Obama On Education

Jay P. Greene, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas, writes on Obama’s Education policies:

In a major address last March, President Obama declared that his administration would “use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.” Unfortunately, the test that seems to guide the administration’s education priorities is not whether a policy works, but whether it serves a political constituency.

Consider the administration’s treatment of two federally funded programs: The D.C. voucher program, which it is helping to kill, and Head Start, on which it has bestowed billions more dollars. If the administration actually did care about results, its positions would be just the opposite.

If you look at Obama’s education policies from the point of view of what works you will come out seriously disappointed. The way to make sense of his education policies is not to look at what works and what doesn’t work but what serves the interest of one of his strongest constituencies: the teachers unions. Sure, Head Start doesn’t work but what matters is whether it benefits the teachers union. And because Head Start – like universal preschool, smaller classrooms, and higher pay for teachers – means more teachers, directly benefiting the teachers union, Obama and Democrats in general will support it.

This is why I have long given up hope of any real education reform coming from the Democrat side.

More here.

21 Responses to “Obama On Education”

  • HP,
    I’m curious what you think of Yglesias’ very positive view of Obama’s record on education. Generally speaking, I find both you and Yglesias to be compelling bloggers with intelligent viewpoints, and I don’t follow education policy closely, so it would be interesting to me to hear where you agree or disagree with him on this.

    The Obama administration has also spearheaded a little-noticed but rather dramatic reform of K-12 education through its Race to the Top programme. The way this worked was to create a substantial pool of funds to be given away as part of a competitive grant process to states that cut through interest-group demands and implemented evidence-based reforms. The result of this has been a tide of reform sweeping state legislatures all across the land, with restrictions on test-based assessment of teacher quality and arbitrary caps on charter schools falling by the wayside. What’s more, by pairing these reforms with the timely provision of stopgap funds that have allowed states to weather the recession without mass teacher layoffs, the administration has been able to secure union acquiescence in this reform agenda.

  • LaurenceB,

    I read that post. I agree with Yglesias that is a positive reform. I disagree that it is ‘dramatic’, in the sense that it will accomplish much.


    For one, as this post shows, when you read “cut through interest-group demands and implemented evidence-based reforms”, you should replace it with “whatever helps the teachers union”. In other words, it will likely result in more pandering to the Democrats base. It will target education ‘reforms’ like more teacher pay, smaller classrooms, and expansion of the education system to areas like preschool or head start. All with dubious to non-existent positive affects on education.

    Even the hopeful claim that, “with … arbitrary caps on charter schools falling by the wayside.” Is just plain wrong. Charter schools continue to face an uphill battle even when their success is documented by the administration itself. Sure, in some areas the pressure has weakened but this was already in the works before Obama’s plan. I dont know how much credit you can give to this particular reform policy.

    But then again its still too early to tell. So there is hope. But based on Obama’s action on education thus far, its looking like another ‘all talk and no action’.

    With that said, I like the idea of having states compete and increasing charter schools. I think those two things alone, with time, will make dramatic gains in education. Charter schools are already changing the national debate in positive ways. Ten years ago it was acceptable to question the efficacy of charter schools. Not so today (now even Democrats cant afford to prohibit them, which says alot).

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