Education

Obama, "The Salesman"

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Like "The Salesman" in Frank Miller's Sin City, Barack Obama speaks to the NEA playing to their weaknesses:

Barack Obama has the teachers cheering. The National Education Association is meeting here, and Obama—like the Democratic candidates who have spoken before him—is telling the crowd everything it wants to hear.

He's "committed to fixing and improving our public schools instead of abandoning them and passing out vouchers." Washington "left common sense behind when they passed No Child Left Behind." Teacher pay must be raised "across the board."

And then he shoots them in the heart:

But then Obama tiptoes into the minefield of merit pay for teachers, so delicately that he does not actually utter the words "merit pay" until the question and answer session.

"If you excel at helping your students achieve success, your success will be valued and rewarded as well," he says—but he hastens to add that this must be done "with teachers, not imposed on them, and not based on some arbitrary test score."

This is whispering truth to power. But for the teachers, Obama's words are fingernails on a chalkboard. They fall silent, except for scattered boos, as he mentions a modest new program in Minnesota.

Obama appears to be the only Democrat who is willing to really take on education reform, treating the NEA like a one-night stand political bedfellow instead of committing fully like his counterparts:

Of all the Democratic candidates who came [to Philadelphia] to pay homage to the NEA—the sole Republican was former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee—Obama was the only one to deviate significantly from the union line.

Not Hillary Clinton, who tangled with the Arkansas teachers union when she oversaw education reforms that included mandatory testing for new teachers.

Not John Edwards, who bemoans the "two public school systems in America—one for the wealthy, one for everybody else," but isn't willing to acknowledge how No Child could help bridge that gap.

Not Chris Dodd, who issued a press release zinging merit pay.

While Obama's educational goals will not be very palatable to a libertarian, it is refreshing to see a Democratic candidate who understands that the NEA is part of the problem with American education.

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  1. Pretty much nothing about Obama will be very palatable to a libertarian. It’s pretty sad how much power the NEA has with the Democratic party.

  2. “If you excel at helping your students achieve success, your success will be valued and rewarded as well,”

    If you work well, you will be treated well.

    Work badly, and you will die.

  3. Mr. Obama, thanks for playing in this edition of the Democratic Primaries?. Johnny, tell Mr. Obama about the great consolation prizes that he’ll be taking home!

  4. Not John Edwards, who bemoans the “two public school systems in America-one for the wealthy, one for everybody else,” but isn’t willing to acknowledge how No Child could help bridge that gap

    Sorry, but NCLB is not about bridging gaps. It is about exerting Federal power and control over one of the few areas where local preferences still count for something (for better or worse).

  5. Last week I heard him on the radio giving the same soft-shoe to Labor Unions, whispering about the efficiency of Wal-Mart

  6. Well, ProGLib, Mr Obama will be awarded the Vice Presidency! Which these days might be the actual seat of power! And he will be taking home this set of eversharp Ginsu? knives! Watch as they cut through this can! And this tomato! And, Barack, you can run again in 4 years! When you’ve “fine-tuned” your message! By listening to campaign advisors! And power brokers! See you next campaign, Barack!

  7. “two public school systems in America-one for the wealthy, one for everybody else,”

    I thought there was just one public school system…and it sucks…the wealthy send their kids to private school

  8. Merit pay alone is a pretty scary proposition if you have a classroom full of rotten kids who don’t give a fuck. I was one of those kids who would fuck up intentionally out of spite just so it would reflect poorly on a teacher.

    Obama seems shrewd to bring up this point, though. I would think a president has relatively little power in such areas. In addition, should he get the nomination, what would the NEA do? Vote Republican?

  9. Johnny, send down the next contestants!

  10. hier is something to keep ProGLib from winning Rice-a-Roni (the San Francisco treat).

    Yes. We spotted him.

  11. Teachers should get paid more because schools can’t attract talented people when business pays more for fresh recruits. Of course, the NEA also wants to impose their unionized version of how things work in addition to raising pay. We have to make a choice. Are teachers professionals or blue collar workers? Raising pay has to come with the same responsibilities that come with any other professional private sector job.

  12. the NEA is part of the problem with American education.

    I guess it’s a truism that unions are always a problem for people who want to have more power over the union’s members.

  13. “I guess it’s a truism that unions are always a problem for people who want to have more power over the union’s members.”

    The public school system is a monopoly so having the tune called by it’s unionized employess vs the taxpayers and parents is a lot more problematic than is the case with unionized workers in the private sector.

