Did Obama learn anything at the Decatur pre-k program or was it a just one long photo op?

Did Obama learn anything from his visit today to a Decatur pre-k? A pre-k teacher says he did. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

Did Obama learn anything from his visit today to a Decatur pre-k? A pre-k teacher says he did. (Johnny Crawford/AJC)

The crowds have left the Decatur Recreation Center, and the camera crews are dismantling their equipment. The President is en route to Dobbins.

So, what was today about? Was it a photo op with which to promote the President’s new pre-k proposal?

Yes, but did Obama learn anything useful?

After the speech, I chatted with the Decatur pre-k teacher who was with Obama today at the College Heights Early Learning Center. Mary McMahon also introduced Obama at the Decatur Recreation Center.

A pre-k intervention teacher, McMahon is College Heights’ Teacher of the Year and spent time with President Obama in the pre-k classroom of teacher Lauren Parks.

Was this all for show, I asked her, or did the President learn something new?

McMahon felt that Obama learned something from the inclusive model that Decatur uses in its pre-k. She said that Decatur is unique in that its program has a mix of family incomes, and it includes children with special needs in its classes.

She also felt the President Obama realized that an effective pre-k classroom has to offer lots of hands-on activities for children rather than worksheets and that requires adequate staffing.

“He did see that you need bodies. You can’t just throw 20 kids in a classroom,” said McMahon.

Pre-k programs must maintain reasonable teacher-pupil ratios to conduct the hands-on activities that are critical to early learning, she said.

Decatur pre-k classes were out this week as the system is on winter break. But the lure of meeting the President was powerful; one parent flew back early from Disney World so her child could attend the special day of classes. Out of 20 students in the class that Obama visited, 16 showed up today, said McMahon.

(Please note that the Head Start program that operates out of College Heights was open this week. it was the pre-k part of the building that was closed for Decatur City Schools winter break.)

McMahon said all the 3- and 4-year-olds at College Heights saw the President as he joined them for community circle time where they sang him a song. And all of the College Heights staff also saw him.

Parents, who had to go through metal detectors today to drop off their children this morning, could not hang around to see the President.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

69 comments Add your comment

bootney farnsworth

February 14th, 2013
3:39 pm

this a trick question?

photo op, of course.


February 14th, 2013
3:47 pm

Really??? Photo Op and big waste of taxpayer dollars. This is what you call news?

Clutch Cargo

February 14th, 2013
3:53 pm

One long photo op.


February 14th, 2013
3:58 pm

Parents couldn’t stay? Who were the people in the background cheering? How much did they pay to get in?


February 14th, 2013
3:58 pm

Maureen, do you have a problem with addressing our president as “President Obama”? He deserves our respect whether you like him or not.

Beverly Fraud

February 14th, 2013
4:16 pm

Seems he might have learned that, no matter what his administration sends down the pike that’s damaging to teachers and children (read: RTTP, politically propping up Beverly Hall) it will all be forgiven if teachers are given lip service (read: allowed to be used as political props) to being (pick the trite word of choice) “valued,” “respected,” “dedicated,” etc.

Of course he probably already knew that going in…


February 14th, 2013
4:24 pm

As if President Obama initiates and molds the legislation for such a massive federal program. He only lobbies for something and either signs or vetoes what lands on his desk.

It was certainly just a carefully planned and staged photo op – not a “teaching moment”. We have already learned that his administration is about bigger government, and more federal programs. If folks like that, it may have helped him with his base.


February 14th, 2013
4:27 pm

As if President Obama initiates and molds the legislation for such a massive federal program. He only lobbies for something and either signs or vetoes what lands on his desk.

It was certainly just a carefully planned and staged photo op – not a “teaching moment”. We have already learned that his administration is about bigger government, and more federal programs. If folks like that, it may have helped him with his base.

(2nd attempt to post – either blocked or being moderated.)

