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November 24, 2008

Obamas' School Choice: Profiles in Expediency

Unsurprisingly, the Chosen One has "chosen" tony Sidwell Friends School for daughters Sasha and Malia. No doubt this is one more issue on which the press will give him a pass.

It's hard to find a more blatant example of sheer hypocrisy than this one. Like most wealthy Democratic politicians, Obama has consistently opposed school choice ... for other people's children:

Vice President-elect Joe Biden's grandchildren attend Sidwell -- as did Chelsea Clinton -- where tuition is close to $30,000 a year. The Obama girls have been students at the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where tuition runs above $21,000. "A number of great schools were considered," said Katie McCormick Lelyveld, a spokeswoman for Mrs. Obama. "In the end, the Obamas selected the school that was the best fit for what their daughters need right now."

Note the word "selected," as in made a choice. The Obamas are fortunate to have the means to send their daughters to private school, and no one begrudges them that choice given that Washington's public schools are among the worst in America.

Most D.C. parents would also love to be able to choose a better school for their child, but they lack the financial means to do so. The Washington Opportunity Scholarship Program each year offers up to $7,500 to some 1,900 kids to attend private schools, but Democrats in Congress want to kill it. Average family income for kids in the voucher program is about $22,000.

Mr. Obama says he opposes such vouchers, because "although it might benefit some kids at the top, what you're going to do is leave a lot of kids at the bottom." The example of his own children refutes that: The current system offers plenty of choice to kids "at the top" while abandoning those at the bottom.

Admirers of The One will be happy to know, however, that Mr. Obama was briefly able to overcome his deep moral aversion to the idea of vouchers ... during the campaign, when it might win him a few votes. Glenn Reynolds reports:

UPDATE: Reader Louis Abelman says that Obama supports vouchers. I hope he’s right, and that Cato is wrong, but I note that the story Abelman sends is rather equivocal:

Senator Obama said this week that he is open to supporting private school vouchers if research shows they work.

“I will not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn,” Mr. Obama, who has previously said he opposes vouchers, said in a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We’re losing several generations of kids, and something has to be done.”

Education analysts said Mr. Obama’s statement is the closest they have ever seen a Democratic presidential candidate come to embracing the idea of vouchers. . . .

When Mr. Obama filled out questionnaires for both national teachers unions last year, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, he told the unions that he did not support vouchers. But on Wednesday Mr. Obama opened his remarks to the Journal-Sentinel’s question on vouchers by saying he had to admit that he has been a “skeptic” of vouchers. . . . Told a current longitudinal study is ongoing, Mr. Obama said he would respond to its findings with an open mind.

Indeed, the story says this doesn’t make him a voucher “supporter.” So we’ll see . . . .

Glenn was right to be skeptical. Before the Ohio primary, teachers there pressed Obama to clarify his voucher remarks. His response was downright Kerry-esque:

It seems Barack Obama was opposed to vouchers before he was open to them before he opposed them again.

You may recall that Obama told the big teachers unions that he opposed vouchers on a questionnaire back in the fall but then told the Milwaulkee Journal Sentinel he would consider changing his position if vouchers in that city were proven to work to raise student achievement.

That prompted the Ohio Federation of Teachers, in advance of next week’s high stakes primary, to demand an explanation of where Obama stands. Obama replied that he is still solidly opposed to vouchers, Education Week reports.

Senator Obama's remarks are even more laughable when examined in their entirety:

Senator Obama said this week that he is open to supporting private school vouchers if research shows they work.

"I will not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn," Mr. Obama, who has previously said he opposes vouchers, said in a meeting with the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

... He said he was astonished to learn that a voucher program in Milwaukee had never been tested in a longitudinal study to find out whether it had helped children or not. "If there was any argument for vouchers it was, all right, let's see if this experiment works, and then if it does, whatever my preconceptions, my attitude is you do what works for the kids," Mr. Obama said.

