Change America Can’t Accept for Education

Posted on August 30, 2008. Filed under: B. Hussein Obama's real record as a "reformer", Obama's Grand Plan for Change |

During Obama’s “sermon on the mount,” he attributed his and his wife, Michelle’s, success on the access they had to the highest quality education. The great orator, Obama, made the promise to the nation’s children of top-quality education when he said, “Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance.” This is definitely a cause anyone would get behind. But before, the American children start sharpening their pencils and head off to the bus stop, everyone would benefit from taking a look at the state of the Chicago Public School (CPS) system. Not only is this the last school district that Obama had any influence from his elected office, but this is also the school system whose teachers’ union was a very early supporter of Obama’s presidential campaign.

CPS is a dream for the teachers, administrators, and also for the children that do not especially like school. David Freddoso gives the best explanation in his book, The Case Against Barack Obama, of the current status of Chicago’s school system. Freddoso explains that the current school day in Chicago proper is five hours and forty-five minutes long, which is the shortest school day of any school system in Chicago. When pressed to lengthen the school days, CPS often complains of not having enough funding. This brings ideas of teachers living in government housing, scraping to get by, and students forced to try to learn from extremely outdated text books.  With just a brief look at the Chicago Public School system’s website it is apparent that the funds are not as slim as they would like people to believe. (CPS website http://www.cps.k12.il.us/ataglance.html) CPS spends about $10,555 per student, which Fredosso points out is 20% above the national average. The average teacher’s salary is $66,178 and the average administrator’s salary is $117,364. Keep in mind, also, that these wages are for the school year, which only runs three fourths of the year. If the salaries are adjusted for a complete year, teachers would make $82,722 and administrators would average $146,705. This isn’t exactly the idea of teachers struggling to make ends meet on their three months off in the summer. With all of this money spent on teacher and administrators’ salaries, the school district still maintains that they are not able to extend the school day from its current length of five hours and forty-five minutes. From the demographics of the school, it is also apparent that this is exactly the type of school system Obama was talking about. Blacks comprise the largest ethnicity of 43.8% of CPS’s students. Also, 84.9% come from low-income families.

Many are probably asking what this has to do with Obama directly. Just because something happens in Chicago, doesn’t mean Obama had, or still maintains any control over it. This is correct, however Fredosso points out that Obama had written about the short school days in his book, The Audacity of Hope, when reminisced about his “youth town hall meeting” he held at Thorton Township High School, a Chicago area high school. Obama wrote of the visit, “When I see my five-year-old and my two-year-old, it makes me weep because I see children who are just as smart and just as beautiful as they are, who just don’t get a shot…It’s unacceptable in a country as wealthy as ours that children every bit as special as my own children are not getting a decent shot at life.” During this town hall meeting, students asked Obama why they couldn’t have full school days, instead of the less than six-hour days they currently receive. Whether Obama was aware at the time, the answer probably lies in the fact that Thorton has even higher average pay for teachers than most Chicago schools. The average teacher pay in this school is about $83,000 a year. It really seems that something is very askew in the public schools in the Chicago area. Teachers are obviously receiving salaries that can be considered fair at the least, especially for only working less than six hours a day for only three fourths of a year.

The short school days can be linked to a stubborn teachers’ union that continues to demand more pay without any concessions to help the children they are responsible to educate. Fredosso includes this excerpt from Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope, which takes away any question about who Obama was going to bat for in the Chicago Public Schools. “I owe those unions. When their leaders call, I do my best to call them back right away. I don’t consider this corrupting in any way; I don’t mind feeling obligated…toward teachers in some of the toughest schools in the country, many of whom have to dip into their own pockets at the beginning of every school year to buy crayons and books for their students.” One would think that if the school didn’t have so many six-figure salaries on its payroll for teachers and administrators, that the school would be able to afford crayons and books for the students. From the quote in his book, Obama lets his readers know that if he cares for the poor, disadvantaged school children, it is only up to the point that it conflicts with the obligation he feels for the teachers’ union. From the situation at CPS, the American electorate has plenty of reason to worry when Obama starts fulfilling his acceptance speech promise to, “recruit an army of new teachers and pay them higher salaries.” Can the whole country expect less than six-hour schooldays? Also, how are the taxpayers going to afford to pay for the salaries Obama has supported in the past for teachers? Along with his promise to provide universal health insurance, increasing public teachers’ salaries to near the six-figure level is going to require a huge increase in taxes to pay for all of his promises. In fact, all Americans will have to get a second job just to pay the taxes Obama is looking to implement.

In 2007, Fredosso explains that the Chicago Teachers’ Union resisted any efforts to lengthen the school day. Their new contract provided significant pay increases but left out even a minute more class time for the students. The last lengthening of CPS school days came in 2003, when the teachers’ union agreed to a fifteen minute increase in the school day in exchange for a seven-day reduction in the school year along with, of course, large annual raises. No wonder Obama pities the children in these schools, it is obvious that no one, including him, is fighting to do much more than increase salaries in the schools and decrease the time that students are actually being educated.

In his acceptance speech, Obama continued to address education when he tried to give the impression that he was going to develop a system to hold teachers accountable for the public schools’ failures. Obama continued after saying he’ll recruit more teachers and increase their pay, “And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American.” This is another promise that Americans can hope that Obama will not draw on past experience to fulfill. Teachers’ unions have historically been very opposed to the idea of instituting merit pay for teachers. However, they could probably easily get behind Obama’s “merit pay” system. Obama has stated in the past that his merit pay system would not be based on “arbitrary tests” or student achievement but rather some new, currently unknown measures to be determined by teachers’ unions. That seems like the perfect idea, to place the control of fixing the broken education system in the hands of the people that have benefited most from the system’s failure. Of course, Obama did not forget his ‘obligation to those unions’ when he added that the merit pay system would, of course, be in exchange for six-figure teacher salaries.

Obama attributes his and his wife’s success on the education they had. But from looking at Obama’s education, it becomes clear that he was never included in the broken public school systems. In fact, his grandparents worked very hard to send him to one of the most prestigious preparatory schools in Hawaii. From there, he went to Ivy League schools where he completed his education with a Harvard Law Degree and his wife Michelle received her post-graduate education at Princeton. Obama’s success can probably be attributed to the fact he had no experience in the Chicago Public School system. Now that he has children, Obama also sends his two daughters to expensive private schools, rather than leaving their education to chance at a broken public school system such as the one in Chicago that Obama watched deteriorate while the teachers’ union was placated through the years.

But, apparently, Obama’s compassion for the poor children ends here on this subject because even though he never attended a public school and he doesn’t send his children to the struggling public schools, he is also adamantly opposed to school vouchers that would allow other, less-privileged families to make the same educational decisions for their families that he was fortunate enough to benefit from. But vouchers would interfere with Obama’s “obligation to those unions” because even though Obama speaks a lot about how important his own education was to his success, he never supports any measure that would allow the lower class children to leave their failing public school systems. Obama constantly credits his education with the success he has enjoyed but he never mentions that he never stepped foot in a broken public school. He never attended a school that only taught for five hours and forty-five minutes a day. But Obama refuses to allow disadvantaged families any of the luxuries he experienced. Instead, Obama insists that poor children attend the public schools where he has sided with the teachers’ unions to the detriment of the students. He expects the children to make do with the short school days while they wait and ‘hope’ each year for the ‘change’ that their teachers will finally be paid enough to teach full days. The whole time, Obama will keep referring to the great education he received and credit it for his success. Too bad, he’s content on damning the lower-class children to remain in institutions that are failing them because as he says, “I owe those unions.”

Obama is not bad for sending his own children to the best schools he can find for them. He is only doing what every family in the United States tries to do every school year. It is bad, however, that he admits his debt of obligation to the teachers’ unions and places it above fulfilling his promises to the public school students. From seeing the mess that he has supported in Chicago, American parents need to recognize the threat Obama poses to the teaching of their children. Obama’s past colleague in the Illinois Senate, Republican Steve Rauschenberger, summarized it best upon hearing a Philadelphia speech Obama gave on March 18. Rauschenberger stated, “What sets me off personally was to see him tell us that we’ve failed our urban school kids. Sure we have, but it wasn’t without his help. He was a defender of the status quo in the city of Chicago for eight years. And as a national rock star, he could be turning his guns back at the education system in Chicago. He doesn’t.” No he doesn’t, but now he has his guns pointed at every public school system in the United States so he can implement the failed Chicago School system model across the country.

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    Is this really a new type of politician? Or is the Obama machine just using politics as usual in their campaign?

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