Jack ®

February 14th, 2013
4:38 pm

It was a photo op. Every appearance that Obama makes is a photo op. His visiting the school will have absolutely no effect on the problems that dog our schools.


February 14th, 2013
4:39 pm

@dekalbparent…most of those standing behind President Obama while he spoke at the Decatur Recreation Center were teachers in the City Schools of Decatur.

bootney farnsworth

February 14th, 2013
4:43 pm

is there anything he does that isn’t a photo op?


February 14th, 2013
4:47 pm

The folks watching were all city schools of Decatur teachers.

Claudia Stucke

February 14th, 2013
4:50 pm

“He did see that you need bodies. You can’t just throw 20 kids in a classroom,” said McMahon. If President Obama learned nothing more, but came away convinced of this one fact (and positive action results from it), I’d say the trip was worth it.

I do take issue with the statement that Decatur is “unique” in its blended classrooms of students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds and learning challenges/abilities. It may be unique in its small student-teacher ratio, which is critical when working a diverse group.

President Obama made reference to this diversity, as opposed to the old system of tracking, “And what that means is, is that all the kids are being leveled up, and you’re not seeing some of that same stratification that you see that eventually leads to these massive achievement gaps.” The idea of “leveling up” is a popular one in educational research; there are plenty of studies that show that under-performing students benefit from being in the classroom with higher-performing students. But the reverse is not necessarily true; each student needs to be challenged, regardless of “level” of performance or ability. Meeting these individual needs means smaller classrooms–fewer students per instructor–and interactive, student-centered lessons. (Computer-assisted instruction, with teacher guidance as needed, is one of many valuable tools in the toolbox.) And yes, it’s expensive. You’ve seen the bumper stickers: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Huntley Hills Tiger

February 14th, 2013
4:54 pm

What public appearance by a politician isn’t a photo op? Where was Bush on 9/11? Where was he when he declared “mission accomplished?” All parties do it, doesn’t mean they don’t sometimes serve to a valid way to present & advocate for policy. It’s what they are elected to do.

Old joke: What’s the most dangerous place in the world? Between ___ (any politician you care to mock) & a camera.

Once Again

February 14th, 2013
4:55 pm

Why would he start learning anything now?

The government is already a failure at K-12 education. Why would we want to insure that kids get another year of failure and indoctrination? And if it becomes “mandatory”, will parents have to provide proof (likely through expensive and pointless standardized testing) that they are “educating” their children or face jail time like homeschoolers do today?

The sooner this system collapses and everyone is forced to finally take care of their own children and solve their own problems through VOLUNTARY means rather than using the force and guns of government to achieve their goals, the better off this country and everyone in it will be.

And he screwed up traffic all over town to boot.

Just Sayin.....

February 14th, 2013
4:59 pm

It’s a long photo op. Obama doesn’t “learn” from these things, he is campaigning to push his own agenda. This was staged to push his SOTU agenda, nothing more.

Georgia Dad

February 14th, 2013
5:02 pm

At least we are talking about education funding. The priorities of this country are so out of whack. Corporations trip over themselves to get their names on sports stadiums. Maybe we could have a pre k class sponsored by Coca-Cola.


February 14th, 2013
5:03 pm

My daughter, who is 4 years old and has Down Syndrome, attends an inclusion classroom at College Heights school in Decatur. I really like the way they do things there. She attends the class with all of the other kids (a few of whom have special needs), and the special ed teacher and parapro are there in the classroom to help provide support. Then she’s pulled from the classroom occasionally for speech therapy, and for small group or one-on-one extra work on learning her numbers, colors, and stuff like that. It’s an excellent model for helping children with special needs achieve all that they can, and I think it helps benefit the other children too. (My daughter fits right in there.) And the people working at College Heights are enthusiastic and more than competent.

Did Obama learn anything valuable? I don’t know. But he could have, if he listened to what people like Mary McMahon said to him.


February 14th, 2013
5:06 pm

Oh, and it was interesting walking through a metal detector this morning to drop her off at school and walking down the hallways, with secret service agents all over the place standing next to giant cardboard dinosaurs and drip art by preschoolers in the style of Jackson Pollock.

