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Obama's Education Outreach: Will it Work?

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On the campaign trail, President Obama regularly touted his willingness to speak hard truths to entrenched interests, citing his speech to carmakers in Detroit about the need to lower emissions and increase fuel standards as evidence of his approach to governing.

To date, however, Republicans have bashed Obama regularly for cow-towing to those same interest groups, particularly in regards to the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that Congress passed last month with just three Republican votes.

Even on Obama's decision yesterday to loosen restrictions on federal funding for stem cell research, Republicans threw his promise of change back in his face. "Ignoring moral questions is not change in which Americans can believe," said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), a doctor and chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.

Through all of the criticism, Obama and his closest allies have insisted they see bipartisanship as a process and believe that there will be times to find common ground over the coming months and years.

In his speech today to a Hispanic business group -- in which he laid out his basic principles for education reform -- Obama made obvious and repeated efforts (rhetorically) to show that he was genuinely committed to breaking the partisan gridlock on the issue.

The key passage:

"Too many supporters of my party have resisted the idea of rewarding excellence in teaching with extra pay, even though we know it can make a difference in the classroom. Too many in the Republican Party have opposed new investments in early education, despite compelling evidence of its importance."

Later in the address, Obama reiterated his call from the campaign trail for merit pay for teachers -- insisting that "it's time to start rewarding good teachers, stop making excuses for bad ones."

Obama (and his team) know that pushing the idea of merit pay is not one that will make teachers unions happy. After all, he drew a smattering of boos when he floated the idea during a speech to the National Education Association in the summer of 2008. Wrote the Post's Ruth Marcus at the time: "This is whispering truth to power. But for the teachers, Obama's words are fingernails on a chalkboard."

Now, there is a difference between rhetoric in a speech and the reality of taking on the powerful teachers union who provided significant organizational and financial backing to Obama's candidacy.

And, Obama and his team are not painting this as some sort of Bill Clinton "Sister Souljah" moment when he purposefully -- and powerfully -- breaks with the party to show his independence from the base.

But, it's clear from Obama's speech today that his administration sees real bipartisan possibilities in education reform. (Remember that George W. Bush's major bipartisan accomplishment during his first term was passage of the "No Child Left Behind Act" with the help of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy. The legislation has since been roundly panned but was touted at the time as a significant breakthrough.)

"I think it is possible, because after all it was possible on NCLB," said Jan van Lohuizen, a prominent Republican pollster. "I would also argue that the President needs it more on this issue than on other issues, because of his taking on the teacher unions."

Obama and his allies know that Republicans in Congress have to find some places over the next two years where they can work with the Democratic Administration without sacrificing their core principles. The economy isn't one of them nor is the pending fight over the Employee Free Choice Act (more on that scrap tomorrow in the "Cheat Sheet.")

But, with Obama riding high in public opinion polls and voters expressing a desire for the two parties to work together to fix the major problems facing the country, education reform may just be the one issue on which some real bipartisan deal-making takes place.

By Chris Cillizza  |  March 10, 2009; 1:51 PM ET
Categories:  White House  
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It is a good idea to reward teachers with better pay. However, who will decide which teachers deserve this pay? As a National Board Certified teacher, I can agree with merit pay only if it is awarded on objectivity and not on favoritism. And where will the money come from? States are facing shortfalls and so-called enlightened voters want to take money away from the public schools so that middle and upper middle income families can get a discount to send their children to private schools.

However, the one comment in Obama's speech that I consider insightful is that it is time to make our students more responsible. Each year I see fewer and fewer students who are willing to do the work, let alone rise to higher expectations. At the beginning of each semester I let my students know that this will not be an easy class and that they must do "their best and then some" to earn their A's and B's but few students take me at my word. My expectations are set high but not out of reach. However, the system offers so many easy out alternatives that students see no reason to reach for the brass ring. They see high school as a joke and unnecessary when they can get a GED and still go to college.
Students who don't intend to go to college have even less incentive. More often than not it is the parents, not the administration or the teachers who make the decisions regarding our schools. Our new superintendent is more intent on "standardizing" the education of our students than in innovation. It is time that politicians, school boards, and administrators started relying on the expertise classroom teachers instead of making arbitrary decisions that create more work for teachers that does not have benefits for the classroom. As an example, We are currently working with 4 different software programs that do not interface but are supposed to make grade reporting and learning about our students more efficient. These programs are not user friendly and only create more time wasted that could be used to create more innovative lessons for students. All they are accomplishing is burn out for our best teachers.
I say, let teachers do their jobs without so much interference and get parents and students to let us do our jobs. Then more of us might be able to make a difference.

