Obama's most telling appointment

Dan Proft Nov. 30, 2008, 5:36am

The most telling appointment Barack Obama has made since becoming President-elect has nothing to do with his Cabinet or senior advisors.

It was the appointment of Sidwell Friends School, a private grammar school in Washington D.C. to which the Obamas have reportedly decided to send their two daughters.

I applaud Obama's commitment to the education of his daughters, choosing to send them to the best schools.

It is just too bad that Obama opposes extending that choice to families whose children are relegated by geography and by income to schools he knows and everyone knows will fail them.

And Obama does indeed know something of this problem. While an Illinois State Senator, Obama represented a district with more than 12,000 students in failing elementary schools (according to NCLB standards, 2004).

During that time, while Obama's daughters matriculated at the prestigious -- and private -- University of Chicago Lab School, thousands of other children Obama was elected to represent were inventoried at Chicago Public School (CPS) warehouses where most are stored for 8-12 years until they are mature enough to either enter the penal system or 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 does now, backslap the teachers 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.

While running for U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama had this to say to a suburban Chicago newspaper about school choice, "I think that 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." (Daily Herald, March 14, 2004).

More money for our urban public school systems? Teacher's union talking points was all the audacity Obama could muster at the time or since. I hasten to add that this talking point, in particular, is countered by decades of reality: Increased public school funding has not improved urban public schools, but school choice programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland and other cities and states has-and those choice programs have actually left more money in the till for those very public schools about which Obama expresses concern, rather than 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 No Child Left Behind and the federally-subsidized scholarship program in the Washington, D.C. schools make the President's 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 one whose private action is 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 afflicts more than the political class.

A 2004 study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that in the 50 most populous U.S. cities, urban public school teachers send their children to private schools at nearly twice the rate of all families and at a 22% higher clip than urban families.

For example, in Obama's adopted hometown, 39% of Chicago public school teachers send their children to private schools compared with only 23% for non-Chicago Public School teacher families citywide. One wonders what teachers on the inside of CPS know that the rest of us do not.

To be clear, this is not an indictment of the decisions of public school teachers or U.S. Presidents who want the best for their children and act in furtherance of those interests.

But it does beg the question, if, for example, CPS was not good enough for the Obama children and CPS is not good enough for the children of 4 in 10 CPS teachers, then for which children exactly is CPS good enough?

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