absolutely laid down a marker. He is ready to take on the teacher's union. All those that cynically claim that President Obama never bucks his party much acknowledge that he plans on taking on a major constituency on this issue. True, it's only one speech, but in his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, he has an individual with scars of taking on the teacher's union.

So far, President Obama has my support on his education policy, however he's going to need to fill in the blanks soon, or he will have a lot of good ideas with no practical way of implementing them.


rachel said...

Just give the good teachers merit raises and can the bad ones. The rest will compete to get better.

This is the ONLY Obama idea that I agree with so far.

mike volpe said...

I agree with the policy in principle as well, but how do you identify a "bad teacher". How do you determine merit in the real world? that is something he hasn't given a specific on.

Anonymous said...

Merit pay has one effect of teachers teaching to the test. They cut out all knowledge deemed unnecessary to getting higher scores on exams.

It is very hard to put into practice. There are so many variables in each class and school making the potential for unfairness great.

Broadly speaking, however, I think merit pay is a good idea, but teacher pay needs to be increased to make it a broadly more attractive profession rather than the kind of thing done as a second income.

In New Zealand, the low pay has made it the domain of 50 something year old women. There is also a drastic lack of men teaching children below 12 years old. A strong male influence early in life for single parent boys can be really great.

Anonymous said...

I'm not entirely sure that Rachel knows much about teaching or teachers.

"just" can the bad ones? Are you aware of how desperately short this country is on teachers? Are you also aware of just how strict the standards already are to get a teaching certificate?

Let's not discount the significance of parenting in a child's academic development. Every parent wants their kid taught by Albert Einsten but thinks they're being taught by a pedophile.