Posted by: tletteris | March 11, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

"meanwhile the private schools will be selective in who they choose, meaning the people who get into private schools are the ones performing well (ie the ones the schools are NOT failing) and the ones left behind will be the ones who the schools are failing, who they will now be failing even more. "

At least this way you can have an 80/20 or better success to failure ratio instead of getting rid of private scheels and scholl choice and force most everone into poor schools and have more like a 50/50 or worse success ratio.

Posted by: leapin | March 11, 2009 2:46 PM | Report abuse

The gist of Mr. O'Bama's plan seems to be Charter school.....charter school....charter school. They play with a different set of rules and special dispensations that other public schools do not have. Until there is one set of rules for everyone to play by, the rules of science say there is no room for measurement. Make the rules the same. Then tell me how great they are. They are just another non-funded or under-funded mandate that have been sent down from the Federal level. The game is "We'll tell you how to run your schools and what is important, but we won't pay for the mandates we put on you." Special education has never been fully funded...NCLB has never been fully funded......nor has any other Federal program. Put your money where your mouth is. Otherwise, please shut up so we can educate some people about what a "real democracy" looks like.
It is time for the President to sit down and really think through some of these proposals instead of being the loud-mouthed pitch-man. Let's have some substance and reality in some of these proposals. Right now you sound just like Bush.....only we know he never read a book, or anything else for that matter.

Posted by: Tawodi | March 11, 2009 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Isnt Obama Great.. Wow I love this guy.
Has anyone seen the GOP latest attack Campaign vidoe.?? They are attacking Obama on his White House Partying.

Heres the link to the video.

Posted by: crimesw | March 11, 2009 11:20 AM | Report abuse

I will bet there is a big educational tarp-style thing is broken and broke.

Posted by: newbeeboy | March 11, 2009 9:28 AM | Report abuse

This is an act of principle by the president - and a much-needed one, both in the political sense (he's thrown enough red meat to the left for now) and in the broader sense (our public schools are a disgrace).

When you get into rural USA, public school teachers are part of the highest paid five per cent of the population (the rest of that group which isn't composed of teachers is mostly property tax collectors).

I'll grant you, they have to put up with almost as much crap as prison guards.

I'd like to add, though, that too many public school teachers are only marginally more educated than prison guards - and that's not even raising the question, "can they teach?", that's only asking, "Do they know the thing they're supposed to teach?"

A great sally by Obama. I hope he sticks to his guns. (By the way, this is not an anti-union rant. I am a strong believer in unions in the private sector).

Posted by: Miss_Hogynist | March 10, 2009 9:47 PM | Report abuse

Bull. A $5,000 voucher won't pay for a decent private school. It's to subsidize the upper middle class no matter what the people selling them tell you. Besides that, they won't work because in thelong run more will be left in public schools than will get out and go to a private school, and those public schools will now receive less fnding because of the vouchers, meanwhile the private schools will be selective in who they choose, meaning the people who get into private schools are the ones performing well (ie the ones the schools are NOT failing) and the ones left behind will be the ones who the schools are failing, who they will now be failing even more.

It's a massive scam, brought to you by the people who brought you Madoff and Stanford.

Posted by: kreuz_missile | March 10, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

There probably is some value in merit pay. But evaluations inevitably involve politics and profiles. Real progress in education likely only will be achieved by adopting more effective automated teaching techniques that lead to better performance from the full range of working teachers.

Posted by: dnjake | March 10, 2009 9:13 PM | Report abuse







Do something -- tell your story to the American Civil Liberties Union (link below).

Then demand that ACLU renew its free speech fight by filing a class-action suit against unconstitutional, rogue government surveillance operations.

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 10, 2009 8:35 PM | Report abuse

Brainz-missing. We are not talking about subsidizing spoiled rich kids. Vouchers are for the poor. Remember them. They are your masters.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 6:54 PM | Report abuse

"Perhaps if we decided to pay the members of Congress on merit or willingness to work together then we would see some actual governing going on. Not just bickering back and forth with those in charge actually thinking about those they represent and not the letter (R or D) that comes after their names."

We don't set their pay, but we do hire and fire them. We could make use of that power. Oh wait, that would require some diligence on our part. Never mind!

Posted by: DDAWD | March 10, 2009 6:48 PM | Report abuse

Obama is on the right track. Our students need a vigorous education. They need to wake up!

