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What impact will Obama's remarks have on D.C. schools?

On NBC's "Today" show Monday, President Obama said that his daughters could not get the same level of education from D.C. public schools that they receive at the elite private school they attend and that D.C. public schools are "struggling." What impact do you think his remarks will have?

By Andrea Caumont  |  September 27, 2010; 10:51 AM ET  | Category:  Local Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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By and large, public schools in DC and many inner cities in America are "extended day care centers" where parents send their children while they are at work. The parents also get legitimate "family emergency time off" when the schools need to send the kids home early or have days off because teachers have to go to some kind of "course" or "meeting". I wish that the money spent is used for real education that is comparable to primary education in even the poorest of so-called "third world" countries.

Posted by: Smileyhari | September 27, 2010 11:12 AM

Where is the President's call to action to DC parents to get involved with their children's education, including volunteering at school, parent-teacher conferences, communication with teachers re missed work and poor test scores?

Posted by: samwoods77 | September 27, 2010 11:16 AM

It is amazing that President Obama has pains over the DC Public School system for his own kids, yet doesn't allow parents who want to put their kids into DC Charter Schools to do so. Pandering to the teacher's unions and the NEA is disgusting. We should want ALL children to succeed whether it is private, parochial or public.

Posted by: robostop10 | September 27, 2010 11:20 AM

Robostop, what are you talking about? the president is pro charter schools. "Doesn't allow parents who want to put their kids into DC Charter schools" is ridiculous. He couldn't stop DC parents from enrolling their kids in charter schools even if he wanted to-- and he doesn't want to! He is PRO charter schools!

Posted by: sacramentogirl | September 27, 2010 11:27 AM

You usually offer at least one option I can agree with. You didn't do so today.

Here's what I would have said:

"Won't affect DC public schools one way or the other, but were an accurate, honest answer."

What was the alternative? Pretend that all DC public schools match Sidwell Friends? Nobody would believe that because it just isn't true.

As for commenters who expect President Obama to form a plan for DC public schools, he isn't the mayor and that would be a disgusting affront to the entire concept of home rule. DC public schools are for DC to run, not the federal government.

Posted by: fairfaxvoter1 | September 27, 2010 11:29 AM

My take - Obama's right. Does it make him a hypocrite? Perhaps, but so what? It's not gonna change anything. In the end, he's a parent doing what he thinks is best for his kids. With Michelle Rhee possibly on the way out, who in their right mind could think that the DC public schools can or will offer an education even remotely on par with a private school program? There's political idealism, and then there's kitchen table realism. Obama has made his choice.

Posted by: mbcnewspaper | September 27, 2010 11:31 AM

Anyone who says he thinks his kids would get as good an education, and in as safe an environment, in the DCPS as at Sidwell Friends is either dishonest or crazy.

That is why people who have the choice generally choose private schools or leave the District.

The cornerstone of Michele Rhee's effort to turn around the schools was to keep more of those students whose parents have a choice, to turn DCPS into something other than a last resort. Because that meant appealing to white people -- though not exclusively so, by any means -- it became a racial issue, and her attitude (and Fenty's) didn't help.

Every single person in Obama's position would do exactly the same thing. Just as Clinton did, as Gore did, and many others.

Posted by: Meridian1 | September 27, 2010 11:35 AM

You Fenty, too!

Posted by: why231 | September 27, 2010 11:52 AM

The focus on ideas for improving schools like firing teachers or lengthening the school year are symptoms of a failed education policy. Unfortunately, that failed policy is largely driven by the common desire for schools to do more than they are capable of doing. That desire has not changed much in the fifty years since I was a high school student. The best chance for making a real difference in the quality of education is doing a much better job of exploiting the major changes that have happened during that time. It is certainly possible to engineer software to make the highest quality instruction in basic academic skills available to every student. Until the effort is made, there is no way to know how much difference it will make. But, it is certainly possible to develop an automated curriculum that is more effective at teaching basic skills than even the best individual human teachers.

Posted by: dnjake | September 27, 2010 11:56 AM

Do any of you people have a kid in DCPS? Do you bother to check the schools' records? Because schools like Wilson and Banneker and School Without Walls have for years ranked among the best high schools in the DC area -- which means they rank among the best in the nation -- with or without Michelle Rhee.

No doubt DCPS is struggling, and will struggle more now that we're about to lose yet another chancellor and launch yet another chapter of "school reform." But it is just offensive to suggest that none of the tens of thousands of kids in DCPS are getting a decent education and that their parents either a.) don't have a choice or b.) don't care or c.) both.

