Is Obama Waiting for Superman to Save the DC Schools?


In the WSJ, Bill McGurn raises an interesting question: Why has President Obama, who was happy to intervene in local squabbles in Cambridge (Beer Summit!) and lower Manhattan (Burlington Coat Factory Mosque!) and who appeared on NBC's Education Nation summit pseudo-spectacle last week, gone silent on the question of whether DC school superintendent Michelle Rhee should be stick around despite the ouster of her patron, Mayor Adrian Fenty?

"No one in Washington has more political capital than Barack Obama," says Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a Washington D.C., nonprofit that advocates for changes in public K-12 education. "All he has to do is to say two simple sentences. First, 'I support anyone who gives D.C. parents more options and more accountability.' Second, 'We need to keep D.C. on the path of reform with a schools chancellor like Michelle Rhee.'"

For all his education rhetoric, Mr. Obama's reluctance here has a long party pedigree.

And a short personal pedigree, too. Obama told NBC's Today Show that the DC schools weren't good enough for his own kids, yet one of the first things he did in office was twiddle his thumbs as his mentor Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) dismantled a DC school voucher program that has helped a few thousand low-income kids in the District escape what is generally acknowledged to be one of the worst public school systems in the country.

Word is that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has been working behind the scenes to ensure Ms. Rhee stays on as chancellor, or that she is replaced by someone with equal commitment to reform. The fact, however, is that whatever magic Mr. Duncan might perform "behind the scenes" is no match for what his boss might do by speaking publicly.

Let us be clear: Arne Duncan possesses less magic than the Amazing Blackstone Jr. working a package of Jiffy Pop on a camp stove. More from McGurn here.

Candidate Obama pledged to run with any educational reform that worked, regardless of ideology. President Obama has shown a lot more interest in running with any educational reform that throws good money after bad to prop up a system that has manifestly failed to deliver improvements despite an inflation-adjusted doubling of per-pupil spending over the past 40 years.

Reason.tv checked out NBC's Education Nation summit and found that despite Obama's reticence, school choice is going bi-partisan and mainstream:

Hat tip: Scott Reynolds