Posted by: zen99 | March 10, 2009 6:37 PM | Report abuse

"today the messiahs approval ratings are out. Dropping as fast as a lib Dow jones."

Up 5%??


Seems pretty stable to me.

"Will his girls now go to public school. Count on hypocrisy instead."

No hypocrisy here. No one's talking about banning private school. If you want to pay the premium, you can. No reason for the Federal government to subsidize Durbin or Obama's private school (and I can just see the fit Republicans would throw if Obama had put his kids in public schools, imaging the bill the SS would require to upgrade the school for security reasons and the inconvenient policy changes that would be mandated for teachers and students when private DC schools are practically built for it and have been doing it for years).

Posted by: kreuz_missile | March 10, 2009 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps if we decided to pay the members of Congress on merit or willingness to work together then we would see some actual governing going on. Not just bickering back and forth with those in charge actually thinking about those they represent and not the letter (R or D) that comes after their names.

Posted by: jimwood27 | March 10, 2009 6:00 PM | Report abuse

My kids school has less than 20 percent administrators. The governent schools have over 50 percent who don't actually teach.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 5:55 PM | Report abuse

don't worry drivl. I will continue to throw my
Empty peanut shells on the floor so your job is safe.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 5:51 PM | Report abuse

My wife is a public school teach and I can tell you it's not the teachers who are againt merit pay or pay for performance its the hard left leadership of the teacher's union. My wife's specialty is special education which is in high demand, but because of the stupid socialist viewpoint of the teachers union she gets paid exactly the same as a pre-K teacher who doesn't have anywhere near the stress level she does and pre-K teachers are not in high demand. Teachers join the union not because they agree with them politically but because parents will sue at the drop of a hat of little Johhny gets bad grades even though he never does his homework. The only worthwhile benefit the union provides is the legal backing in that situation.

Posted by: RobT1 | March 10, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Obama will improve the economy so much even zouk will get a job. Nah.... he's probably so fat from sitting at a computer all day posting on this site he can't get out of that little plastic chair he sits in.

Posted by: drindl | March 10, 2009 4:40 PM | Report abuse

There are certain powerful interest groups in the Democratic party Obama has and most likely will not challenge: especially trial lawyers and the pro-Israel lobby. Any health care "reform" bill is highly unlikely to have any elements of litigation reform in the heatlh care area. Despite the administration's arguably naive rhetoric about seeking a lasting peace in the Middle East, expect the Obama administration, rightly or wrongly, to essentially go along with whatever is the policy of the Israeli government.

One of the big problems with merit pay is determining what constitutes "good" and "bad" teaching. Is the primary criteria going to be student testing results? Even if, although very dubious, testing actually measured important, necessary learning, this would hardly change anything in education. Motivated students, especially in generally affluent schools, will score higher, on average, than less motivated students, particularly in poor schools. Does this mean "good" teachers will be defined as those, mostly in affluent schools, whose students do well on tests?

Allowing administrators to determine who receives merit pay would be a travesty in many schools. Many administrators seem to most highly value those teachers who have low standards to appease students and their parents, send few students out of class to maintain the facade of not having classroom management problems. One of the nearly universal complaints among teachers is too many administrators not providing adequate support for teachers.

Maybe we need merit pay for members of the administration and Congress.

Posted by: Aprogressiveindependent | March 10, 2009 4:28 PM | Report abuse

The way these Republicans and conservatives oppose and accuse Obama only 50 days into his Presidency, I almost wish that McCain and Palin were elected to see what they could have done anything better or quicker than him. But, you know what? I'd bet my life that they could have done a jack except keep cutting taxes without any effect and choking the tax revenues that federal government needs to fund even the programs they support or need.

Posted by: TalkingHead1 | March 10, 2009 4:22 PM | Report abuse

Hopefully it will work; we need some bright people to fix all these huge problems that are happening in our world today, like global poverty.

The Borgen Project ( has some interesting insight into addressing the issues of global poverty, something we can remedy easily and sustainably.

Some interesting figures to ponder:
$30 billion USD: The annual shortfall to end global poverty.
$550 billion USD: The annual US defense budget.

Posted by: concernedcitizen1111 | March 10, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

Obstructing socialism is a high calling.

Mr muddled is still in campaign mode. No leadership, just empty speeches full of promise. Nancy and spineless are ruining the country while Barack Nero fiddles.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse





* Silent, covert microwave radiation weapons assaults on innocent but "targeted" U.S. citizens;

* Terroristic vigilante community gang stalking, surreptitious home entry, police-tolerated vandalism;

* Secret federal "programs of personal financial destruction" that have turned the IRS into an ideologically-driven instrument of "social cleansing."

