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Obama: The Education President?

posted by Mark on November 10th, 2008

Barack Obama Education PresidentSome are already speculating that President-elect Barack Obama might become the elusive “education president,” judging from a pre-election education plan that earned him the endorsements of both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). While it’s too early to tell anything yet, his early choice of advisers gives an indication that education is still on his list of priorities.

Among the group are Christopher Edley, Jr., dean of the law school at UC-Berkeley and a former professor at Harvard Law School, and Janet Napolitano, the current Arizona governor who’s made education a priority in her administration. Even Obama’s newly appointed Chief of Staff, Rep. Rahm Emanuel, this year introduced a bill to boost the option of charter schools, a measure that Obama also supports.

First on the new President’s list of education tasks, though, is the appointment of a Secretary of Education. The presumptive candidates include Napolitano and a host of others:

  • Joel Klein, chancellor of New York City public schools.
  • Linda Darling-Hammond, an education professor at Stanford University and co-director of the School Redesign Network, a group researching secondary school education improvements.
  • Arne Duncan, CEO of the Chicago public school system.
  • Andrew J. Rotherham, a member of the Virginia Board of Education and co-founder of Education Sector, a group researching education policy.
  • Jonathan Schnur, CEO of New Leaders for New Schools, a New York group that trains urban principals.
  • James Hunt, Jr., a former governor of North Carolina with a track record for seeking education reform.
  • Colin Powell, the former secretary of state whose America’s Promise Alliance focuses on the welfare of children across the country. (A long-shot candidate, to be sure.)

Also high on Obama’s education to-do list is the reformation of the No Child Left Behind program, the epitome of well-intentioned legislation that has proven unworkable in the real world. NCLB mandates standardized reading and math tests annually for students in third through eighth grades, with pass/fail grades assigned to schools based on the results. Last year, 28% of all schools in the US failed, and that number is expected to increase as the 2014 goal of 100% of students achieving the same standards in math and reading approaches.

Obama and others have been vocal in their criticism of the NCLB turning schools into test-taking factories focused solely on passing the annual exam. Although the program passed with wide-spread, bipartisan Congressional support in 2001, its refunding and reformation should ride a bumpier road, one that will test Obama’s ability to truly become “the education president.”

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