Posted by: dcmom2 | September 27, 2010 11:58 AM

Of course you know this poll is bogus because it does not offer this choice, "President Obama's statement is correct. Private schools offer a better education than most public school. Parents pay for smaller class sizes, individualized attention and private schools have selective admissions policies."

Posted by: gtaylor301 | September 27, 2010 12:08 PM

We live in one of the more affluent suburbs. My daughters went to the local public schools and did well. My granddaughter, however, has been enrolled in Catholic schools since kindergarten & now attends an all-girls Catholic high school. I'm so glad she's going there that my husband & I pay half the tuition to make it easier for her parents.

I don't think the local schools are what they were when her mother & aunts went there; also, they are not allowed to celebrate (or even mention) Christmas & Easter. She is also getting a good moral upbringing at school, reinforcing what she has learned at home from her parents.

I might mention that only President Carter sent his daughter to public school; all the other recent presidents chose private schools.

I'm sorry for the people who have no choice. My family & I have a choice, and we opt for Catholic schools.

Posted by: imzadi | September 27, 2010 12:09 PM

And for all those DC residents who do not have $32K/child to spend on Sidwell Friends' tuition?

Posted by: Tamberg | September 27, 2010 12:10 PM

Another choice should be - No difference.

Posted by: rlj611 | September 27, 2010 12:14 PM

He told the truth.

Posted by: Theone9 | September 27, 2010 12:20 PM

The Teachers Unions have ruined our educational system. They only care about keeping the same bad teachers in their positions if they are entitled to it. In most corporations if you don't do your job well, you are ousted...but not these teachers who only care about the years left to retire and collect their pension.

Posted by: RosaPearl | September 27, 2010 12:23 PM

The only way to improve public schools will be to end the private alternative - that is, all children are required to go to public school - and to end district boundaries so that children can go to school anywhere in their metropolitan area.

The main effect of this is that the rich and upper middle class will no longer be able to use private schools or residence in affluent districts to ensure a good education for their children while the system overall rots. Once the rich and upper middle class have a vested interest in improving the educational system, we will quickly see a HUGE turnaround in the investment in public schools, in tolerating poor schools and teachers, and, when their children come in contact with the children of the poor, tolerance for the immense disparities of American society. Only then, do I see positive change and truly the creation of a society of EQUAL opportunity.

Posted by: AnonymousBE1 | September 27, 2010 12:32 PM

If a student in DC public schools is tracked in the AP curriculum they will get some of the best education in the area, bar none. However, if they aren't fortunate enough to make that cut, it will be a struggle. That is as true today as 4 years ago. Here is an idea for Michelle Rhee, if she'll stop pretending to be the only one that knows what is "good for the children", the day after school closes for the summer hold a teacher lottery for thier next years school assignment. ALL teachers into either the elementary school, middle school or high school drum every year. Principles every three years.

Posted by: jmfromdc | September 27, 2010 12:51 PM

Rich people make the decisions that effect the quality of public schools.

Since rich people (like the Obamas) have no need to send their children to public schools, they have no direct interest in making things better.

Why should Obama care? He already has a choice of good schools for his kids. We need choices for those of us who aren't rich.

Posted by: ZZim | September 27, 2010 12:53 PM

Insanity reigns supreme when it comes to finding solutions to improve our 'public' schools. There are top notch public schools and there are failing public schools. Most all of the answers I've seen, and make no sense to me, deal with more quantity. More clssroom time; more school days, more teacher pay, more technology. There is one 'more' that does really help - more parent involvement and more parent support for better classroom discipline and backing of teachers when controversial issues ensue. I've seen brillant successes in public schools, private schools, 'charter' schools and 'home' schools. Most of it comes from the love and caring and yes, restrictions placed on kids at home. Most kids who are well nurtured will thrive academically. Some will not. That is just the way things work out, but I am sick of hearing the same old failed responses to the problem with public schools. Ain't so!!

Posted by: shangps | September 27, 2010 1:01 PM

Look, we already knew that he felt this way that is why the kids are attending private school.
So, why did he feel a need to rub it in??

And by the way, if he wants the girls outside of public discussion, then why did he discuss them in the context of a public issue?! He could easily have answered the question by saying that he and his wife do not talk about the children in relation to an policy matter. But, this guy doesn't seem to know how to keep quiet!

Posted by: familynet | September 27, 2010 1:04 PM

His kids would go to Wilson High School which is the best in the city. Go look on their website, in 2008 they sent students to Yale, Michigan, UNC, dartmouth, Princeton, Penn, Tufts and countless other great schools around the country.

Sidwell is a great school and if given the choice I would send my children there too. However, it is preposterous to say that a quality education is not available to his children in the DC public school system.