A Conservative Voice

February 14th, 2013
5:15 pm

Whatta you think your president was doing, Maureen? Why did he come to Decatur?…..duh. Q.How much did all this cost? A. More than America can afford. My advice to him would be to “stay in DC in HIS OFFICE and do what we’re paying him to do instead of running all over the world doing nothing useful.

And finally, to “chillywilly” – If he’ll start acting presidential, we’ll start calling him President *****


February 14th, 2013
5:21 pm

One long ,expensive, totally unnecessary photo op! Love that photo of the little girl looking at him like he is a useless dork, and she is right. That’s the look I would give him myself.

Fed up

February 14th, 2013
5:24 pm

Did any of you question NCLB? Of course you didn’t…. I would gladly pay a few more dollars to ensure that our children have the best education possible as opposed to contributing to sports stadiums that we don’t need. One last thing: President Obama has earned the title and whether you like him or not, it would be nice if you people would respect the Office…. I didn’t care for George Bush but I always address his as President Bush seeing that he earned the title whether I voted for him or not… The level of disrespect is ridiculous and pointless…. He is President of the United States and you might as well get over it…..Pick a better candidate next time….

I love teaching. I hate what it is becoming...

February 14th, 2013
5:31 pm

What sad, bitter people some of you are.

William Casey

February 14th, 2013
5:39 pm

@ONCEAGAIN: “The government is already a failure at K-12 education. Why would we want to insure that kids get another year of failure and indoctrination?” The United States is the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world. Please detail EXACTLY how our education system is a failure? Is American success all the result of private school graduates? Foreign educated graduates? Your post is a load of BS. Take your anarchism elsewhere!


February 14th, 2013
6:14 pm

He was so impressed with the public schools in GA, when his 4 years are over, he will remove his girls from Sidwell and enroll them here. He is SUCH an advocate of public schools. Hurry up 2017.


February 14th, 2013
6:15 pm

I love it when people deride the US education system, while people from around the world are lietrally dying to get their children into it. Yes, in many parts of this country, schools and parents need to do a better job. We hear from those in the know, how much better education is in Asia, etc, but what they fail to tell you is that those countries only education a select portion of their children. I wonder how these folks complaining would react if their children were requred to take an exam at the end or elementary school that would determine the rest of their lives? Do you get more education or does our education end? If you fail, you’re done, unless your family has money or influence. That’s the reality in much of the world. Complain and villify all you want, but how many of you can affort 12 years of private school? When you continuously tear down your own, you eventually destroying your own. History is a wonderful thing because it already documented what society was like when only the rich or influencial were allowed an education.


February 14th, 2013
7:16 pm

Chlly Willy ALWAYS called Bush Mr. President.


Clutch Cargo

February 14th, 2013
7:39 pm

@I love teaching

“What sad, bitter people some of you are.”

When someone puts “hate” in their handle on here, it pretty much disqualifies them from personal judgements. If you hate it so much, why don’t you hum a few bars of “Take This Job And Shove It” and go get a job that can love you back?

Drama Diva.

Old timer

February 14th, 2013
7:49 pm

Photo op……everything he does is a photo op.

living in an outdated ed system

February 14th, 2013
9:18 pm

Regardless of whether or not it was a photo op, it is wonderful for the President to expose the country to a pre-k program that is working in our state. I’m glad he is pushing early childhood education. We must create a quality pre-school through high school education system, and the early years are vital to achieving this goal.

julio quintana

February 14th, 2013
10:10 pm

it is always about the phot op, the man has no substance….


February 14th, 2013
10:35 pm

Maybe he would have learned something if he didn’t show up when the school was on winter break and told parents to bring their kids in, so I saw photo op.