    If a consumer doesn’t like how General Motors products have been produced with union labor, he can go to Honda, Toyota or Nissan.

    There are no equivalent alternatives to the public school system for taxpayers, parents and children.

  14. Warren,

    I thought maybe you were kidding, but sure enough, I found this:

    http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/politics/blog/2007/05/
    obama_walmart_globalization_no.html

    It will be interesting to see if this tactic of Obama’s of sprinkling little criticisms of Democratic interest groups here and there (“mini-Souljah moments?”) pays off. It could really help in the general election, but is dangerous during the primary campaign.

  15. The public school system is a monopoly so having the tune called by it’s unionized employess vs the taxpayers and parents is a lot more problematic than is the case with unionized workers in the private sector.

    The public school system is not a monopoly. In fact, it’s not a “system” but rather a collection of many competing systems. If you don’t like the schools in your town, you can move to another town. Plus you can choose between public schools, private schools, or homeschooling.

    It’s like saying that because a city runs some buses, public transportation is a monopoly. Even though people are free to buy their own cars.

  16. I guess it’s a truism that unions are always a problem for people who want to have more power over the union’s members.

    Sad to see the old Dan T. has returned. Too bad. Because now we know that you are actually capable of rational thought and polite dialog. So this confirms that you simple chose to be an asshole when you post these things.

  17. but he hastens to add that this must be done “with teachers, not imposed on them, and not based on some arbitrary test score.”

    vs.

    it is refreshing to see a Democratic candidate who understands that the NEA is part of the problem with American education

  18. “It’s like saying that because a city runs some buses, public transportation is a monopoly. Even though people are free to buy their own cars.”

    Public schools are like a monopoly because you have to pay to support them even if you don’t use them.

  19. The public school system is not a monopoly. In fact, it’s not a “system” but rather a collection of many competing systems. If you don’t like the schools in your town, you can move to another town. Plus you can choose between public schools, private schools, or homeschooling.

    You know, some people don’t have the time or money to move, pay for private school, or home school their children. They might have the money, though, if they weren’t forced to pay into a failing public school system.

  20. ah yes the “you can move” argument.

    excellent.

    *takes rather macho bite of sandwich.

  21. If you don’t like the arguments here, you are free to move to another place on the interwebs.

  22. Dan T./barris: “It’s like saying that because a city runs some buses, public transportation is a monopoly. Even though people are free to buy their own cars.”

    This would make sense if you said: It’s like saying that because a city runs some buses, the city has a monopoly on transportation. Even though people are free to buy their own cars.

    By definition, governments have a monopoly in public transportation.

    MJ: “Public schools are like a monopoly because you have to pay to support them even if you don’t use them.”

    Public schools are worse than monopolies because you have to pay to support them even if you don’t use them.

  23. “The public school system is not a monopoly. In fact, it’s not a “system” but rather a collection of many competing systems. If you don’t like the schools in your town, you can move to another town. Plus you can choose between public schools, private schools, or homeschooling.

    It’s like saying that because a city runs some buses, public transportation is a monopoly. Even though people are free to buy their own cars.”

    This is nonsense. Competition means competetion against other entities in the same market. Taxpayers have no alternative but to pay for the public school system – even if they send their children to private schools.

    By the way, public transportation systems ARE monopolies as well.

  24. The NEA leadership seems to fear merit pay for teachers as a matter of course. How does Obama expect to make merit pay palatable to them without watering down the idea to the point of uselessness or imposing it on them? How does he propose to measure teacher progress without “arbitrary” tests? Does Obama have something in mind, or is he mouthing platitudes so he can straddle both sides of this issue?

  25. Your local electric utility isn’t a monopoly either, despite it being defined as such. You can just move.

  26. I’ve been working on an idea for education funding reform. I find the wide discrepancies between large urban district per-student spending and adjacent suburban district spending to be flat out disgraceful, and there’s no particular reason (other than it’s always been like that) that property taxes should pay for schools. The benefit doesn’t accrue to the local area, it accrues to the student. The discrepancy between Philadelphia and my childhood district (adjacent to Philadelphia – in 2007 $21K per student vs $11K per student. Source – this feature, rank districts by spending per student: http://inquirer.philly.com/specials/2007/report%5Fcard/ )) makes me amenable to North Carolina’s approach: property taxes to state general fund, local school districts receive more or less equivalent funding from the state. I don’t like being amenable to the NC plan, but I find it absolutely insupportable that my district spends nearly twice per student as Philadelphia

    Here’s the bare bones of the idea: your parents can sign you up for publicly provided schooling (primary and/or college), and for each year received, your lifetime marginal tax rate is increased by a fraction of a percent.