First of all, are we to believe Mr. Obama has made up his mind on vouchers absent evidence? And secondly, since he has consistently chosen private over public education for his own daughters, where is the doubt that "children can learn" in private schools coming from? If Senator Obama requires a longitudinal study showing that children can learn in private schools before he will "allow" your child to attend one, shouldn't his children be attending public schools too?

For eight years now, we have listened to the media lampoon a plain spoken and largely verbally maladroit president. Now it would appear we have elected the remedy to that supposed ill: a polished speaker who, like John Foregainst Kerry, possesses the rhetorical sleight of hand to paint a world in which up is down, wrong is right, and it becomes entirely possible to be for and against a proposition at the same time without losing your moral bearings:

'There are those trying to say somehow that Democrats should be admitting they were wrong'' in opposing the gulf war resolution, Kerry noted in one Senate floor speech. But he added, ''There is not a right or wrong here. There was a correctness in the president's judgment about timing. But that does not mean there was an incorrectness in the judgment other people made about timing.''

How conveeeeeeeeeeenient. Whether you consider this an improvement depends upon whether you enjoy having the wool pulled over your eyes.

Posted by Cassandra at November 24, 2008 05:26 AM

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Comments

I like the energy to check, but I believe Obama has expressed some support for charter schools. For choice purists (and I am one), charter schools are half a loaf. But they do create sorely needed competition. Here in Princeton, Princeton Charter School, one of five public elementary schools and numerous private schools, attracts far more applicants than it can accomodate.

There are some wonkier Democrats who support vouchers, by the way, but they are rarely the people who actually have to attract votes. Robert Reich has written favorably about them. He has proposed a voucher scheme with a "progressive" subsidy. Poor kids would get big fat vouchers, and wealthier kids much skinner ones. The idea is that schools would compete for the poor kids. Interesting idea, even if it only worked at the margin.

Posted by: TigerHawk at November 24, 2008 07:33 AM

And that's the problem, isn't it? If you have enough money, you don't have to worry about pesky issues like whether there is space in a limited number of charter schools.

I am sick to death of people like Obama preaching to me that I "ought" to do this, that and the other thing and if I don't do it I'm being "selfish" while he hares off and does whatever he damn well pleases in open defiance of his own rhetoric :p

If he really believes in what he says (that allowing kids to opt out of the public education system harms those "left behind" and that kids "can't learn" in alternative schools) what the hell are his kids doing at Sidwell Friends? Isn't that a betrayal of his value system? Isn't he being "selfish"?

I'm so confused.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 24, 2008 08:18 AM

While we're on the subject of unbelievable hypocrisy, I had to laugh at Juan Williams this weekend going on and on about how Obama supporters were a bit perplexed at having been sold a bill of goods regarding the war in Iraq (Obama promised to begin withdrawing troops immediately after he took office in January at the rate of 1-2 brigades a month). He also promised to raise taxes on the Chinese toy-loving minions of the wealthiest 1%.

Now it would well appear that both these plans are on the back burner!

Out of one side of his mouth, Juan complains that Obama "tricked" his supporters.

Out of the other side of his mouth Juan mocks conservatives who were weeping and wailing about Obama's plans to end the war and turn America into a socialist paradise... If you can reconcile these two views, you are a better person than I :p

Posted by: And Then Her Head Exploded at November 24, 2008 08:25 AM

what the hell are his kids doing at Sidwell Friends?

Getting a decent education.

Isn't that a betrayal of his value system?

Yes. Well, his expressed value system

Isn't he being "selfish"?

Yes.

The Corner has up a post about this quoting the Heritage Foundation:

In 2007, The Heritage Foundation updated this survey and found that 37 percent of Representatives and 45 percent of Senators in the 110th Congress sent their children to private schools—almost four times the rate of the general population.

Based on the survey results, if all of the Members who exercised school choice for their own children had supported school choice in policy, every major legislative effort in recent years to give parents school choice would have passed.

This is an area where the conservative (Republican) policy position would have to be more appealing to women (who supposedly vote on children's issues) and to minorities (who tend to be stuck with the worst public schools). Right?

