President Barack Obama’s long promised education reform plans could set the stage for yet another bruising political battle since it contains things that unions, teachers, Democrats and Republicans could oppose:
President Barack Obama embraced merit pay for teachers Tuesday in spelling out a vision of education that will almost certainly alienate union backers.
A strategy that ties teacher pay to student performance has for years been anathema to teachers’ unions, a powerful force in the Democratic Party. These unions also are wary of charter schools, nontraditional educational systems that they believe compete with traditional schools for tax dollars.
Obama, however, also spoke favorably of charter schools, saying that where they work, they should be encouraged.
He did acknowledge in his speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce that his proposals could meet heavy resistance in both political parties.
“Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom,” he said, delivering the first major education speech of his presidency. “Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance.”
But he argued that a far-reaching overhaul of the nation’s education system is an economic imperative that can’t wait, despite the urgency of the financial crisis and other pressing issues.
“Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we have let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us,” Obama said. “The relative decline of American education is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy, and unacceptable for our children. We cannot afford to let it continue. What is at stake is nothing less than the American dream.”
Like most attempts as well as from parts of both political parties that woo those interest groups.
Here’s his speech. What’s notable is that once again he contends that the time for partisan bickering and finger pointing is over. His problem so far seems to be that both parties and their partisans apparently feel that time isn’t over — that the longtime tactics are politically productive…and perhaps more fun than trying to discern the best policy specifics, passing and implementing them:
Here’s how it is playing in the media so far:
—The Washington Post:
President Obama today sharply criticized America’s public school system, and he outlined a strategy to reward good teachers and fire bad ones, establish uniform academic achievement standards and increase spending on the first and final stages of a person’s education.
In a speech to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Obama called on teachers unions, state education officials and parents to change a “relative decline of American education” that “is untenable for our economy, unsustainable for our democracy and unacceptable for our children.”
—CNN outlines Obama’s five step program (needs to be read in full).
President Obama outlined an ambitious education agenda on Tuesday that included the suggestion that states and local schools consider longer days and academic years.
“The challenges of a new century demand more time in the classroom,” Obama told the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in a speech with sweeping goals but few specifics.
The goals include improved early childhood education programs, higher standards in elementary and high schools, better teacher pay and recruitment, and expanded college aid programs.
Obama tied education reform to addressing the economic crisis, saying a better educated workforce will enhance the nation’s long-term prosperity.
USA Today also takes a look at the five areas Obama outlined.
—Los Angeles Times:
President Barack Obama laid out his vision for a 21st century education system this morning, unveiling plans for federal grant programs meant to inspire better performance but also calling on states, schools and parents to take part even where there is no financial incentive.
Obama’s blueprint includes a controversial plan to hike pay for high-performing teachers, as well as money for states that raise student standards, track student progress and cut the drop-out rate.
President Barack Obama on Tuesday refused to temper his ambitious reform drive despite the economic storm, marking his 50th day in office by promising a ‘cradle to career’ overhaul of US education.
Obama invoked the names of great presidents Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy, to argue that the crisis-wracked United States could not afford to ignore the imperative for daring political reform.
“I know there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time,” Obama said, in a nod to critics who have faulted him for not training his sole attention on the deepening economic crisis.
“They forget that Lincoln helped lay down the transcontinental railroad, passed the Homestead Act, and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of civil war.
“Likewise, President Roosevelt didn’t have the luxury of choosing between ending a depression and fighting a war,” Obama told the US-Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
“President Kennedy didn’t have the luxury of choosing between civil rights and sending us to the moon.”
Obama warned US education was leaving young Americans unprepared for the 21st century global economy.
…Having limits on charter schools, including those schools that are performing well, “isn’t good for our children, our economy or our country,” the president said. He signaled recently in his budget message that he hoped to double financing for charter schools eventually….
…. In another proposal sure to be greeted warily by teacher unions, the president renewed his support for a merit-based system of paying educators. “It means treating teachers like the professionals they are, while also holding them more accountable,” the president said. “New teachers will be mentored by experienced ones. Good teachers will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement, and asked to accept more responsibilities for lifting up their schools.”
In promoting a merit-based system of pay for teachers, which unions dislike because they say it could foster favoritism, the president was following through on positions he took during his campaign — and implicitly laying down a challenge to unions, traditionally reliable supporters of Democratic candidates.
The president said too many people in his party have resisted the idea of “rewarding excellence” with extra pay, while too many Republicans have opposed spending money on early education “despite compelling evidence of its importance.”
“The time for finger-pointing is over. The time for holding ourselves accountable is here,” Mr. Obama said. “What’s required is not simply new investments, but new reforms. It is time to expect more from our students.”
While the overwhelming number of teachers are “doing an outstanding job under difficult circumstances,” states and school districts should be able “to move bad teachers out of the classroom.”
Follow ongoing blog discussion of the educational proposals HERE.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.