    You’d have a couple of defined opportunities in your lifetime to pay off the capitated value of the education you received (taking out a private loan or transferring assets), such as: reaching age of majority or emancipated minor status, upon graduation, or upon retirement. Other than that, a new national pool of funds (replenished by these tax rates) takes on the risk of your early demise or lifetime of poor earning, but gains the upside of incresed earnings and longer life expectancy in presumably the bulk of citizens. It’s fair in that your taxes have a component that directly tie to a specified societal investment in you. You (or your parents as your agent) have the choice to participate, and the choice to buy yourself out. It does smack of indentured servitude, but all taxes do, and this at least ties to a specific upfront benefit received.

    Seriously, what do you think?

  27. I thought there was just one public school system…and it sucks…the wealthy send their kids to private school

    I believe the second public system, the “one for the wealthy”, is the suburban school districts, which are on average better than the urban ones for all sorts of reasons. Of course, America created this situation with its settlement patterns, and those who participate in the second system are largely pleased with it, so it’s hard to tell where Edwards is going with such an argument.

  28. Typically, when the city operaes a bus system, the operation of competing transport is prohibited or severely restricted.

    In one case, the details of which I no longer recall, the private bus line was regulated in the fees it could charge. As inflation drove the company to request an increase in fees, the city denied the request. the private company folded, the city took over, and promptly raised bus fees.

  29. If you don’t like the schools in your town, you can move to another town. Plus you can choose between public schools, private schools, or homeschooling.

    So, Dan T, if moving is such an easy thing to do, I take it you are ready to retract these posts:

    Dan T. | February 2, 2007, 12:00pm |
    What I don’t get is why Congress is so timid with its economic management. Why only $7.25/hr? I think they should’ve gone for a nice, round $50./hr. so that EVERYBODY has a chance to earn $100,000 a year (and become subject to the AMT)!

    Or, get rid of it altogether and return to the days of quasi-slavery and the Company Store.

    https://www.reason.com/blog/show/112919.html#393259“>
    Dan T. | March 13, 2006, 11:27am
    Remember, everybody can “simply quit” their jobs for only those who can afford it can “simply shop elsewhere”…

  30. As inflation drove the company to request an increase in fees, the city denied the request. the private company folded, the city took over, and promptly raised bus fees.

    That happened all over, for example here in NYC with the subways.

    I’m kind of torn on this issue. I’d love to see our system privatized if it would mean better service and less nasty “customer service”. But I don’t see how it’s workable. Most trips are for commuting, and I don’t see people changing their route or their schedule just to take Subway Company A over Subway Company B to work. Two companies can’t run trains at the same time over the same route.

  31. Two mechanics were discussing the new MMP (Mechanics Merit Pay)salary schedule. The pay for each mechanic was based on how much repairs cost on the rigs they worked on.

    “I sure like this merit pay,” said Tom, a mechanic at Uptown Lexus. “Since our customers buy a new rig every other year, I hardly ever have a major repair. I just got another raise.”

    Bill, the mechanic at If’n It’s Broke, We’ll Fix It, replied “Well I think it sucks! Most of the cars I get to work on are older than I am. My boss said I’m stuck ’til the minimum wage goes up. But, you know last week I got to work on this sweet ’57 Olds. 324 with tri-power! I had those carbs adjusted just right. Then the guy took it out racin’ and dropped the tranny.”

    “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout carburators,” answered Tom. “Say, I’m havin’some problems with my Tahoe. I can slip you some cash on the side if you’ll work on it for me.”

    And so it goes…

  32. Although I don’t agree with the concept of Merit Pay, it is certainly a strong LEADERSHIP quality that Senator Obama is addressing this concept.

    I am a teacher with extensive experience in public schools and universities. I’ve seen the waste of a big city bureaucracy and the failings of NCLB.

    You are criticizing Sen. Obama for courageously addressing a sticking point with a group which may be his constituents. Why?

    John Edwards talks about two public school systems. Has he heard about private schools? That is where the wealthy send their children. There is a pathetic public school system in far too many cities, that is now only teaching children to take tests and that’s under the NCLB Act.

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