An article (“Obama is Expected to Put Education Overhaul on Back Burner”) in today’s Wall Street Journal that reads more like an opinion piece than a new story suggests that President-elect Obama will not prioritize education in the face of other policy challenges.
I disagree with the likes of the Brookings Institution‘s Tom Loveless (my grad school professor) whose comments alone basically provide the article’s headline. Loveless says that “he expects Mr. Obama to sidestep most major issues involving public schools and instead focus on small, symbolic initiatives in the mold of former President Bill Clinton’s promotion of school uniforms as a way to instill discipline in classrooms.” Obama has shown a deep personal commitment to issues involving schools and urban communities as a U.S. Senator and in his prior life. Despite the economic and foreign policy challenges he faces, I don’t see Obama walking away from this commitment and interest to focus on marginal educational pronouncements. Deep engagement and substantive proposals may not be offered in his first 100 Days — a concept that should be left to history books — or even in his first year in office, but Obama WILL expend political capital on education reform during his presidency.
The wise Jack Jennings of the Center on Education Policy gets it right on this one. He suggests that Congress will likely take the lead — especially on contentious issues related to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (AKA NCLB) — and that President Obama will wait for them to hash out a consensus before acting. In talking to a key Hill staffer in Washington, DC yesterday, however, it is clear that congressional Democrats are looking for signals from an Obama Administration to inform their work. Some core principles from the President will help to influence congressional action and provide structure to an eventual compromise that must win passage in both houses of Congress and earn the president’s signature.