Obama’s Most Telling Choice

Published January 1, 2009

The most telling choice Barack Obama has made since becoming the nation’s president-elect has nothing to do with his Cabinet or senior advisors.

It was the choice of Sidwell Friends School, a private grammar school in Washington, DC, to which Obama and his wife Michelle have decided to send their two daughters.

I applaud Obama’s commitment to his daughters’ education, choosing to send them to the best schools.
It’s just too bad he opposes extending that same choice to families whose children are relegated by geography and income to schools he and everyone else already know will fail them.

Failed His Constituents

Obama knows something about this problem. During his time as an Illinois state senator, he represented a district with more than 12,000 students in failing elementary schools, according to 2004 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) data.

During that time, while Obama’s daughters attended the prestigious—and private and expensive—University of Chicago Lab School, thousands of other children Obama was elected to represent were warehoused at Chicago Public School facilities, where most are stored for eight to 12 years until they are mature enough either to enter the penal system or to go off into the real world having mastered the phrase, “Would you like to try one of our combo meals today?”

What did Obama do then? The same thing he’s been doing since beginning his campaign for the Oval Office: Backslapping the teacher unions for their good intentions while generations of children from low-income families are ushered into society’s underclass, the direct result of not being taught to read or do simple math.

Captive of Teacher Unions

While running for Congress in 2004, Obama told the Daily Herald, a suburban Chicago newspaper, school choice “drains resources from public schools, and I think that we have to make a commitment to providing resources to schools that are educating the vast majority of children in this country.”

More money for our urban public school systems? That talking point, straight from a teachers union memo, is all the audacity Obama could muster at that time or since.

This point, in particular, is countered by decades of reality. Increased public school funding has not improved public schools, while school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and other cities and states have—and they actually are leaving more money in the till for public schools to work with, not draining resources from them.

While elementary and secondary public education is most decidedly a state and local issue, its federalization by President George W. Bush under NCLB and the federally subsidized scholarship program in the District of Columbia make Obama’s obsolete views on public education more salient now than at any other time in our nation’s history.

Obama Not Alone

Obama is not the only successful person whose private actions are disconnected from his public posturing—and no, I am not simply referring to the Clintons, who also sent their daughter Chelsea to Sidwell Friends during their occupation of the White House. The hypocrisy, in fact, afflicts far more than the political class.

A 2004 study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found in the 50 most populous U.S. cities, urban public school teachers send their children to private schools nearly twice as much as everyone else, and 22 percent more often than urban families in general.

In Obama’s adopted hometown, for example, 39 percent of teachers employed by Chicago Public Schools send their children to private schools, compared with only 23 percent of non-CPS teachers in the city. One has to wonder whether CPS teachers know something the rest of us don’t.

This is not an indictment of the decisions of public school teachers or U.S. presidents who want the best for their children, but it does bring up an important question. If CPS was not good enough for the Obama children and is not good enough for the children of four in 10 CPS teachers, then exactly whose children is CPS good enough for? The same goes for many of the nation’s big urban school systems.

Dan Proft J.D. ([email protected]) is a principal of Urquhart Media LLC, a Chicago-based public affairs firm, and political commentator for the Don Wade & Roma Morning Show on WLS-AM 890.

For more information …

“Where Do Public School Teachers Send Their Kids to School?” by Denis P. Doyle, David A. DeSchryver, and Brian Diepold, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, September 7, 2004: http://www.edexcellence.net/doc/Fwd-1.1.pdf