Posted by: cowpasture2 | September 27, 2010 1:26 PM

"Because he is the president, Obama said, if he wanted to get his daughters into one of those public schools, "we could probably maneuver to do it." But Obama said the "broader problem" is that parents without "a bunch of connections" don't have such options."---- I wonder what connections it took to get into Sidwell,not to mention the $31,000 yearly tuition. (Isn't that considered pocket change here in the District) I'm sure a lot of parents in DC would love Sidwell to be a viable option for their sons and daughters but for some reason it's not. A phrase I've heard a lot in my life is "teach by example", great teaching moment Mr President.

Posted by: jmfromdc | September 27, 2010 1:49 PM

Obama's remark would be appropriate for a Republican president since sending your children to private schools is completely compatible with Republican philosophy.

But from a Democrat, especially a liberal Democrat like Obama, it smells of hypocrisy.

On the one hand liberal Democrats are constantly dissing charter schools and other alternatives to standard public schools.

And yet when push comes to shove they send their own children to private schools. That is wrong and dishonest.

Posted by: rjpal | September 27, 2010 1:52 PM

Nick Charles from The Root summarized my main concern as an educator and someone deeply concerned about the future of our educational system, beyond the rhetoric, statistics and emotional marketing of a one-sided documentary recently released. He wrote, "But the truly stunning and abiding reality is that these are the kids with engaged parents, grandparents and/or guardians. What about the millions of kids who don't have family support and, by extension, a ticket? Those for whom the fault-line issues of poverty, class divisions and race are DNA markers from which they cannot escape?" This is the segment of the children who we really need to direct and focus our energies on simply because the children who do NOT have involved parents or guardians purely by life chance DO NOT have advocates for their welfare. I do not have the statistics to support the data on percentage of population of such children but I can think of the many census data provided; children born to single mothers of lower socioeconomic status, children born in urban and crime ridden neighborhoods with either one or both parents who have been incarcerated and marked for life, children born to illegal immigrants who already have a deck stacked against them because their parents are in hiding for perpetuity and fearing for deportation, these same children having to have the status of transient students because they have to constantly move to avoid deportation or for jobs, ALL these children who have no control over their destinies. Who will ensure that they will at least have the chance at the "golden ticket" when no one will provide them even that first step? In all fairness, I have yet to see the film, "Waiting for Superman", but from what I have read and heard, it highlights an option for children to have an opportunity at an alternative high quality education such as private schools but they can not afford that option so this plan B is the best alternative for them. All those who wait anxiously for their number to be called in a lottery system are there because SOMEONE took the time and went through the lengthy process to give that chance to a child.

I wonder and am most concerned about that child or children who do NOT have anyone who cares or wants that opportunity for them? What educational alternative is for them and what kind of a future is there for this segment? This is the core argument that I have against the rising number of effective charter schools, because they seem to cater to the segment of population who just can not afford a private education for their children but those who will try their best to provide an alternative. I believe until we can TRANSFORM dramatically the public school system into a privatized school system FOR ALL, there will continue to be a gap between the social classes. What would privatizing mean?
1. schools have to make a profit or they close, just like any business, so they have to compete with other schools to attract students

Posted by: american17 | September 27, 2010 1:56 PM

Mr and Mrs Obama have an obligation to their daughters to secure for them the best and safest education possible. Anyone who thinks that any DC Public School can match Sidwell is delusional, especially in the area of safety. Sidwell has a relationship with the Secret Service that dates back to Richard Nixon's daughter.

Jimmy Carter's decision to send his daughter to Stephens' School was admirable, but didn't work out and Amy was in a private school within a year.

President and Mrs Obama may have decided together that he should seek public office, but the children had no vote in it. The children of ALL political figures should be granted privacy and be kept out of the political thicket.

Posted by: observer9 | September 27, 2010 2:12 PM

American17 - your suggestion that we privatize education assumes markets never fail. Please point me to a market where poor people receive the same level of services and products as wealthy people. There is not one. Public systems arise because private markets fail.

My point is that fully privatizing schools would lead to incredibly unequal schools (making the current disparities in public schools look egalitarian by contrast) because quality will track resources. That being said, I think charter schools and voucher programs targeted to low-income children that do not undercut existing public schools or facilitate proselytizing make sense.

Posted by: mwalsh3a | September 27, 2010 2:24 PM

I think it was more than a little tone-deaf of the President not to focus the discussion of his daughters' school more on the security necessities, rather than quality of education. In today's political world, the security of the First Family is of paramount importance, so long as there are people around that mean them harm. This necessary security would be vastly more disruptive in a DC public school than in an academy already configured to provide at least some protection for the children of influential and/or wealthy persons, both in and out of politics.