Posted by: Elise at November 24, 2008 08:47 AM

There is also the matter of Secret Service protection of the Obama girls. It would be well-nigh impossible to give them the security required in a public school. Sad but true, snif.

This is so typical. Some years ago, my wife's extremely well-to-do and very liberal Democrat boss (a lawyer with a very large bank) was troubled about where her young daughter was to go to school. As they lived in a very upscale neighborhood (German Village) in the City of Columbus, her daughter would have gone to the Columbus public schools (horrors! they stink!). She and her lawyer husband pondered this to some extent, then moved to a suburb (Upper Arlington) that has excellent public schools.
School choice in action!!

Back on your heads, peasants.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 24, 2008 08:58 AM

"If there was any argument for vouchers it was, all right, let's see if this experiment works, and then if it does, whatever my preconceptions, my attitude is you do what works for the kids," Mr. Obama said.

Ummmm, how do SAT scores work for ya?

Posted by: BillT at November 24, 2008 09:30 AM

The controversy over charter schools, vouchers, and school choice isn't about what works best for children. It's about protecting paychecks for unionized teachers and, by extension, protecting contributions for Democrat politicians.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 24, 2008 10:05 AM

Yeah Texan, we wouldn't want to break their rice bowl, would we?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at November 24, 2008 10:45 AM

And, of course, P.E. Obama opposes (somewhat vehemently) OUR family school choice - homeschooling.

Do as I say and not as I do should be on the Presidential seal at this point.

Posted by: airforcewife at November 24, 2008 11:01 AM

You gotta be kidding here.

First off, it is obvious to anyone that the security requirements surrounding a president's children are so enormous, that it is impossible to send them to the local public school. I find it hard to beleive that you dont know that, so your entire post seems obviously hypocritical and deeply dishonest.

And secondly, are you going to be giving all the families in DC a $30K voucher so that they too can afford Sidwell?

Didnt think so. What an utter hack you be.

Posted by: Vinnie Plumbero at November 24, 2008 01:21 PM

1. Nice try. His children didn't go to public school in Chicago, either. They weren't being protected by the Secret Service then - what was the excuse?

2. Sidwell friends is hardly the only school in D.C. There are lots and lots of other private and charter schools that cost far less than 30K.

3. it is obvious to anyone that the security requirements surrounding a president's children are so enormous, that it is impossible to send them to the local public school.

I love it! DC schools are so dangerous that even armed Secret Service agents can't keep two little girls safe there, yet the President doesn't favor giving DC residents vouchers so they can opt for safer private schools!

You are a real piece of work.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 24, 2008 01:30 PM

First off, it is obvious to anyone that the security requirements surrounding a president's children are so enormous, that it is impossible to send them to the local public school. I find it hard to beleive that you dont know that, so your entire post seems obviously hypocritical and deeply dishonest.

Here's my sophisticated response: tough shit for Obama. His kids will develop more "character" by mixing with the hoi polloi. Furthermore, if His Majesty is everything he claims to be, then he'll merely wave his royal scepter, sprinkle his "Hope 'n' Change Dust," and fix the DC school on Day One. Problem solved.

Shucks, His Majesty is already promising he's going to create 2.5M jobs pronto, so what's to keep him from working other miracles? Hmmmmmmmm?

Posted by: MarkJ at November 24, 2008 01:31 PM

...the security requirements surrounding a president's children are so enormous, that it is impossible to send them to the local public school.

And how did they get that way?

It wasn't *that* long ago that looking crosseyed at a teacher would get you knocked on your kiester.

I know one teacher who quit teaching two years ago rather than face the indignity of being fired for breaking up a classroom fight between two seven-year-old *girls* -- one of whom had pulled a razor on the other.

And secondly, are you going to be giving all the families in DC a $30K voucher so that they too can afford Sidwell?

Bet that'd make Michelle proud, wouldn't it? But why go to Sidwell at all? The place is crawling with Secret Service and there are other schools in the area that are a lot less expensive...

