When Barack Obama took office, he declared that education was his highest priority and launched the Race to the Top initiative that Obama said would transform our schools. According to Reason TV, however, it has only taken education in the same failed direction of the past decades and expanded the union sinecure in education. Almost all of the stimulus spending that Obama claims has “saved or created jobs” has gone into the education sector, which isn’t surprising at all when noting the political donation patterns of the two big teacher unions and their influence on policy, says Nick Gillespie:
Obama’s education vision deserves an F for at least three reasons:
1. Money Talks. Obama says that the educational system needs new ideas and more money. Despite a doubling in inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending since the early 1970s, student achievement is flat at best. But Obama is placing most of his bets on the money part. While he brags constantly about his Race to the Top initiative, in which states competed for $4 billion to fund innovative programs, he’s spent more than $80 billion in no-strings-attached stimulus funds to maintain the educational status quo.
2. Choice Cuts. Candidate Obama said that he’d try any reform idea regardless of ideology. Yet one of his first education-related moves after taking office was to aid his Senate mentor, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), in killing a successful and popular D.C. voucher program that let low-income residents exercise the same choice Obama did in sending his daughters to private school.
3. The Unions Forever. The two largest teachers unions, The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, overwhelmingly supported Obama with their votes and their contributions. Some 95 percent of the groups’ campaign contributions go to Democratic candidates and the NEA, spends more money on elections that Microsoft, ExxonMobil, Walmart, and the AFL-CIO combined. No wonder Obama’s big talking point is that he wants to add 10,000 more teachers to public payrolls despite the fact that there are already more teachers per student than ever.
We spend more than ever on education, and we get less and less. Obviously, money is not the issue. In the same period, we have expanded federal control and reduced choice, and that hasn’t improved the situation, either. We need to find ways to introduce competition into the system and get more local control over schools. We’ve written often about the former, but the latter is perhaps even more important. As responsibility for education has moved out of the communities and then out of the state, the pressure on schools to produce results has become diffused and the responsibility blurred. By returning control back to the communities and getting the federal government out of the picture, it will clarify lines of accountability and return power back to the parents, where it belongs.
Obama hasn’t failed at this to any greater extent than his predecessors, but we shouldn’t grade on the curve, either.