The President has good communications advisers and he’s not one to sugar-coat the truth (which I generally like!), but I think he may have stepped in it with American parents on the issue of education. When it comes to our kids’ schools, parents know that plenty of them could do better. President Obama, in trying to affirm that message, should have softened his language a bit in a recent interview, because his forthrightness could backfire in the Democrats’ latest strategy to foil the GOP this fall.
When asked by Matt Lauer on the Today Show about whether Sasha and Malia would be getting the same education in Washington, D.C. public schools as they do at what some consider the premiere private school in the District, Sidwell Friends, his response was, “No.” Of course, he qualified it with this:
“I’ll be blunt with you: The answer is no, right now,” … D.C. public schools “are struggling,” … but they “have made some important strides over the last several years to move in the direction of reform. There are some terrific individual schools in the D.C. system.”
The reality of trying to send presidential children into the D.C. public school system would be a security nightmare. Only one president in recent times — Jimmy Carter — has done that. But no one likes to have their children’s schools criticized, especially by the leader of the free world, even if they know in their heart of hearts that there’s a huge gap between the education their kids are getting and what the Obama kids are lucky to have.
I know it’s not easy — we had to make some hard decisions when we realized the principal at our neighborhood school was just running out the clock until retirement, took little responsibility for bullying issues, claimed to have no say in the curriculum or how it was taught (“I’m just doing what the BOE tells me to do”), did little to convince good teachers to stay, and couldn’t explain to parents at his open houses what he was doing to help kids who needed extra help with reading. But I also know that it’s hard to walk the line of sending your child to a private school and still be seen in the community as committed to public schools. It can be done, it’s just tricky. The Democrats may be on to a winning issue to keep as many seats in Washington as possible, but a president who sends his children to a private school may not be the best person to have out in front on that one in an election year.
Putting an emphasis on making public school education for our kids as good as the likes of Sidwell Friends or other independent schools around the country, like The Archer School in Los Angeles, is a great goal and it’s a sentiment that could help to keep a few Republicans from elective office this fall. But the president needs to be particularly careful in how he talks about it, especially when his kids go to a school that charges $30,000+ a year for elementary school and most families can’t even fathom that amount for a college education. Parents want their children to be proud of where they go to school and know that if they work hard, they don’t have to have the private school credential to be successful. Many voters are already on Obama’s case for his perceived elitism. As we head into November, the Democrats would be better served if Obama plays down the Sidwell Friends angle and refocuses on improving public schools, including the physical structures, how our children are taught, and the personnel.