Posted by: BillT at November 24, 2008 01:51 PM

OK, here's a solution that works for everyone. Put the DC teachers in a job bank and send them checks for not working. Deduct a whopping percentage from their checks and send it directly to the DNC. Put all the students into new charter or private schools so they can get an actual education and not be killed -- and expel them if they can't behave themselves, in which case they can go hang out in the job-bank room with the "teachers." Make the bad rich people pay for the new schools like they pay for most other stuff; they're used to it.

Posted by: Texan99 at November 24, 2008 02:56 PM

I don't see anyone asking what I feel is the most important question here.

Why on EARTH would anyone want Quakers to educate their children in the first place?

Posted by: airforcewife at November 24, 2008 03:08 PM

Oh, and if the Obama's are so concerned about security, perhaps they should consider a DoD school. Plenty of bases in the immediate commuting area.

Posted by: airforcewife at November 24, 2008 03:09 PM

So, Cassandra, are we to take away from your post that a Democratic president who is equivocal on vouchers is somehow a bad outcome for conservatives? I don't get it, shouldn't proponents embrace Democracts that are obviously interested in taking a closer look at the issue instead of seeking to lampoon them for hypocricy and publicizing statements they may have made in close primaries in order to placate important constituencies?

My point is, if you want a Democrat to enact a limited voucher program that could one day go national (something that is only viable long-term if a Democrat undertakes it), then this is good news for you. In fact, go one further and suggest a limited test program that would put competing theories to the pragmatic test (one step beyond current projects in DC, Florida, etc.).

If, on the other hand, you could care less about actual policy outcomes and just enjoy poking Dems in the eye and saying "nah nah na-na-na!," then please do continue on your tirade. I'm sure it will inspire a great deal more free thought on the issue.

Posted by: VasyaDC at November 24, 2008 05:32 PM

If you read the linked articles (which you obviously did not, or you'd see that your comment makes zero sense) you'd see that Obama said something that was essentially meaningless in order to get votes.

And then when he was challenged on it just a week or two later, he said (in no uncertain terms) that he was "still solidly opposed to vouchers".

How you get (from that) that he is "equivocal" on vouchers is beyond me. It looks like a lot of wishful thinking. You can't reasonbly get that from what he said.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 24, 2008 05:48 PM

And by the way, I mowed lawns, did home day care and painted houses as a military wife in order to pay for private school tuition for my two sons. So I don't take kindly to Obama's dishonesty on this issue. I paid with my tax dollars for other people's kids to go to public school and then I went out and worked to pay for private school tuition for my own two to go to a school where they could get a decent education.

If he doesn't believe his girls can get a decent education in the public school system (and he clearly doesn't or he'd have put them there in Illinois) then he should support school choice for those who don't make as much money as he does. He's the one who wants to "redistribute income" and force wealthier Americans to pay for the lifestyle choices of their fellow taxpayers.

I never asked for a dime from anyone when my kids were in school. I'm a conservative and I would support vouchers and always have. He doesn't support the public schools but he wants other people's kids to be trapped there.

Nice.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 24, 2008 05:54 PM

My point is, if you want a Democrat to enact a limited voucher program that could one day go national (something that is only viable long-term if a Democrat undertakes it),then this is good news for you.

Leaving aside the fact that Obama is opposed to vouchers (at last count) why is this only long-term viable if a Democrat undertakes it? And why a "limited" voucher program? Why not a full-fledged one like the progressive one TigerHawk attributes to Reich?

In fact, go one further and suggest a limited test program that would put competing theories to the pragmatic test (one step beyond current projects in DC, Florida, etc.).

The appropriate step here is not for the Federal government to propose some "limited test program"; it is for the Federal government to stop telling states what they can and cannot do with their school systems. If I understand correctly the Federal government dictates school policy directly to the DC schools and so far I wouldn't say they're a resounding success. Let the states do their own experimentation and see how it shakes out.

Posted by: Elise at November 24, 2008 07:58 PM

I have mixed emotions and thoughts about this issue. On one hand, I did everything I could to send my children to private school, but that started only after their first year there.

