Using Education To Move To The Center

I ran into some criticism last year when I failed to disclose on a post about the presidential race that while DFER has not backed a specific candidate therein, my wife and I had both been early supporters of The Obamanator (even before The Oprah hit the trail, I swear, though I confess I do everything she instructs me to do) so I again feel a need to disclose that with this post. (The disclosure itself seems to repeatedly annoy one of the Blogging Klonsky brothers, I can't remember which one, but I'm not worried because I am pretty sure I can kick both their asses.)

But anyway, lots of people are noting that The Obamanator is starting to (perhaps prematurely) tack to the political center with an eye toward the general election in November and he's using education to help him do this. I happen to think this is the right way to go, for obvious reasons.

It was interesting to see The Obamanator's comments on NCLB in the Baltimore Sun endorsement over the weekend, which sounded a lot more middle-of-the-road than much of the high-pitched "we're testing kids until they bleed" rhetoric to-date from all of the candidates (including the former Barack Obama) on the campaign trail:

Asked how the troubled No Child Left Behind education program might be salvaged, Mr. Obama said achievement testing should not be abandoned but rather complemented with other measures of progress and more aid for schools.

Now he's telling Politico that charter schools are one of the clear examples of where he has deviated from the box that the Democratic Party (with no shortage of help from the big teachers unions) makes candidates play within:

JH: Senator, we’ve got a question that goes right to that. The likely Republican nominee, Sen. McCain, has regularly stood up against his own party and has some real scars that he’s wearing because of it, when he thought it was in the national interest to do so. Name some issues where you’ve been willing to stand up against your party, and also take those scars?

BO: Well, look, we’ve talked about education. We actually had a roundtable here about what we need to do with the schools. I’ve consistently said, we need to support charter schools. I think it is important to experiment, by looking at how we can reward excellence in the classroom.

JH: Have teacher’s unions been an impediment to that kind of reform?

BO: What I will say is that they haven’t been thrilled with me talking about these kinds of issues. And my sister is a teacher, so I am a strong support of teachers, but I’m not going to be bound by just a certain way of talking about these things, in order for us to move forward on behalf of our kids. And I think a lot of teachers want to talk about how to continually improve performance. The broader point is that we’ve got to get beyond a lot of the traditional categories. In terms of reaching out across the aisles, one of the things you’ve seen, since I’ve been in the Senate, is that my work with people like Tom Coburn on opening up transparency in government, making sure that every dollar the federal government spends that’s out there – that that’s all posted on a searchable database on the Internet. That’s not a conservative issue or liberal issue. If you’re a progressive, you’ve got to be worried about how the federal government is spending its revenue, because we don’t have enough money to spend on things like early childhood education that are so important.

LH: Is there any one issue where the Democratic Party is out of step with the mainstream of America? Is there a position that you want your party to change?

BO: I think that the Democratic Party is a big tent, which means that there are positions I may not agree with. I mentioned one, charter schools, and experimenting with our school system, to make it work. I think that’s something we really have to pay attention to.

Kind of interesting. I think it is worth noting that Hillary Clinton has also been a longtime supporter of charter schools - even doing so in the face of an extremely unenthusiastic NEA  Representative Assembly. Also, to be fair, this charter school love hasn't exactly been something that The Obamantor has been hiding.

At a Manhattan fundraiser I attended last April, a local charter school operator asked Obama why it was so hard to be a charter school person in the Democratic Party. His answer was thoughtful and measured, but he - not the person who asked the question - identified the teachers unions as the obstacle on the political side. He noted that the American public was hungry for change and that the unions' leadership was going to have to decide whether they want to be in on it, or be completely left behind.