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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Hypocrisy of Barack Obama

“Hypocrisy can afford to be magnificent in its promises, for never intending to go beyond promise, it costs nothing.” — Edmund Burke

Associated Press, Monday, March 28 reports; “President Barack Obama said Monday that students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids, he said.”

”Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation’s education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that “everybody agrees makes sense” and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.”

“At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate.”

“One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”

Obama wants Congress to send him a rewrite of the 2001 law before the start of a new school year this fall. Although his education secretary, Arne Duncan, has been working hard with lawmakers of both parties, the deadline may be unrealistic with Congress focused on the budget and the economy. Congressional Republicans also look unwilling to sign off on Obama’s plans to increase spending on education.

Obama also made a plug Monday for the use of technology in classrooms, revealing that he himself has an iPad.

He turned back a plea from one questioner to grant a special protected status to students who are in the country illegally in order to prevent them from getting deported. Obama said it wouldn’t be appropriate because that status has traditionally been reserved for immigrants fleeing persecution or disaster.

The president did pledge to keep working to pass the Dream Act, which would give illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a chance to gain legal status if they enroll in college or the military. The legislation passed the House but failed in the Senate in December; it now faces even longer odds in Congress with the House controlled by Republicans.

March Madness is in full swing. And former Harvard basketball player and current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has once again “renewed his call for the N.C.A.A. to impose stricter penalties on universities that do not graduate enough of their athletes,” reports The Washington Post.

The Secretary noted that while most colleges take academics for their athletes seriously, there are still some who don’t. “And I just fail to understand why we continue to reward that behavior rather than not tolerate it,” Duncan told the Post. The article went on to list schools that fail to graduate a majority of their athletes yet receive significant revenue from their sports teams.

Currently, the N.C.A.A. requires teams to graduate at least 50 percent of their players or potentially face the loss of scholarships. If schools fail to reach the 40 percent mark several years in a row, they could risk a “postseason ban.“

Certainly, colleges should promote good academics for their athletes. But what if a standard similar to that applied to college athletic programs applied to the education taking place right in Secretary Duncan’s own backyard?

Recent data clearly show that a little more than half—56 percent—of D.C. public school students graduate from high school. Yet, while the Obama Administration continues to push for increased spending on public school systems in D.C. and throughout the country (D.C. public schools currently spend nearly twice the national average on annual per-pupil education costs), they have stood by and let funding for the all-star D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP)—which graduates more than 90 percent of its students—be all but phased out.

But by Duncan’s own standard, the DCOSP should be his number one bracket pick.

Since 2003, the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program has helped give thousands of students from low-income families a shot at an educated future. Through the program, students from these families are able to receive scholarships to attend a private school of their choice, allowing many to escape failing and often violent schools. For many of these children, this has meant the difference between dropping out and earning a diploma. One scholarship recipient, senior Ronald Holassie of Archbishop Carroll High School, stated that the program had been a “life-changing experience” and that “I wouldn’t be the person I am … if it wasn’t for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.”

The Obama Administration talks big when it comes to improving education. So, instead of taking away a scholarship program that is having such a remarkable effect on the lives of D.C. students and their families, they should cheer it on. At a time when education in the United States is in dire need of improvement, benching a program that is successfully meeting that goal is only, well, madness.

House Speaker John Boehner’s (R–OH) commitment to school choice and his support for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP) was chronicled in The Washington Post on Tuesday.

“I just think it’s horrendous that you’ve got one of the worst school districts in the country right here in the District of Columbia,” Boehner stated. The Speaker went on to say: “Competition makes everyone better. One of the problems with education in America is that there’s not enough competition in the K through 12 arena.” Boehner understands what intellectual heavyweights like economist Milton Friedman knew: Competition, fostered through school choice, lifts all boats. Friedman explained in 2005:

“Full exercise of choice would invigorate the public school system; would improve it. Competition always has that effect … competition is a way in which both public and private schools can be required to satisfy their customers. In which the bad private schools will fail and the bad public schools will fail. So the fundamental assumption is simple: that competition is better than monopoly.”

The DCOSP has put detractors in the position of having to defend the poor performance of the government school system.

But most importantly, the DCOSP has empowered parents and limited bureaucratic and government control over education. Many low-income parents who were previously unable to access a safe and effective education for their children found themselves in a position to go directly to a private school they felt would best meet the needs of their children. Parents were now empowered to do what so many families who can afford it so often do: They were able to go from school to school, inspecting the premises, inquiring about the school’s academic record and interviewing principals and teachers.

Low-income parents in D.C. were no longer at the whim of the government school monopoly.

That is, until the last Congress, at the direction of Senator Richard Durbin (D–IL), caved into pressure from education unions and began phasing out the successful voucher program. Despite its proven track-record of increasing academic achievement and significantly improving graduation rates, 216 children had scholarships yanked from their hands by Members of Congress beholden to education unions and the failed status quo. Thousands more had their educational futures placed in jeopardy.

Boehner, by contrast, has made school choice a priority and has introduced a bill to reauthorize the DCOSP—the only bill the Speaker will sponsor this year. The contrast in philosophies could not be clearer: empower parents through school choice or condemn low-income children to underperforming government schools.

Empowering parents through school choice has many benefits. Thanks to the DCOSP, parents are not only able to choose the school that best meets their children’s needs; the program also ensures that money is spent more efficiently. The opportunity scholarships provide a far more efficient way of spending education dollars by empowering parents and taxpayers, not bureaucrats. To stand by and allow special interest groups like the education unions to kill off the only successful federal education program ever created would be a travesty unparalleled in school policy.

Last year, President Obama was asked if his daughters, who attend an elite private school, would have received a similar education at a District of Columbia public school. His answer — “I’ll be blunt with you: The answer is no, right now.”

On September 27, 2010, President Obama reopened what is often a sore subject in Washington, saying that his daughters could not obtain from D.C. public schools the academic experience they receive at the private Sidwell Friends School.

Washington parent Gamel New recently told the Washington Post “Everybody has their choice of where to send their kids. That’s [Obama's] choice. If I could afford it, I probably would, too.”

Unfortunately, everyone does not have that choice. But with the establishment of the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, some parents in the nation’s capital finally have the option to send their children to better schools.

DCOSP allowed many low-income parents who were previously unable to access a safe and effective education for their children found themselves in a position to go directly to a private school they felt would best meet the needs of their children. Parents were now empowered to do what so many families who can afford it so often do: They were able to go from school to school, inspecting the premises, inquiring about the school’s academic record and interviewing principals and teachers.

Not only are parents empowered, but the voucher program makes sense from a financial point of view. The scholarships are worth $7,500 each, compared to the $18,791 the city spends per student. (The average across the United States is $11,257 and for California it’s $10,761)

Yet despite these successes, liberal legislators have denied funding for the program in next year’s budget. Pressure from teachers unions prompted them to phase the program out, despite its proven track record.

While 40 percent of Congressmen choose to send their children to private school, that choice would be denied to students in one of the most dangerous and underperforming school districts in the United States.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R–OH) has introduced new legislation, known as the SOAR Act, that would not only reauthorize the scholarship program but also expand it to give more children the opportunity for school choice. During the State of the Union address, Boehner invited Heritage education experts Jennifer Marshall and Lindsey Burke to join scholarship recipients in the Speaker’s Box.

So, what we have here is a President who claims to be the president who wants to streamline and improve our public education while denying thousands of D.C. children the opportunity for the same education his two daughters and the children of 40% of the Congress are receiving. If this isn’t hypocrisy then I don’t know what is.

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