The reason they started their first year there was because I was too scared of the block long line (in August in Dallas) to enroll them in public school.

After that first year, I could not comprehend sending them to public schools, though I had to do it a few years (money, location, etc.)

There was one year that I painted the administrative office suite of one private school for tuition for my two daughters. That same year, I served lunch at the school my son attended (special needs) to reduce his tuition by half.

All had their HS years in public school. (private not available) and I have to admit that there is a problem with "creaming".

Having a variety of children and stepchildren, I saw the deficits created in "regular" high schools after the "cream" had been skimmed off and sent to magnet schools. The "regular" mid-level student became the leader, the smartest, and other levels of achievement followed by being dumbed down further.

Even the middling student needs to be challenged and it is more the brighter student doing this than the teachers.

I am a selfish person and I sent my children to the best school I could afford and that they could qualify for and excel in.

Part of me does not blame the Obama's at all for getting the best for their children that they can. Another part of me is furious that they don't realize that the rest of the nation deserves the same choice. And part of me realizes that removing the influence of the brightest away from the rest of the students hurts the majority of students.

Now I need an aspirin. Or a drink. I think I'll have the drink. Sometimes I hate being able to see both sides of a question.

Posted by: Donna B. at November 24, 2008 09:46 PM

Donna, with all due respect, I don't understand the logic behind what you're saying.

I went to mostly public schools.

I was bored out of my ever living mind the entire time. There was nothing they could do to keep me busy. In my French class, they sent me to the library because I was (quite literally) two entire years ahead of the most advanced class they had. I am not saying this to brag. I'm saying it to point out why what you're saying doesn't make any sense.

It didn't "help" anyone for me to sit with nothing to do day after day. All it did was make me detest school and conclude it was an utter waste of my time.

I had two years in a sort of magnet school. They were the best thing that ever happened. And my parents put me in private school the last two years of high school. I spent my entire junior year trying to get kicked out, but secretly I was relieved not to be bored senseless by my classes and to have some rules. That experience alone convinced me that I would do whatever it took not to have my sons spend years filling out stupid make-work mimeograph sheets when they could be writing essays and reading books and actually learning. I even home schooled.

I will never, ever, ever feel guilty about demanding a decent education for my children. That is the first duty of any parent. My kids don't exist to educate other children. That is the teacher's job.

I don't blame the Obamas for sending their kids to private school. What I blame HIM for is opposing that same choice for poor kids when he advocates confiscatory tax policies that redistribute income. He is obviously not opposed to redistribution of income in principle, but doesn't want to use those tax dollars to let kids have the same kind of education he demands for HIS kids.

Don't they deserve it too?

That's hypocritical. And wrong.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 24, 2008 10:26 PM

Why on EARTH would anyone want Quakers to educate their children in the first place?

So they can read the King James version?

Posted by: BillT at November 25, 2008 06:04 AM

If I sounded critical or short last night Donna, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to.

I'm fighting off a sore throat - I always get one when I'm tired. Legacy of too many years of strep throat when I was a kid :p I haven't been sick enough to go to the doctor for years (I guess that is what good tonsils are for!) but whenever I get overtired, my throat gets sore for a day or two until my immune system nukes whatever I was exposed to.

I was just in a hurry to comment and get to bed since I get up so early.

What I was trying to say is that I don't understand why children should be responsible for propping up a badly designed and implemented public school system or (more importantly) *that* in a classroom environment, the overall academic level of a class rises to keep the most able/motivated (and it's both) students stimulated rather than falling to prevent the least able/motivate (and again, we're talking both) from failing?

Certainly that was never my experience. In point of fact, political considerations often intervene to prevent the least able from failing, and it's this that causes the "dumbing down" you speak of. And according to your rationale, it's somehow "selfish" of parents who don't agree with this politically motivated dumbing down if they don't want their children to be punished with a substandard education simply because weak-willed education administrators can't take the heat for handing out "F"'s for kids who sometimes don't even come to school?

