In an expansive interview today, President Obama called for a longer school year and the firing of the worst-performing school teachers if they don’t improve their skills quickly.
Speaking on the “Today’ show, Obama also said money wasn’t the sole solution to our nation’s education failings.
“We can’t spend our way out of it. I think that when you look at the statistics, the fact is that our per-pupil spending has gone up during the last couple of decades even as results have gone down…Obviously, in some schools money plays a big factor …On the other hand, money without reform will not fix the problem,” he said.
However, money does matter. It enables people like Obama to pay the $31,000 annual tuition bill at Washington’s prestigious Sidwell School where his two girls are now enrolled. (That is $31,000 per child.)
As to the decision to send his daughters to private school, Obama said that his children could not obtain the same quality education in the D.C. public schools, despite improvements under the current administration. “The DC public schools systems are struggling,” he said. (Most presidents send their children to private schools. Georgia’s Amy Carter was the last White House offspring to attend a public school in Washington.)
The Washington Post asked District of Columbia Public Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee for her reaction to the president’s comments. (By the way, I don’t think the tough-minded Rhee is likely to consider another school chief’s job if she loses hers due to the impending leadership shift in the Washington mayor’s office. However, I would also like to see her come to Atlanta after Dr. Hall leaves. I think Rhee is demanding, but she took over a school system that was long content to provide a third-class education to its children. She did not have a minute to waste in reviving those moribund schools.)
“We shared information on DCPS schools with them,” Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee wrote Monday in an e-mail, “but [we were] completely supportive of their decision to send their children elsewhere. In terms of the comment from the president, it is a fair assessment. We have indeed, seen good progress over the last few years, but we still have a long way to go before we can say we’re providing all children with an excellent education.”
Among Obama’s other comments: He said children in other nations go to school a month longer than U.S. students. “That month makes a difference. It means that kids are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer,” said Obama. “It’s especially severe for poorer kids who may not see as many books in the house during the summers, aren’t getting as many educational opportunities.”
Nothing new in the president’s comments, but I think it always helps when the leader of the free world addresses the issue of education.