Private schools, even parochial schools, are already known to be superior to public schools in education quality; this has always been so. We will always have those who think this is wrong... right up until somebody asks them to pay for the equality they seek.

Posted by: OldUncleTom | September 27, 2010 2:24 PM

Hello to ALL, Just wanted to say that i went all the way through the DC public school system and graduated from a state university. In my option the public schools can't deliver the diverse education as the privet school can. The agenda of the public school system is to teach students to pass achievement tests, NOT to think or even address controversial issues in a thoughtful manner in an effort not to offended anyone believes. It is sad that this country truly avoids the need to change the public schools agenda and start teaching the process of how to think. Summer vacation was established so the school age children could work in the agriculture fields ..... this does not happen any more and if the school age did work in the fields they would get a more rounded education about life & the responsibility of becoming part of the work force which is the purpose for receiving an education.

Posted by: masterkokopelli | September 27, 2010 3:15 PM


You drive a tiny green car, I'll take a limo or private jet.

You live in a little green house, I'll live in a mansion.

You send you kids to public school, I'll send mineo to private.

Posted by: drjcarlucci | September 27, 2010 3:17 PM

Obama told the truth. I appreciate it. If I could afford Sidwell my girls would have gone as well.... and not just for the education, but for the diversity of cultural and economic exposure for two girls living in Anacostia.

As a 'conscious' parent, you'll choose the expensive mortgage and great public education in places like Great Falls and McLean, or you'll stumble into a $312/month urban mortgage (pre-housing boom) and opt for the private school tuition. I

Love Anacostia! said for a long time that I will not educate my babies here.... until Thurgood Marshall PCHS came along. BECAUSE I hadn't a clue of the world coming out of Anacostia HS. To this day I felt cheated of a quality education. I also know that I cheated myself seeking to be that social butterfly.

I'm an urbanite, conservative, independent, and I would have loved a great public education so that money could've been invested someplace else. So to that person who thinks Republicans believe in private is a little off. Republicans who come visit DC for a political stint do private. They go to their home towns and fight for their neighborhood tax dollars to produce good public schools.... and use them.

'Visiting' federal Democratics do the same thing. Therefore, I submit to you that It's not democrat nor republican, black nor white. It's class.

And If Rhee & Fenty strives to make DC schools a tad better on the ranking scale, it was not the parents job to obstruct so soon by crying fowl 'they doing this for the white people, boo-hoo'. It was their job to get on board and get some of what they perceived the whites were getting....ensuring it is the best for their kids too.

Stupid azzes. All it is to the three best high schools in DC is PARENT PARTICIPATION.

Do the numbers people. Count how many parents attend the PTAs at high ranking schools. Then attend a PTA meeting at Anacostia HS--- even when they are serving a spaghetti dinner you can't get more than ten parents.

All of our schools can improve if Rhee had more support. She is not Superman. Our kids believe we as parents are. Even the drunk father on the corner is admired by his daughter. Just act like you want to know how her school day went. Watch the scores soar.

Posted by: dbrighthaupt | September 27, 2010 5:01 PM

RE: drjcarlucci

With an attitude like that, it won't matter where they go to school, because there isn't going to be anything left for anyone's kids.

Posted by: a202guy | September 27, 2010 5:10 PM

I'm not answering the poll because all of the available responses are biased to one extreme or another.

The President merely stated the truth as he sees it, for his daughters. He wasn't scoring political points; he just honestly answered the question.

I don't have a problem with that. In fact, I like it. Plain speaking, no spin.

Posted by: Kate15 | September 27, 2010 7:43 PM

business as usual with the elite liberal Democrats. they will not voted to helped others except themselves.
How Members of the 111th Congress Practice Private School Choice

Posted by: Rockvillers | September 27, 2010 8:22 PM

Obama killed the voucher program that was providing some hope for those students and parents who cared about education. Why? Because he needed to pay off the unions, kill voucher movement to help students get out of schools with incompetent teachers and administrators, and being the elitist that he is wants to be able to look down and say he is helping all those poor people in the public schools to feel good but sending is own kids elsewhere.

Posted by: georgiarat | September 27, 2010 10:51 PM

Would someone explain to me why the President found it necessary to discuss this subject at all? This reminds me of his statement, during the 2008 campaign, that many people in red states were bitter and clung to their religion and guns. Vice President Biden has a reputation as a loose cannon, but it's the President who keeps putting his foot in his mouth.

