Obama’s Big Test on Education

Jake Tapper:

Interestingly, though Rhee is a Democrat, she almost voted for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.
“It was a very hard decision,” Rhee says. “I’m somewhat terrified of what the Democrats are going to do on education.”
What does President-elect Obama think? Tough to say. He has supported merit pay for teachers, which teachers’ unions oppose, and heralded Rhee. He has been a strong advocate of charter schools and in 2002 said he was “not closed minded” on the subject of vouchers, though since then he has come out against vouchers. Over the Summer, I asked him why.
“The problem is, is that, you know, although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you’re going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom,” he said. “We don’t have enough slots for every child to go into a parochial school or a private school. And what you would see is a huge drain of resources out of the public schools. So what I’ve said is let’s foster competition within the public school system. Let’s make sure that charter schools are up and running. Let’s make sure that kids who are in failing schools, in local school districts, have an option to go to schools that are doing well.
“But what I don’t want to do is to see a diminished commitment to the public schools to the point where all we have are the hardest-to-teach kids with the least involved parents with the most disabilities in the public schools,” Obama continued. “That’s going to make things worse, and we’re going to lose the commitment to public schools that I think have been so important to building this country.”
In March, Josh Patashnik of The New Republic took a closer look at PEBO and education, writing that Obama “has long advocated a reformist agenda that looks favorably upon things like competition between schools, test-based accountability, and performance pay for teachers. But the Obama campaign has hesitated to trumpet its candidate’s maverick credentials. As an increasingly influential chorus of donors and policy wonks pushes an agenda within the Democratic Party that frightens teachers’ unions and their traditional liberal allies, Obama seems unsure how far he can go in reassuring the former group that he’s one of them without alienating the latter. And this is a shame, because Obama may represent the best hope for real reform in decades.”