February 14th, 2013
10:36 pm

Our state has regularly rated below #45 in education out of our 50 states in the last twenty years or so, #48 on average; you would think he would pick somewhere with a better track record.
I have three kids in Ga’s educational system right now, and I do think they are getting a good education. I’m proud of what I have seen offered and what my kids have taken part in, but I also see a lot of underaged curriculum in the “regular” classes, too. The accelerated programs are on par with few elsewhere for certain, but the regular studies are just sad. Our kids should learn a lot more than they do in the “regular” classes, and if they can’t learn this limited info, then they should be moved to vocational school. One of my sons decided for a year that the advanced classes were too hard for him, so he wanted to take regular classes the next year. One semester of that level of ignorance cured him of that idea for the rest of his education, he had no desire to be in daycare until he was 18.


February 14th, 2013
10:47 pm

Ha. Now Maureen is just trolling the mouth-breathers here with her blog titles.

Once Again

February 14th, 2013
11:14 pm

William Casey – I don’t need to detail what a failure K-12 is in this country. That’s pretty much what this blog is about every day. And if there aren’t enough failings mentioned here, there are generally plenty mentioned on the front page of this and every paper in the nation. The fact that some manage to get through the system and achieve does not change the fact that the system in general is a complete failure. It is founded on the violence of theft/taxation so at its very core it is immoral. We are an immensely wealthy nation IN SPITE of everything the government is doing. It is scary to think of how much better our education system would be and how much wealthier we would ALL be if government were limited to those activities in Article 1 Section 8 (or a whole lot less). A voluntary society is a prosperous, free, and freedom filled society.


February 14th, 2013
11:28 pm

Maureen, Your Question should BE did the politcal Leadership of Georgia learn anything about insuring the Future of Georgia’s Children. Governor Deal and his Administration has continually, Cut the Education Budgets of every school system in the State Of Georgia. Cutting during a time when every other industrialized NATION in the WORLD, is tripling their education budgets to insure their citizen children continually remain competitive and surpass our American children in every subject of MATH and SCIENCE in this Global Market we find our selves in.

Such prefaces stated by you, routinely makes me question the depth of your intelligence on this subject matter.


February 14th, 2013
11:47 pm

@William Casey: You asked but he didn’t deliver. You shouldn’t have bothered.

Yes, it was a photo op. Yes, we have a great Prek program and it is helping and should be replicated, or even improved upon Nationwide. Can we also get IDEA fully funded like he promised in 2008?


February 14th, 2013
11:56 pm

Maureen, First of all I don’t like your title. Second, He is the president of the United States. It was a great experience for our children. The media follows politicians and what is your point?. At least he cares about educating our children at an early age to decrease the drop out rate.


February 15th, 2013
12:00 am

@julio quintana, you need pre-school and use spell check. It appears you have no substance.


February 15th, 2013
12:50 am

We would have great Pre-K education across the country if parents would stay home with their kids and teach them one on one until they are ready for kindergarten instead of dumping them off at ‘day-care’ so they can go pay for the Mercedes and McMansions.

We would have great Pre-K education across the country if all the Baby Mommas and Baby Daddies would quit waving babies around like so much bling on their arms.

We would have great Pre-K education across the country if the federal government would stay out of education and do it’s job instead: defense, courts, interstate transportation, a budget.

We would have great Pre-K education across the country if Obama would stay in Washington and do his constitutionally limited-powers job instead of junking up the streets with his million vehicle motorcade taking him to a — PHOTO OP.


February 15th, 2013
1:54 am

@Grashopper, you missed interpret the entire article. You have a problem comprehending. This is why we need pre-school. You have a problem.

Beverly Fraud

February 15th, 2013
6:28 am

Did any of you question NCLB?

Yes you better believe some of us where just as vehement about NCLB as we are about the RTTP disaster.


