What’s good for the goose…
isn’t good enough for the gander, or the President-elect’s children in this case.
It’s been widely reported that Obama’s two lovely daughters will be attending the prestigious Sidwell Friends School when they move into 1600 Pennsylvania Ave this January. It’s not surprising the Obamas would refuse to expose their children to the horrors of the DC public school system, especially when you consider their daughters currently attend the Chicago Lab School, a private school in their hometown. Tuition for the Obama daughters will run approximately $29,000 each at their new school compared to approximately $19,000 each at their old one.
Understand, I don’t blame or criticize the Obamas for choosing to give their children the best education available. Why would anyone send their kids to schools that make news stories like these:
|Overhauling D.C. School Overcome by Violence||The Washington Post|
|Media see violence up close at D.C. schools||
|D.C. Middle School Plagued by Violence, Chaos||
What I do fault the President-elect for is his opposition to education vouchers for the common-folk (remember, those he’s looking out for) of America. It seems there’s been a little confusion on whether or not he supports vouchers in the past. A February 15, 2008 issue of the New York Sun titled “Obama Open to Private School Vouchers”, the following quote was attributed to the President-elect:
|“I will not allow my predispositions to stand in the way of making sure that our kids can learn. We’re losing several generations of kids, and something has to be done.”|
In the context of the interview when it was made, this quote was interpreted to mean he supported the idea of vouchers. Evidently, the weight of opponents of public school vouchers was quickly brought to bear on Obama, because the Sun published the article “Obama and Vouchers“ just 10 days later. Following the original article, the Obama campaign released its Response to Misleading Reports Concerning Senator Obama’s Position on Vouchers. The response included the following statement:
|“Senator Obama has always been a critic of vouchers. Throughout his career, he has voted against voucher proposals and voiced concern for siphoning off resources from our public schools.”|
Well, which is it? Since the response emphatically denied he supports them, I’ll go with that.
According to this report from the U.S. Census Bureau, public schools spend an average of $8,287 per student. While that wouldn’t pay tuition at either of the private schools mentioned above, it (or even a portion of it) might be enough to enable some parents to pay to send their children to a less prestigious institution. Why send that money to failing schools that resist real reform?
Here, the NEA argues this would divert essential funds from improving public schools. This “give us more money and we’ll do better” argument falls flat since that’s been the policy for years. Take another look at the headlines from the DC district and tell me more money has solved the problems. What public schools need is a good healthy dose of competition! Remember also, I’m a teacher in the public schools saying this. Competition keeps an institution sharp, encouraging it to improve or be overtaken. On the other hand, lack of competition encourages maintaining the status quo. If vouchers become a reality, public schools will work harder to improve for the simple reason they must if they wish to maintain or increase their funding.
Part of the argument opponents of vouchers use is that federal dollars will be diverted to religious institutions–in effect violating the separation of church and state, or establishing a religion. Wrong! Vouchers put those dollars back in the hands of parents and they choose where their dollars are spent.
But let’s forget about these arguments against vouchers for a second and return to the most important part of this equation–the students. What’s the main goal here? That all students have the opportunity to receive a quality education. It’s not about teachers or administrators, but how can we ensure that every child in America is given a chance to make the most of his/her life. If that chance was available the public schools in D.C., you can bet the first daughters would be enrolled there.
If the government is going to pay more than $8,000 per year to educate a child, why not seek the best available return on that money? If a school system doesn’t offer the child the opportunity to fulfill his/her potential, let’s give parents a choice to find a school that will. In the end it will be better for all. In the short term, some children will receive a higher quality education and in the long term all will because failing public school systems will be forced to improve. Not asked, not begged, but forced!
Let me reiterate, I am not criticizing the Obamas for choosing a private school. If I were in their position, I’d do exactly the same thing. But I am criticizing him for not supporting vouchers and giving a similar opportunity for a quality education to all students.