Reaction to President Obama’s Education Reform Speech to National Urban League

Published July 29, 2010

President Obama today addressed the centennial conference of the National Urban League in Washington, DC. The president restated his case for the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, calling it “the single most important thing we’ve done,” and he argued for states to adopt “voluntary” Common Core standards aimed at preparing students for college and careers.

Obama’s speech, touted as a major address on his administration’s education reforms, stressed committing more federal money and effort to achieve funding equity in public schools. But the effect of the Obama administration’s policies has been to further centralize public education funding and decision-making at the national level.

The Heartland Institute’s policy studies and other scholarship have been at the forefront of school reform issues throughout the United States for nearly three decades. In your coverage, you may quote from the experts’ comments below or contact them directly for more information. Also, please visit The Heartland Institute’s School Reform News Web site for news, research and commentary on the Obama administration’s education reform efforts:

“Reforming education is a civil rights issue; no question about it. Millions of poor and minority children are trapped in a system that denies them the opportunity to learn and succeed in school and in life. The status quo is, as the president said, not working.

“Here’s the irony in Obama’s approach: As he pats himself on the back for spending hundreds of billions of dollars on education programs of dubious effect, he’s pushed hundreds of poor, mostly black children out the door of Washington DC’s finest schools by ending the DC Opportunity Scholarship Program, one of the most popular and effective school choice programs in the nation.

“All parents and students deserve the means of attending the school of their choice, regardless of race or income, whether it’s through a scholarship program, a tuition tax credit, or some other means. But the net effect of Obama’s education policies has been to narrow horizons, not broaden them.”

Ben Boychuk
Managing Editor, School Reform News
The Heartland Institute
[email protected]

“President Obama today delivered self-congratulations for not one but two Races to the Top. One goes by that name. It is the multibillion-dollar stash that the administration set aside in the stimulus bill for the U.S. Secretary of Education to bestow upon those states that his massive federal agency deems to be reforming schools to government specification.

“The second Race to the Top is the unseemly scramble by the majority of states to act in ways most likely to win them a chunk of the lucre—one action of particularly great consequence being a commitment to ditch their own academic standards and assessments in exchange for the so-called Common Core national standards and an assessment regime to come later.
“Neither of these races truly starts at the grassroots and climbs to the top. Both begin and end at the top, with the federal government and assorted vested interests engineering the school of the future from the top down. Some states signed on to the national standards before the selected academicians had even drafted them. Some acted without having so much as a single public hearing.
“Advocates of limited government are not alone in noticing the woeful lack of public participation. On Monday, seven leading civil rights groups—among them, the NAACP and the National Urban League—sharply criticized the administration for failing to engage parents and communities in the school reform process. Far from wanting parental choice stripped out of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act during reauthorization, as the administration proposes, these leaders want the choice provision strengthened.

“School reform that starts at the top without parental and community leadership can end in only one place—the ravine far below, in ruins. The president ought to heed warnings from across the political spectrum and recognize that parental choice is the civil-rights imperative of the 21st century.”

Robert Holland
Senior Fellow for Education Policy
The Heartland Institute
(312) 377-4000
[email protected]

“You can set the bar as high as you like, but if no one loses when they fail to jump over, then the bar is meaningless.”

Robert Enlow
President and CEO
Foundation for Educational Choice
(317) 681-0745
[email protected]

“President Obama touted his accomplishments in education, especially the creation and widespread adoption of national curriculum standards. His taxpayer-funded, $4.35-billion Race to the Top program—which for the most part has spurred states to make only superficial changes to their education systems—deserves the lion’s share of credit for this.
“As far as accomplishments go, this is hardly one to celebrate. There is no research demonstrating that national standards will produce better education, while there’s significant evidence indicating they’ll make it worse. Even more troubling, President Obama helped to kill an effort—Washington, DC’s school choice program—that produced very positive results.

“At least, though, the president will acknowledge what far too many national-standards supporters have persistently denied: that the feds, not states, are driving national standardization. Admitting this will be a refreshing bit of forthrightness in the otherwise deception-soaked, national-standards crusade. Unfortunately, it will also be far too little, far too late.”
Neal McCluskey
Associate Director, Center for Educational Freedom
Author, Behind the Curtain: Assessing the Case for National Curriculum Standards
Cato Institute
(202) 789-5200
[email protected]