OR (if links are corrupted / disabled):

Posted by: scrivener50 | March 10, 2009 3:43 PM | Report abuse

Forget it, Chris. The repulicans are not interested in anything except being obstructionist and throwing tantrums. They gave up acting like adults long ago.

Posted by: drindl | March 10, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

Rasmussan has poor bumbling fool down to 56. He started over 80 less than two months ago. Headed for jimmy territory.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

today the messiahs approval ratings are out. Dropping as fast as a lib Dow jones.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Chris, come on now. It's "kowtowing". Unless, of course, you're suggesting that Obama has been pulling a bovine creature behind him. Which could be quite amusing, though I'm not sure what that would mean.

Posted by: rlalumiere | March 10, 2009 3:20 PM | Report abuse

the latest news...

'NEW YORK (CNN) -- The Republican Party is becoming a cartoon.

Where to start?

Bobby Jindal: "I'm certainly not nearly as good of a speaker as Obama." Good OF a speaker? How about not as good at eighth-grade grammar either. It's embarrassing.

Sarah Palin? Billing the taxpayers for her kids to travel to official events the children weren't even invited to? She finally agreed to pay back the state for that money she took.

Her per diem charges to the state in the amount of $17,000 while she was living at home instead of in the governor's mansion? She has now agreed to pay the taxes owed on that money. Another tawdry grab at a few dollars that didn't belong to her.

Michael Steele, the newly elected chairman of the Republican National Committee, down on his knees apologizing to the helium-filled poster boy of the conservative right? Pathetic.

If the Republicans are ever to emerge from the long dark night they have created for themselves it will have to be without pandering to the right wing n*ts that comprise Rush Limbaugh's radio audience. Didn't they learn anything in the last election?

All of which is to say the GOP is blowing it big time. They were handed a golden opportunity to redeem themselves with the election of Barack Obama -- a chance to line up and in unison condemn the evil their party put in the White House the previous eight years.

The country had had a bellyful of George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the rest of the messengers of darkness in Washington who had sold out the principles of the Republican Party in favor of huge deficits, a doubling of the national debt, and a growing intrusion of the federal government into people's private lives.

But instead of getting on board the change train and recognizing the incredible amount of damage their people had done to the country, Republicans go blithely along as though nothing has happened. They're busy obstructing Obama's programs and criticizing the Democrats' spending plans that are aimed at trying to bring the country out of a horrible recession.

I hate to break it to them, but a lot has happened. And they're not going to like any of it.

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows the Republican Party's favorability rating at an all-time low. President Obama's is at an all-time high. The same poll shows that Republicans are getting most of the blame for the partisanship that hinders governmental progress. And perhaps most telling, when asked which party is best equipped to lead the country out of recession, the Republicans trail the Democrats by a stunning 30 points.

And while all this is going on, the GOP ran a straw poll on who the party's nominee should be for president in 2012. Ready?

Mitt Romney finished first followed by Bobby Jindal, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin.

The Republican Party is marching double-time down the road to irrelevance and they don't even know it.'

Posted by: drindl | March 10, 2009 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Really, CC - cow towing? honey, you need a proofreader badly.

'kowtow' is the correct word, although of course, it's a lie that Obama is doing it, but that's all that comes out of republican mouths anymore. don't know why you bother to take them seriously. no nobody else with a brain does. Down to 25% approval and dropping like a rock.

Posted by: drindl | March 10, 2009 3:04 PM | Report abuse

Citibank has defied its new owner and created a profit. There ought to be a law.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

cow-towing = pulling your Holstein behind your truck?

Posted by: SheGeek | March 10, 2009 2:18 PM | Report abuse

The DOW is up nearly 5%, so apparently Wall Street is for merit pay & preK programs.

Posted by: bsimon1 | March 10, 2009 2:16 PM | Report abuse

Will he sign the bill that cancels vouchers in DC? Will his girls now go to public school. Count on hypocrisy instead.

Posted by: king_of_zouk | March 10, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Obama is right. If he can get opting out of teacher tenure for merit pay put in a new Education bill then he could pull enough GOPers to pass an increase in headstart and other pre-k programs too. That would be great since both of these things need to happen.

Posted by: AndyR3 | March 10, 2009 2:09 PM | Report abuse

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