For the past few days, conservatives have been freaking out over President Obama’s upcoming speech to schoolchildren on the first day of school. Though Obama’s speech will be about “persisting and succeeding in school,” the right wing is claiming it is about “school indoctrination” just like “what Chairman Mao did.”
On Fox News this morning, NPR’s Juan Williams defended Obama’s effort as “innocuous,” saying that “on the face of it, it seems to be almost patriotic…you should hear the president speak about the value of education, staying in school, hard work.” But Family Research Council President Tony Perkins wasn’t convinced that the speech would be benign. To buttress his argument, Perkins asserted that “the president really hasn’t pushed any educational reform issues yet in his administration”:
PERKINS: It is unprecedented in the fact that there’s a worksheet attached with this, that there’s homework involved here. And Juan has to admit that the question of write a letter to yourself on how you can help the president does raise some questions as to whether or not he could have gotten into the policy issues. The president really hasn’t pushed any educational reform issues yet in his administration. He’s been busy with other controversial things. But you know, going to elementary kids to talk about drop out. What about high school kids? That is a little — it raises some questions.
Perkins is speaking without regard for the facts when he says that Obama hasn’t “pushed any educational reform issues yet.” In fact, Obama has put a strong emphasis on education reform. For instance, the stimulus bill contained an unprecedented investment in education, which was aimed at incentivizing reform:
To help struggling schools, the federal government will use stimulus funding to encourage states to expand school days, reward good teachers, fire bad ones and measure how students perform compared with peers in India and China, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said yesterday.
As Matthew Yglesias has noted, that administration’s “Race to the Top” reform competition encourages states to drop restrictions on performance data. In March, President Obama delivered a speech on his goal of overhauling the education system “from the cradle up through a career.” In the speech, Obama laid out a five-tier reform plan, which included “Early Learning Challenge” grants, “tougher, clearer standards,” and funding for No Child Left Behind to be more effectively tied to results.
Perkins also claimed that Obama has avoided education because “he’s been busy with other controversial things.” But the truth is that Obama has been criticized by people saying that he was distracting himself from the economy by pushing education reform. In his March speech, he said that “there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time,” but “we don’t have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term.”