Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Obama on education and chewing gum

President Obama delivered a speech before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce this morning that accomplished two things at once. First, he answered Republican critics who think he isn't focusing on the economy enough.
I know there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time. They forget that Lincoln helped lay down the transcontinental railroad, passed the Homestead Act, and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of Civil War. Likewise, President Roosevelt didn’t have the luxury of choosing between ending a depression and fighting a war. President Kennedy didn’t have the luxury of choosing between civil rights and sending us to the moon. And we don’t have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term.
I guess Republicans never heard of multi-tasking. Unlike GWB, Obama can chew gum and walk at the same time.

The president also spoke about his education agenda.
America will not remain true to its highest ideals – and America’s place as a global economic leader will be put at risk – unless we not only bring down the crushing cost of health care and transform the way we use energy, but also do a far better job than we have been doing of educating our sons and daughters; unless we give them the knowledge and skills they need in this new and changing world.
Obama explained why we can't afford to wait on education: "By 2016, four out of every ten new jobs will require at least some advanced education or training." He also pointed out that workers without four-year degrees have borne the brunt of recent layoffs, and what is at stake is nothing less than the American dream.

Read the lengthy speech to learn more, but these are the four areas of reform he outlined:
  • Investing in early childhood initiatives like Head Start.

  • Encouraging better standards and assessments by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in.

  • Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers by giving incentives for a new generation of teachers and for new levels of excellence from all of our teachers.

  • Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools" by supporting charter schools, reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day.
  • On additional money to teachers, Politico reports that Obama proposes spending cash in up to 150 additional school districts, which apparently once earned him boos from the National Education Association. However, TAPPED reports that Obama is talking about developing "performance pay" plans, something unions are on board with.
    The language here is key. "Performance pay" is supported by teachers' unions, and awards salary bonuses to teachers based on a variety of factors, including classroom observations, teaching in hard-to-staff subjects and schools, and improving student achievement. "Merit pay," on the other hand, is understood as directly aligning teacher salaries to student test scores.
    Disclaimer, my sister is a teacher, my son is a teacher and so are several friends, and I've heard them all say they favor "performance pay" because it would help school districts retain good teachers. In my son's case, one of his friends was a crackerjack math teacher who left teaching to take a better paying job in business. He had $50,000 dollars in student loans and felt he didn't have much choice. (Obama wants extra pay for Americans who teach math and science.)

    Performance pay would also help hard-to-staff schools attract top teachers. One reason districts like Detroit, Saginaw, Flint and other poor areas keep under-performing teachers is because they have trouble recruiting new teachers, and a bad teacher is better than no teacher at all. As a result, students suffer.
    Eric Hanushek, an economist at Stanford, estimates that the students of a very bad teacher will learn, on average, half a year’s worth of material in one school year. The students in the class of a very good teacher will learn a year and a half’s worth of material. That difference amounts to a year’s worth of learning in a single year.
    Excellence doesn't come cheap, but excellence in education shouldn't be something only rich parents can buy for their children. Businesses pay top dollars to attract the best talent, our schools shouldn't be any different.

    And Republican critics should just shush up. Preparing our children for the future shouldn't wait for anything - not even the mini-depression we inherited from them.

    (Cross-posted at BFM.)


    abi said...

    There's no more demanding and crucial job than teaching. We ought to pay teachers accordingly.

    I love the way Obama keeps insisting that health care reform is central to economic recovery.

    As for the Republican critics who think the prez shouldn't try to talk and chew gum at the same time - you can't blame them for feeling that way. They're used to watching Bush stumble every time he chewed.

    Kathy said...

    Abi, most everything that Obama is pushing - renewable energy, health care, education - is central to our economic recovery, particularly in the long run. The problem is that Republicans lack the capacity to look ahead. They're stuck in the past.