While I generally found that Barack Obama filled his campaign manifesto, the Audacity of Hope, with standard issue liberal explanations of and statist solutions to America’s problems, he did occasionally part company with his ideological confrères. For example, while his section on education was short, a few of his suggestions put him at odds with the teachers’ unions, a key Democratic constituency.
He seemed to favor merit pay for better teachers and even advocated alternative means of teacher certification which might open up the profession to allow people competent in certain subjects to each without undergoing the tedious process of teacher training (in Education schools). In speeches, he often championed charter schools, schools which are part of the public education system, but do not have to adhere to many of the rules and regulations of traditional public schools.
While most recent stories on the Administration’s education policy have focused on Kevin Jennings, few have focused on Jennings’s boss, the very competent Education Secretary, Arne Duncan. As CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, Duncan implemented a number of reforms, some of which put him at odds with teachers’ unions.
As Education, Duncan is continuing that effort, standing up for one type of reform which has shown real results even as it upsets the teachers’ unions:
Obama and his Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, are using federal stimulus funds and their respective bully pulpits to force states into spurring the growth of public charter schools, the government-funded-yet-privately-operated schools that are the nation’s most prominent and successful version of choice. And proving the adage that money talks, cash-hungry states are scaling back or eliminating restrictions on the growth of charter schools in order to qualify for the money.
Teachers unions, who expected more from Obama, feel betrayed. Complains AFT [American Federation of Teachers] President Randi Weingarten: “It looks like the only strategies they have are charter schools… That’s Bush III.”
Duncan has been a particularly zealous advocate of charter schools. Indeed, it seems to be one reason the President tapped the former pro-basketball player for his cabinet: “Duncan (along with predecessor Paul Vallas) authorized more than 92 schools as part of Mayor Richard Daley’s Renaissance 2010 initiative.”
It would be nice, if addition, in providing for more charter schools, the Administration also supported school vouchers so less fortunate children would also have the option of attending private schools in addition to the various public options. Still, funding more charter schools does expand the choices these children have, making it easier for resourceful parents to find alternatives to failing public schools.
This a definitely a step in the right direction. And evidence the President is keeping at least one of his promises.
*And this is meant as a compliment to the President.