February 15th, 2013
8:22 am

I wonder if our President is aware that the county’s (Dekalb) school district that contains the City of Decatur is morally and financially bankrupt. Did his staffers/researchers/briefers tell him that there was no need to meet with the District’s Super. because he had been placed days ago during the midst of yet another failed administration. Did anyone tell him that Atkinson had just quit…14 months after the last Super. (Lewis) had milked us dry! Mr. Obama must have known that…I wonder what he thought of it. I would give a million dollars to know what he thinks of Dekalb since he has to have knowledge of it. I am so embarrassed to be a teacher in this county. Since Friday I have been very depressed. I am young and giving up on public education. I love teaching. I love my students; but it just isn’t enough when people play games with our future. I feel like a pawn in a really big, bad joke. I hate to say it but I am going to move into the private sphere/adult education. And when I have children they will most definately be attending a private school so that I can control how my money is spent and I can make executive decisions about the quality of their education. These are sad sad times. (Don’t have enough energy to edit, sorry)


February 15th, 2013
8:51 am

This was a photo op. He only knows how to campaign. Administration is for the little people and is not glamorous.


February 15th, 2013
9:07 am

Interesting that the President chose a school in a school system (City Schools of Decatur) that was out on WInter Break all this week at which to make his case.

Parents had to bring their kids in on a holiday in order to make the President look good.

Well done sir!

Beverly Fraud

February 15th, 2013
9:15 am

Were any school staff forced or pressured to come into work on a scheduled off day Maureen?

If a staffer knows, hope they will post here…

Maureen Downey

February 15th, 2013
9:20 am

@Beverly, I talked to some staffers who were delighted about a sitting US president visiting their school and said they would not have missed it for anything. They took it as an honor and an historic moment and wanted to be part of it. And they are proud of their work and thrilled to be in the national limelight for a day. There were also people who took the day off from their jobs to come to downtown Decatur to be part of the hoopla.


February 15th, 2013
9:29 am

So much of what the President said bothered me.

I wish I had the actual transcript but, first of all, he mentioned something about it being a fact that the earlier kids start school the better educated they become. I do not agree with this statement. In many countries (Finland is the first that comes to mind) kids start school at age 7. Pre-school years are just that. PRE…school years. First grade is the FIRST grade. Years ago when we had a a good educational system in this country public schools did not start until 1st grade. As a person who has home schooled and who has a Masters in Psychology I have had a lot of education and experience with child development. Nothing I have ever learned or experienced suggests that a child needs to be in a classroom setting to learn at 4 years old. On the contrary it can be damaging for many children who need less structure. Most kids (especially boys) learn more from exploring on their own and are simply lost in this setting.
Now, having worked extensively with lower socioeconomic classes I’d be the first to admit the kids often get very little stimulation at home so, perhaps, it is better for them to be in an academic setting all day away from their parents but it still goes against a child’s natural development. A four year old should be playing outside for hours a day, painting at the kitchen table. Learning to spell her name with magnets on the refrigerator.

When are people going to admit that the actual reason for Pre- K and Kindergarten is to provide child care because so many families have to or choose to have two parents working full time. How many people who can stay home with their children CHOOSE to put their child in an all day pre-K program. Most I know will choose a partial day or partial week program just for socialization etc. FACT if every family had one parent at home we would still be starting grade school in the 1st grade. Public Kindergarten came along about the time all the moms went to work. I wish President Obama would make a commitment that no family in America would have to have two incomes to survive. I wish he would focus on the family and not suggest (once again) that families are incapable so the government must step in and raise the children.

My other problem was his statement that (paraphrasing) No child should start off the race of life a step behind. Does he really think starting government school early is going to change that? What about all of the children born with no fathers or born to teenage moms. What about the kids whose parents name them La-a (pronounced Ladasha “cause the dash don’t be silent”). Are they NOT a step behind? Once again the focus is all out of whack. We can’t fix families by doing their jobs for them! The money spent on a national Pre-K would be better spent on mandatory parenting classes.

Maureen Downey

February 15th, 2013
9:39 am

Pardon My Blog

February 15th, 2013
10:13 am

PHOTO OP! Utilizing the kids to force more government and taxes on us just like Stalin and Hitler!