What Wasn't Said in President Obama's Today Show Interview on K-12 Education

This morning President Obama spent a 30-minute live interview on NBC’s Today Show talking about education. The headline from the President’s remarks, including in the Denver Post‘s featured AP story, was that money alone can’t solve education problems.

True enough, and hats off to the President for acknowledging what has become abundantly clear to those studying the long-term trends in American K-12 public schooling. As my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow has noted on the Ed News Colorado blog, the challenge today is how we are going to stretch the school dollar.

In his interview, President Obama also touted a longer school year, his Race to the Top grant program to states and a newly-proposed initiative to recruit 10,000 new teachers from the math, science and engineering fields. That’s all well and good up to a point. But sometimes it’s hard politically to get beyond the soft-sell. What most caught my attention was this section from the AP story:

The president admitted that his own daughters, Malia and Sasha, couldn’t get the same quality education at a Washington, D.C. public school that they currently get at their private school. The Obama girls attend Sidwell Friends School, an elite private school in the Washington area.

“The DC public schools systems are struggling,” Obama said, though he added that the school district has, “made some important strides over the last several years to move in the direction of reform.” Public schools in Washington have long faced criticism for their low test scores and high dropout rates.

Then why, why, why let the effective D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program die? Why not an all-of-the-above education reform strategy, as long as it’s working?

On another recent NBC show, Meet the Press, Education Secretary Arne Duncan stated near the end of the 25-minute segment that we can move reform by spending less money on the status quo and more on reform efforts like the $4.35 billion Race to the Top. Yet the recent $10 billion Edujobs bailout — spending less than a tenth on K-12 job preservation than the amount in the 2009 stimulus — put more than double the amount on the status quo.

What started out looking like an opportunity for bold national education reform has become tepid. The lesson for reformers? Put not your faith in D.C., be it Democrats or Republicans. School choice isn’t a silver bullet, but it’s one of the very best reform strategies we have. And it just makes sense.