In his speech to Congress this week, President Barack Obama said he wants the United States to have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world by 2020 and asked every American to complete a year or more of college or career training. He said federal stimulus dollars will expand education opportunities for preschoolers and college students who need financial help. But he also talked about the need for more reform in education, saying he wants to reward teacher performance and grow the number of charter schools. Here is how some education pundits reacted to his education remarks:
Jonathan Schorr, partner at NewSchools Venture Fund, a San Francisco-based group that seeks to improve public education, gave Obama high marks for pledging to increase the share of college graduates. According to the Los Angeles Times, the percentage of American adults of all ages with a four-year bachelor's degree was estimated at 17.1 percent in a recent Census survey. Schorr told the Times, "Anything that moves us in the direction of more of our students attending college is welcome and recognizes the economic realities we're living in."
Mike Petrilli, vice president of education programs at the conservative Fordham Institute in Washington, blogged that he was disappointed Obama did not address the causes of failure in schools, which in his view include tenure policies that make it difficult for schools to fire bad teachers: "I'm looking for substance, not sound bites. From where I sit, it looks like the education system just walked away with $100 billion in new federal spending, and all us reformers got in return was some poll-tested language [from the president]."
Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University, took Obama to task for promising to expand charter schools. She told Politico's "The Arena": "Doesn't he realize that they are a deregulation strategy much beloved by Republicans? Deregulation works brilliantly for some schools as it does for some firms. But it produces many losers, too. If he thinks that deregulation is the cure for American education, I have some AIG stock I'd like to sell him."
Other education commentators just saw Obama's pledge to improve schools as lip service. "The call for everyone to attend some higher education is a little new, but the theme isn't," blogged Sherman Dorn, a professor of education at the University of South Florida in Tampa: "The most obvious way to read the statements about reform, charter schools, and higher education is that President Obama is now the sixth president since 1960 to devote significant lip service to education."