Obama picked wrong school to give speech
The Philadelphia school chosen for President Obama’s second annual “back to school” speech to students around the country is consistently ranked as a top public college-preparatory institution. That’s why he should have picked a different school to visit.
Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, have focused federal education policy on turning around failing schools, though there is little evidence that their initiatives -- expanding charter schools, linking student test scores to teacher pay, etc -- will help anything.
Why not give the speech at a school that was forced to restructure as a result of his policies, or where his motivational speech would be heard live by kids who rarely hear such talk?
This year’s speech has not, thankfully, been the subject of the same derision as the president’s first “back to school” address last year.
Critics pounded Obama last year before the speech, complaining that he would deliver a political speech to the kids. He didn’t. Others, including my esteemed colleague Jay Mathews, argued that Obama was wasting instructional time, a position that Jay took again this year in this post on his Class Struggle blog.
There’s nothing wrong -- and something right -- about the president of the United States talking to kids about the importance of education, even during class time. That message delivered by the president, any president, gives it special import. If any educator is worried about wasting time, he/she can stay in class during, say, one of those assemblies in which kids catch up on their sleeping.
The administration's misstep here is the location of the speech.
Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School is certainly one fine school.
It serves 1,150 talented students in grades 5 through 12 from around the city, all admitted according to their academic ability, and parents do everything they can to get their kids accepted. Forty-four percent of the students are white, 28 percent are black, 18 percent are Asian, 6 percent are Hispanic and the rest are labeled “other.”
According to the school website, its students are given a “rigorous and enriched curriculum” that challenges them intellectually and fosters “the development of the whole individual.”
Masterman offers a range of co-educational, interscholastic sports on both the varsity and junior varsity level including basketball, cross-country, soccer, tennis, track and volleyball and participates on unified teams with other schools in gymnastics and swimming.
And there are a slew of co-curricular activities, too, including musical ensembles, choir and other vocal ensembles, student government, dramatics, yearbook, newspaper, an award winning literary magazine, a nationally-ranked chess team, a championship mock trial team, competition in academic contests, science fairs, and many clubs.
Masterman is routinely ranked as a “National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence,” and, well, you get the picture.
Masterman’s kids already get positive attention from all kinds of adults. They don't need the president to show up.
Nobody in the White House asked me (again), but I would have recommended a school that was in the direct line of fire of Obama’s reforms.
How about Elliott School in Lincoln, Nebraska, where the principal, De Ann Currin, was reassigned because the school is being chosen to be restructured even though everybody, including Lincoln Public Schools Superintendent Susan Gourley, said Currin was terrific and she didn’t really want to move her.
How about T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., which landed on a federal list of schools in “urgent need of reform” because of bad test scores, even though it sends more than 80 percent of its graduates to college, offers two dozen Advanced Placement classes and a free laptop to every student.
What about Central Falls High School in Central Falls, Rhode Island, where earlier this year Obama publicly supported the firing of all of the teachers? Eventually a deal was reached with the union and many of the teachers were returned, though the principal were replaced.
Now THAT would have been a newsworthy event!
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| September 14, 2010; 5:00 AM ET
Categories: School turnarounds/reform | Tags: central falls high school, elliott school, obama and back to school, obama and back to school speech, obama and masterman school, obama and school reform, obama and speech, obama and speech and students, obama speech, president obama and back to school, president obama and school reform, restructured schools, t.c. williams, t.c. williams high school, urgent need of reform list
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