Obama on Education

While Obama avoided recommended any radical change that could significantly improved education in the United States (banning affirmative action and social promotion, advocating the creation of a unified national testing standard, forcing states to publicly release individual-level test results with a unique identifier for every student, ending the grade-age system, etc), the President nonetheless focused on efforts that will help the worst-off learners:

Obama Calls for Overhaul of Education System – NYTimes.com
“I call on states to reform their charter rules, and lift caps on the number of allowable charter schools, wherever such caps are in place,” the president said, in his first major speech on education since he took office seven weeks ago. Caps now exist in 26 states and the District of Columbia, he said.

Putting limits on charter schools, even in places where they are performing well, “isn’t good for our children, our economy or our country,” the president said. He said recently in his budget message that he hoped to double financing for charter schools eventually, and that the Department of Education would help create “new, high-quality charter schools” while supporting the closing of those guilty of “chronic underperformance.”

Mr. Obama’s promotion of charter schools was virtually certain to be greeted with skepticism, at best, from teacher unions, as was his call for a system of merit pay for good teachers, which the president said would mean “treating teachers like the professionals they are, while also holding them more accountable.”

The president said new approaches to education should extend to the traditional school day and the school calendar, both of which should be longer. “We can no longer afford an academic calendar designed for when America was a nation of farmers who needed their children at home plowing the land,” he said.

Like George Bush, Barack Obama seems more interested in improving education for the bottom edge of the spectrum. High-SES / high-ability students may learn more in summer vacation than during the school year, because their free time is naturally enriched and educational. For these students, Obama’s recommendation will make life worse.