« Education-free AFT Ad | Main | Jeb Bush for Education Secretary? »

Is Obama a Wimp on Education?

| 1 Comment

Alexander Russo offers an interesting case study in Slate on a 1999 dispute over who hires and fires principals in Chicago—and what Sen. Barack Obama's actions mean for changes in education policy if he wins the presidency.

Essentially, Russo paints a picture of an Obama who stood on the sidelines as then-Chicago Public Schools Superintendent Paul Vallas went to the Illinois Legislature in an effort to wrest more control over his principals from local school councils. The story quotes a Republican state legislator who said Obama wasn't really that bold, or creative, when it came to education.

Russo writes:

The story of Obama's involvement suggests that on similarly contentious fronts involving national education policy, like the No Child Left Behind Act, he might respond the same way—holding back when powerful interest groups collide, only to support the status quo of local control in the end. The candidate's Chicago record on education also raises questions about his much-vaunted ability to bring different sides together to find lasting solutions.


Obama didn't really have to stand up to anyone—not the groups he was affiliated with, not Vallas, not Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. He was just approving the final result. He remained loyal to his roots, but only when it was easy to do so.

So Obama stood back while the real negotiations went on, jumping in only at the end, when it was easy, according to Russo.

This might be a pattern with Obama. Just last week, The Washington Post detailed a 2006 incident in which a bipartisan group of senators had hashed out a deal on immigration policy. While heading to the press conference, these senators encountered Obama, who said, according to the Post story: "Hey guys, can I come along?"

1 Comment

In the interest of full disclosure: I am an Obama supporter.

I read the Slate article, and I found the issue to be quite impertinent to the serious issues in education, which are how the students are achieving and what is the quality of instruction in classrooms. While I am not familiar with Chicago or Illinois public schools, it seemed clear to me that this was a case of infighting over who had power to fire principals. This seems to me like an issue of internal governance structure that has little to do with the quality of classroom instruction or with student achievement.

I don’t think that this is paradigm for the most important educational debates in this country. No Child Left Behind, in addition to dealing with issues of local control, has some serious consequences for what happens when the teacher closes the door: what is taught and how it is taught.

If I had been in Obama’s position, I would also avoided taking a side. Somebody with his eyes on the prize wouldn’t want to get caught up in a contentious governance structure debate. That’s not to say that Obama or his education policy proposals are perfect. They clearly aren’t. I just don’t feel that it’s necessary to mark any points off his record for this.


Comments are now closed for this post.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments