Tuesday, September 9, 2008

GUEST BLOG: Obama Addresses Education in America

My wife and I attended Obama’s address this morning at Stebbins High School in Riverside, OH, just outside of Dayton. It had been a thunderously rainy night but the skies cleared just in time for the early arrivals and only a few stray drops misted the crowd while we waited to go through security.

Waiting in line we met another couple and began to discuss the current state of affairs. Joe is a retired research physicist who noted that his family had had to move when Dayton initiated its first urban renewal project and that he had benefitted from public education and from the much lower cost of higher education when he was young and when one could much more easily get government assistance. Jan is a retired high school teacher who, after volunteering for an Obama event was asked (and agreed) to be a team leader.

The event was held in the high school gym, with bleachers and seats on the first floor and additional seating above. The first to greet us was a young man whose name I could not hear but who is a Field Organizer for the campaign. He noted that he was from a Chilean family of seven; he and his siblings all attended public schools and public colleges and were very grateful that this country provides such opportunities to those willing to work hard. He was followed by a parent of a high school student who spoke about the importance of being involved in one’s children's education, to read to them when they are young, to see to it that they do their homework as they get older, and to support their other endeavors. He finished by saying that he had been a registered Republican until the primary and that it was his son who convinced him to look closely at Obama’s policies and who was responsible for his conversion. He noted, with pride I believe, that parental involvement is a two way street - parents and kids all benefit from it.

Senator Obama was greeted with loud applause and shouts of “Yes we can!” He opened by saying that his daughters had just started school this past week and recounted that when he’d asked a 5th grade teacher what to expect this year for Malia, she replied “Boys.” He countered that he was relieved that his running for president meant that the girls each had Secret Service protection.

He then spoke for about 30 minutes, touching on the problems with the state of education in America. He highlighted the reason that change is needed: the country’s long term security is at risk if we don’t take full advantage of the potential of every individual. He said that criticizing the “No Child Left Behind” law is not an education policy, that he agreed with its goals but not its implementation and not the failure to finance it fully. He said that children and teachers all lose when so much time has to be spent teaching to the test that creativity and imagination can not be sparked to their fullest, including having to drop music and art from the curriculum to accommodate mind numbing (my words) drills. The Senator addressed the risks we face if we continue to fail to teach all students the science and math skills they need to succeed, either at higher education or at high skill jobs. He said that it is in America’s heritage to lead the world in scientific innovation but that we will lose that lead if China and India turn out more math and science Ph.D.’s than we do.

Obama then laid out his plans, including bringing 30,000 highly skilled new teachers a year into America’s classrooms where they are most needed, whether in inner cities or in underserved rural areas, by giving grants or other aid in exchange for a promise of service in these schools. He made it very clear that responsibility for the success of any educational program is shared among students, teachers, parents, and government. He wants to introduce technology into schools so that parents can see, on a daily basis, if their child was in school, if he or she turned in that day’s homework and how their child did on quizzes or tests. He said that accountability should extend to teachers and that their performance should be measured in ways that are worked out within each district between the teachers and the school board so that they are relevant and meaningful. He emphasized, in an audience he knew to have a large complement of educators, that teachers who underperformed should be given help to improve, and that if they didn’t improve they should be removed from the classroom. And these words were greeted with loud applause.

Senator Obama differentiated himself from Senator McCain in his emphasis on early childhood education, noting that children who have benefited from quality preschool programs do better in school, are much less likely to fall below grade level, and are much more likely to graduate from high school and to attend college. And for any lower or middle class child who does attend college he wants to implement a $4,000 tax credit (fully refundable, meaning - as I understand it - that if the child or family does not pay enough in taxes to get the full credit, they would be reimbursed the rest).

What I took away from this speech is that Barack Obama recognizes the shortcomings in American public education and that he has a clear view of what needs to be done to address the problems. Right at the beginning of his speech he noted that every candidate for president promises to improve education, recalling that in 2000 Bush said he wanted to be known as ‘The Education President’ yet the numbers have gotten worse for high school graduation rates and dropout rates. In my mind he clearly wants all students to have the best education possible and is willing to commit government resources to it.

...And my commitment for Obama involves working with a committee to set up an early October fundraiser here in Dayton focusing on healthcare issues, hosting an Obama Field Organizer until the election, and doing whatever she asks me to do for the campaign. What are you doing?


eww said...

Hi Jon.
Well done. You know I agree with all that you
heard today.

NeuroticDem said...

I agree with eww. LOVED your post. Just when you got to the end of Obama's criticism of education policy, I thought -- well, what is his PLAN. Then, on cue, he laid it out, in, it seems, great detail. (You have a real knack for reporting!) Isn't this really the crux of what Obama's offering? Policy solutions?
I love, too, how he incorporates technology into these different policy areas -- for instance, letting parents know whether their kids are in school. His grants proposal to fund these new teachers also sounds great. Did he say how he would pay for it?
Thanks for putting us right in the heart of this. A very quick scan of CNN tonight revealed 4 pundits on Larry King screaming at each other over whether what Obama said today about "lipstick on a pig" was sexist or not. NOT A WORD on this important education talk that you went to. I literally watched for 30 seconds and turned the channel in disgust.
Any wonder why the electorate is about to vote this country off a cliff?
I hope you'll guest blog again!
MY OBAMA MINUTE: Gave a small donation to Moveon for Obama voter drives ... gave a small donation to Obama (that Times article has me wigged) ... continued my work organizing the local Jewish community for Obama.

Loyal said...

Great stuff DrDad. Keep on keeping on...

Loyal's Obama 60 minutes:
On Lipstick and Pit Bulls


drdad said...

Josh - he did talk about funding and made it clear this could be done without raising taxes but I could not remember the details (since I didn't take notes) and I didn't want to get it wrong.

In response to your reaction to the lipstick on a pig debate, here are my thoughts: Look at the trouble the country has gotten into over the last eight years because Bush and his cronies hired people on the basis of their political and/or religious views, instead of their competence and ability to perform (i.e., Katrina, the Justice Dept. hiring scandal, the Supreme Court picks, Iraq after the invasion – and this was the perhaps the worst because of the horrendous waste of American and Iraqi lives because they hired 22 year olds who opposed homosexuality and choice, etc., etc.). Bush doesn't believe in Affirmative Action when it applies to people of color, just when people pass his ideology test. Now John McCain gets to make his first “presidential” decision and, does he choose someone based on competence, does he hire a person knowledgeable about the economy, or security, or banking regulation. NO NO NO - he hires on the basis of ideology and religion and who will get him the most support in the far right religious world, the world he had rejected a mere eight years ago.
So, was Obama's comment about putting lipstick on a pig (I haven't heard that, I thought it was lipstick on a pitbull) sexist - hell no, it was about trying to make an ideological hire look good by covering up (in lipstick) what he had really done - Affirmative Action for the religious right.
I think it is time to stop having ideological litmus tests in favor of hiring people in who can do their jobs well!

NeuroticDem said...

Dr dad --
You're so right. If she was a man, she wouldn't be here right now. If Clarence Thomas were white, he wouldn't be on the Supreme Court.
It's ideological affirmative action.
What's amazing to me is that, if the polls are to be trusted, most people don't seem to mind that after 8 years of right wing radicalism, we are going down that road again -- only, possibly, WORSE. (who knows WHAT Palin thinks)
and yes -- obama was sort of mocking palin's original comment, basically saying, re the bush years, "you can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig." he was talking about the bush-mccain years, not palin.
every single thing our guy says gets turned against him.
PS: Can't believe you got all that WITHOUT NOTES! amazing! you're ready for prime time!

Barbara W said...

The only comment I remember Obama making about paying for the education initiatives was -- it could be paid for with what we are spending for just a couple of days in Iraq -- that line got a standing ovation!

Molly said...

Things I've done for Obama this week: 1) Donated (the Times article freaked me out, too). 2) Registered a friend to vote. 3) Connected a friend in Philly who wanted to help but didn't know how with a field organizer in the suburbs (my brother) who needs all the help he can get. 4) Two hours of phone banking.

The more I help, the calmer I feel about the election. In part because it's time I'm not spending watching or listening to pundits. Instead, I'm talking to real Michigan voters, most of whom sound nothing like Bill O'Reilly.

Even when I speak to the undecideds, it's a comfort. Yesterday I spoke to two undecided voters who said they were waiting for the debates to make up their minds. They both felt as though all the crap on the news is "fluff", and wanted to see how the two men stacked up against each other before they made up their minds. What this said to me is that Michigan voters are careful, they're thoughtful, and they're not easily deceived by the spinmeisters. It also tells me that they will be Obama voters, because I'm confident that Barack is going to crush McCain in the debate.

Loyal said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Loyal said...

My Obama minute. Linking this, courtesy of a comment in Hullabaloo. Please post this in your main blog Josh, it's worth peopel seeing.


NeuroticDem said...

Loyal --
Terrific link. I think it stands for itself here. Contains in it a lot of the neurotic feelings I've been having. The world view on this is a critical one. I'm not sure, at the same time, how correct he is that the color issue means Obama may be trailing, badly. This is a state-by-state election. My hope is that the places where color hurts him most are places he won't get anyway.
Molly -- AMAZING work for Obama this week! So great. And I felt totally calmed reading your reactions to Michigan voters, esp those who said they are waiting for the debates. I feel less confident that OBama will crush McCain -- his debate performance angainst Clinton was always marginal. I hope, because of that, expectations for his performance are lower -- that matters a lot. Keep up the great work!