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Educators Huddle on Capitol Hill Before Inauguration

As I was walking to the swearing-in ceremony this morning, I happened to come across a reception for education in the Rayburn House Office building, just a stone’s throw away from where Obama will soon be taking the oath of office.

At the reception, I ran into Michael Johnston, the principal of Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in Thornton, Colo., where President-elect Obama gave his most prominent education speech of the campaign. Johnston, who is also an informal adviser to Obama, said he had “been incredibly impressed by his commitment to do what he thinks is best for kids.”

Johnston pointed to the fact that Obama was willing to talk about charter schools and merit pay, issues that would not necessarily endear him to the teachers’ unions, who are key players in the Democratic primaries, when he was some 25 points down in the polls. “I don’t see him shying away now,” he added.

Obama has a good grasp of education policy, Johnston said, and is able to talk about complicated issues such as college financial aid off the cuff.

I also ran into Jim Kohlmoos, president of the Knowledge Alliance. “It’s a great day today, there’s a lot of enthusiasm, a lot of energy,” he said.

As for the huge economic stimulus package introduced last week by U.S. House Democrats, which included some $122 billion for K-12 and higher education, Kohlmoos said, “It’s really amazing how much focus there was on education in the stimulus.”

More specifically, the $1.5 billion for school improvement in the stimulus package may be “a huge boon” for the education research community, he said, given that some of the money could be directed to research. The research community is also hoping to help ensure the productive and effective use of the money set aside in the stimulus bill for school construction, for instance in making the best use of education technology.

I also ran into Steve Robinson, who is Obama’s top education staffer. He couldn’t speak on the record, but he was all smiles.

The other people I ran into included Andy Rotherham of Education Sector, who predicted that Obama would say little about education in his inaugural address. But Rotherham was all smiles, as was Bethany Little, a lobbyist for the Alliance for Excellent Education. “It’s a great day for education,” she said.

—Alyson Klein

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