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What Obama said about DC schools

Here's the Q and A from NBC this morning, updated with comment from Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and presumptive mayor-elect Vincent C. Gray:

Q: Thank you for taking my question President Obama. As a father of two very delightful and seemingly very bright daughters, I wanted to know if you think that Malia and Sasha would get the same kind of education at a D.C. public school compared to the elite private academy that they're attending now?

A:Thanks for the question, Kelly, and I'll be blunt with you. The answer is no right now. The D.C. public school systems are struggling. They have made some important strides over the last several years to move in the direction of reform. There are some terrific individual schools in the D.C. system. And that's true by the way in every city across the country. There are some great public schools that are on par with any public school in the country.... I'll be very honest with you. Given my position, If I wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha to be in, we could probably maneuver to do it. But for a mom and a dad who are working hard but who don't have a bunch of connections, don't have a lot of choice in terms of where they live, they should be getting the same quality education for their kids as anybody else and we don't have that yet.

Rhee said in an e-mail this morning: "It is a fair assessment. We have indeed, seen good progress over the last few years, but we still have a long way to go before we can say we're providing all children with an excellent education."

From a Gray e-mail this afternoon: "Like every parent, the President and the First Lady must choose schools they believe are best for their children, and I would not challenge their right to send their daughters to a private school, particularly because the Obamas have special security needs. However, as the President stated there are some terrific District of Columbia public schools. Mr. Obama added that if he wanted to find a great public school for Malia and Sasha, the First Family could probably maneuver to do it. I know that could happen and it would be a great boost for DCPS if they made that move. I also concur with the President that every child should be getting the same quality education no matter where they live and no matter what their connections. That is why continuing aggressive school reform is very important to me."


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By Bill Turque  | September 27, 2010; 10:22 AM ET
 
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Next: Obama and D.C. Schools: Addendum

Comments

Americans need to demand that before Additional teachers are hired...we need to get the Bad teachers Out of the System.
We have to make sure this isn't just another Bailout which will result in more government employees.
Get rid of 10,000 Bad teachers FIRST. Walk the talk., don't just keep adding to a bad system...

Posted by: ohioan | September 27, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Hopefully now teachers can insist on true reform for the children of DC. Everyone agrees that all children should have access to a high-quality education. Teachers should lead in the demand for:

New teachers who are highly qualified and experienced. DO NOT accept the least experienced teachers for the most challenging schools. Nothing has hurt urban education more than this common practice. A new teacher from Yale is still a new teacher;

Fair and accurate testing. Michelle Rhee and others like her have emphasized test prep and drill, Atlanta-style. This is not education. Insist on proper administration of all tests (i.e. no peeking);

Help for teachers in very troubled schools. These teachers need assistance because of the high number of students who have learning and/or behavioral problems. Ideally these schools should have two teachers per classroom. This would be a good use of philanthropic money;

Fair evaluation for veteran teachers. I believe that peer evaluation will solve the problem of the "ineffective teacher" as other teachers know who they are. Rhee proved that there is a legal way to dismiss a teacher. It's not "the union's" job;

Education for the first five years of a child's life. Almost all experts agree that this is where the "gap" begins. Let's address it;

Respect for all teachers. Rhee did the worst possible thing anyone can do to education by insulting the people who provide it. Insist on respect for all educators.

Posted by: Linda/RetiredTeacher | September 27, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

I've lived in DC longer than the president and I can tell him that the schools he'd feel good about sending his kids to were good schools long before Rhee got here and have not gotten any better since her arrival. Some have gotten worse, if student achievement scores are the only measure.

Also, parents don't need "connections" to get their kids into good public schools. All students are welcome in their neighborhood schools. If you can afford to live in a high real estate neighborhood, you're all set. If you can't, you can sign up for the out-of-boundary lottery. You might not get in, but everyone has a fair chance at it.

When the President mentioned "connections" maybe he was referring to the way Rhee and Fenty got their kids into their preferred schools -- and how the Obama girls would have been assigned, if they had gone public. As it was, the president used his connections to get his kids into Sidwell.

I somehow doubt Sasha and Malia had to take any entrance exams to get in there.

Posted by: efavorite | September 27, 2010 1:06 PM | Report abuse

I think a lot is being made of this, but it is silly. Did President Bush send his children to DC schools? If I could send my kids to Sidwell, I probably would, because of class size. If I were famous, I would realize they are used to famous people.

It would not be good for those girls to switch schools now and for Gray to suggest that it would give the schools a boost is honest, but self-serving. It would not do those two students any good.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 27, 2010 2:16 PM | Report abuse

As a proud product of DCPS and a professional educator, education "Reform" is the new buzz word and there is nothing new under the (education) sun. All parents and teachers want the best for all children. However, I'm very concerned that Sidwell Friends School had a veteran teacher over 20 years, Robert Peterson, charged with sex abuse of a minor. In addition, Robert Peterson faced charges in Queen Anne's County, where he was Director of the Sidwell Friends summer camp and he sexually took advantage of young male students at Sidwell Friends School.

It is truly unfair to speak negatively about our DC Public School teachers and overlook what happened at Sidwell Friends School. A child molester was on their staff for many years and it was unknown to the DC community.

As my mother would say, "Don't live in a glass house and throw stones."

Does one bad apple spoil the barrel at Sidwell Friends School?

All stakeholders including parents must be held accountable for their child's education. It does take an entire village to raise/educate one child.

DCPS teachers and parents should not have been a testing experiment for Bill Gates and Rhee's education reform agenda. I'm appalled that a principal was filmed receiving a termination notice from Rhee.

Chairman Gray has the right to select a qualified Superintendent with credentials and the Obama Administration, especially Arne Duncan, needs to support Gray's decision. Mr. Duncan is not a DC Voter!!!

Stop blaming DC Public School teachers and using them as scapegoats. There are numerous successful individuals who are proud products of DCPS. Vincent Gray is one for an example!!!!

Enough is Enough!!
It's time for Rhee, Wannabe Superintendent, and Fenty to move on.

Posted by: sheilahgill | September 27, 2010 2:25 PM | Report abuse

I think Gray's comment was very good. He's respecting the President's (and every parent's) right to make the best choice possible for their kids.

Gray is also showing he's not intimidated by the president's slam to DCPS by turning it around into an invitation.

I hope the two get to meet. The President has stuck his nose into DC affairs and owes DC and Gray some respect.

I believe the President could discern that Gray is way ahead of Fenty and Rhee in intelligence, maturity, common decency and true concern for DC's children.

Posted by: efavorite | September 27, 2010 2:52 PM | Report abuse

I don't think Obama's children would have the privacy from the press that they have in a private school.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 27, 2010 7:43 PM | Report abuse

I hope the American public sees through Obama's phony stand on education and fires him.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 27, 2010 8:44 PM | Report abuse

I can't believe Obama would actually try to compare DCPS to Sidwell. The tuition there is over $30,000 and pretty much all of the students come from wealthy families who have lots of resources and supports.

Sidwell doesn't have to deal with the kids who come in after a night of being abused by their drug addicted mother/father or having witnessed a murder. This is not an exaggeration to say that many (not all) DCPS student experience, violence, abuse and loss on a regular basis.

It is outrageous for Obama to not acknowledge these differences.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | September 27, 2010 10:22 PM | Report abuse

It is absurd to compare a major urban district to a small private school, especially an elite one. On the other hand, if you read the entire transcript, Obama makes a lot of sense.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 27, 2010 11:18 PM | Report abuse

President Obama and Michelle actually interviewed Key Elementary School (DCPS) when they came to DC last winter.

The Secret Service has a lot to do with the selection of the school, as security is much easier to achieve when the school campus is large, has a well defined perimeter, and a student population that is easy to assess and control. Sidwell Friends is a great school, but there are some elementary schools in Northwest that compare very well.

The President and his Secretary of Education continue to expose their very sophomoric and political approach towards school reform, which is most disturbing to many who were very motivated in the 2008 election. This issue is a sleeping giant that the President needs to understand, and quickly; Washington's local election may be a harbinger of things to come.

The majority of pundits who live in DC live in Ward 3, Capitol Hill and the Pennsylvania Avenue downtown revitalization district. They have little understanding of public schools and they have the means to send their children to any school that will take them.

Public schools are not private institutions, but wealthy communities still have depended on "neighborhood boundaries" to protect their children from the affects of poverty and crime that are part of this system. When the Supreme Court stated that "separate is not equal" (Brown vs. Bd. of Ed., Topeka, KS in 1954) it established that these practices should not be maintained. Yet, here in Washington, we have a public school system that leads the nation in achievement gaps based on race and income.

There has been a very disturbing disconnect among people who have supported education reform, but refuse to confront the clear and convincing evidence accumulated over decades that show that public school systems must directly address concentrations of high and low SES (socioeconomic status) environments to fairly provide opportunities of all its children.

Posted by: AGAAIA | September 28, 2010 12:31 AM | Report abuse

President Obama and Michelle actually interviewed Key Elementary School (DCPS) when they came to DC last winter.

The Secret Service has a lot to do with the selection of the school, as security is much easier to achieve when the school campus is large, has a well defined perimeter, and a student population that is easy to assess and control. Sidwell Friends is a great school, but there are some elementary schools in Northwest that compare very well.

The President and his Secretary of Education continue to expose their very sophomoric and political approach towards school reform, which is most disturbing to many who were very motivated in the 2008 election. This issue is a sleeping giant that the President needs to understand, and quickly; Washington's local election may be a harbinger of things to come.

The majority of pundits who live in DC live in Ward 3, Capitol Hill and the Pennsylvania Avenue downtown revitalization district. They have little understanding of public schools and they have the means to send their children to any school that will take them.

Public schools are not private institutions, but wealthy communities still have depended on "neighborhood boundaries" to protect their children from the affects of poverty and crime that are part of this system. When the Supreme Court stated that "separate is not equal" (Brown vs. Bd. of Ed., Topeka, KS in 1954) it established that these practices should not be maintained. Yet, here in Washington, we have a public school system that leads the nation in achievement gaps based on race and income.

There has been a very disturbing disconnect among people who have supported education reform, but refuse to confront the clear and convincing evidence accumulated over decades that show that public school systems must directly address concentrations of high and low SES (socioeconomic status) environments to fairly provide opportunities of all its children.

Posted by: AGAAIA | September 28, 2010 12:32 AM | Report abuse

@AGAAIA

I agree that there is a disturbing disconnect. But everyone who brings that up is accused of making excuses or "defending the status quo." Ridiculous.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 28, 2010 9:40 AM | Report abuse

Sometimes it is phrased as "Being afraid of accountability" or "Not wanting to change".

But I think people want real change, not this numbers game with test scores.

Posted by: celestun100 | September 28, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Oh, yeah, the other thing that people who notice the disconnect are accused of is being a "union" supporter.

Where does that come from??? What??

Posted by: celestun100 | September 28, 2010 9:44 AM | Report abuse

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