Posted by: AdrianMole | September 27, 2010 10:53 PM

Fairfaxvoter, I agree with you. None of these options was either relevant or palatable.

DC voters have just indicated, if we are to believe the reports in the press, that they believe that the recognition of their parochial claims is more important than the improvement of DC's dismal school system.

As a DC voter, I am dispirited. Education is central to any hope of economic improvement we might have, but the press says that the primary vote was the result of social views stuck somewhere in the 1950s.

Obama is the country's president. I'd hoped he'd show more interest in DC, but the mayoral election proved that DC may really not be worth his attention.

Posted by: thmas | September 28, 2010 12:38 AM

Obama is just joining the general teacher bashing, aiding and abetting the destruction of public schools. Kids in DC have long suffered from a national neglect that has NOTHING to do with any teacher. What other group can he stereotype with such impunity? These years of abuse, from Bush's NCLB, now Obama's free advertising for Sidwell, and Rhee's whacky teacher evaluation criteria, have already had a tragic impact on children in a very difficult area of LA:
In the database, Ruelas is listed as "less effective than average overall." He rated "less effective" in math and "average" in English.

Posted by: pfuidear | September 28, 2010 1:58 AM

Interesting poll results. Almost everyone agrees that Obama's perception is accurate. But by about 3 to 2, people think the truth hurts rather than helps. If that's true, it's an indictment of the public school system, because it means the public schools can't raise their game to compete with private schools. I wouldn't expect a public school to equal or surpass Sidwell Friends, but I would hope the public system could at least learn something from the best schools.

Posted by: pundito | September 28, 2010 2:46 AM

DC schools have been a disaster throughout the 60 years of my life. I doubt the president's words will have any effect one way or the other.

Posted by: nicekid | September 28, 2010 5:13 AM

Don't like the president politics however as a family man he's doing absolutely what he feels best for his daughters future. So once again I read through some of this that because he's African-American he should have put his kids in Public schools. Thinking back, don't believe Clinton's daughter, the Bush twins went to public school. The only president daughter that might have gone is Amy Carter and I'm not even sure about that. While there is discord between Rhee and Gray the facts are that the school system today is a lot better then it was prior to her coming. I get a feeling that Gray wants a yes person. Sorry that doesn't fix what's broke. In effective workers in any job should be retrained or replaced. Just like coaches who feel that their season starts on the first day of practice and ends on the last day of a season should be fired. Working with young people is a full time year round job and that committment is what Rhee is looking for. Maybe 5 or 10 years down the road the school system in DC will be such that a president will send their kids there. But I respect this President decision not too.

Posted by: MichaelSmith2 | September 28, 2010 6:50 AM

Sidwell Friends has three characteristics which make it very difficult for any public school to be as nice a place. First, it costs more than $32,000 for one year in the upper school. That's just the tuition. It doesn't include expenditures beyond that supported by donations from wealthy parents and alumni. The per pupil expenditure in a D.C. public school which faces far more challenges, is more than $26,000, but that includes some very high costs for meeting the needs of large numbers of Special Education students, something which Sidwell Friends does not have to do.
Secondly, Sidwell Friends has selective admissions. It accepts only students with a demonstrated ability to succeed in school. That makes its job a whole lot easier. In addition, the student body there tends to be from families with illustrious, or at least successful parents, providing a potential network of friends and supporters for later professional and political life. Chelsea Clinton attended there. So did Al Gore’s daughters.
Thirdly, although this probably happens only rarely, a student who turns out to be disinclined to study and achieve can be told to leave. Public schools cannot do that.
President Obama often speaks about how parents have to be watchful and insist that their children finish their homework. He has said that he will “hold students accountable.” But, in the end, the only accountability measure he is willing to use for a teacher with a classroom full of students who refuse to do homework and whose parents refuse to insist upon it is to fire the teacher.

Posted by: jrsposter | September 28, 2010 7:20 AM

Obviously Mr. Obama, being an out-of-towner, is unfamiliar with Banneker Academic SHS, which consistently ranks as one of the top high schools in the US. HE may also want to familiarize himself with School Without Walls and Duke Ellington School of the Arts, two other outstanding DC public schools. I went to Banneker, and Sidwell, though nice and well-funded, couldn't hold a candle to our school, performance-wise or otherwise. But you know how it is for people with means...

Posted by: gtroym2 | September 28, 2010 8:12 AM

put his kids in d.c. spelling bee and see how they come out then l wast my life to go to from what he saiding i like him but i don,t like what he saiding i am sure you could have said it better then that.

Posted by: johnsonhermanj | September 28, 2010 9:23 AM

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