My daughter in law had to deal with second graders who bit other kids in class and screamed for hours on end, yet if she tried to remove them from the class to protect the kids who wanted to learn, she was "depriving them of an education". How is this productive or fair to the other children, and why is it selfish not to want your child to sit next to a child who attacks other children?

It seems to me that adults should design a system that meets the needs of the students, not the other way around. Don't you think that's asking a bit much of kids?

Posted by: Cassandra at November 25, 2008 06:36 AM

In my view, the single distinguishing characteristic of private schools was that they can kick kids out at will.

It's hard to control a class (possible, but hard) when you can't remove a disruptive child. Nothing gets a kid's attention (or the attention of parents who use school as a de facto day care center) like calling them up and saying "Come get your kid - and don't bring him back for three days." Or ever.

It's amazing how much difference this one thing makes. Public schools can't do this. No matter how much trouble a kid causes, they can't ban them from a classroom. And the kids know it, and increasingly dysfunctional parents know it. And they take advantage of it.

Posted by: Cassandra at November 25, 2008 06:42 AM

And the kids know it, and increasingly dysfunctional parents know it. And they take advantage of it.

And the kids become dysfunctional parents and the cycle continues. Every so often, one *does* break out of the cycle and become a beacon, but he or she is the exception -- and it makes you wonder how much brighter that beacon *could* have been shining if only...

Posted by: BillT at November 25, 2008 07:34 AM

I do understand Donna's point and I think fear of the outcome she describes is part of what Democrats use to argue against school choice. By definition the vast majority of parents have children who are average in terms of school work. When school choice is presented as "the best and brightest get access to decent educations while everyone else is left behind" most parents will figure their children are going to among the "left behind". And for parents whose children are below average (what we used to call "slow") the fear is even worse.

Why is this scary? I think it's not because kids need other kids to push them - in my school experience smart kids were seen more as teacher's pets than as role models - but rather because parents fear the good teachers, the good classrooms, the good everything will flow to the magnet schools. It's not an unreasonable fear. I'd imagine most teachers would rather work with a class of bright motivated students than with a class of less bright and/or less motivated students.

There are ways to get around this without forcing bright students to plod where they could run - and without forcing slow students to fall further and further behind. If you want to stick with magnet schools then you need ones for students who need extra help not just students who can do more.

To solve the problem of the best teachers wanting to work only with the brightest students, you could stagger pay so teachers for the most difficult students get paid more, teachers for average students a little less, and teachers for the best students even less. Or better yet just rotate all teachers through all levels on a year by year basis.

(And, BTW, being slotted into slow or average should not be a lifetime sentence. If extra help means a slow student is revealed to be perfectly bright but unprepared he should be able to transfer to the next level once his knowledge base is updated.)

Or forget magnet schools and do vouchers so all parents who want to can find a decent school that fits their child whether that child needs tougher work, more help to keep up, more structure, more discipline, or whatever.

Posted by: Elise at November 25, 2008 01:02 PM

The opposition to vouchers and school choice is simply a baffling lack of logic -- I can hardly think of a more important issue that is getting so little real attention by politicians.

I think this is big issue. It is also one that Republican could use to win many supporters in the black community. It would benefit tremendously.

Posted by: Hummer at November 25, 2008 01:32 PM

If Obama and his illuminati were going to support the public schools by sending their kids there, it would be a testament that public education will be a priority for him. I am afraid that by not doing so, there will be little reform in the next four years.

Posted by: ew at November 25, 2008 06:29 PM

Say goodbye to Amerikkka.

Welcome, one and all, to The Obama Nation.

If you inflect that just right, you can even agree with it as properly descriptive.

Posted by: Obloodyhell at November 26, 2008 05:57 AM

The people saying Bush lied and that this was a bad thing for America? They were all lying.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 28, 2008 09:30 AM

Such people love lying and they think Obama is going to benefit AMerica precisely because Obama can manipulate the truth to mean things he doesn't believe.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at November 28, 2008 09:30 AM

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