Saturday, July 12, 2008

Obama gives his take on education at rally

(Obama speaks at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton, Ohio, Friday)

Here's the good news: Dayton Daily News political reporter Laura Bischoff got a one-on-one interview with Barack Obama following his speech today at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton.

Now the bad news. She walked in for the meeting and an Obama handler literally held up a stop watch and said, "You have five minutes. Go!"

Five minutes isn't time to cover much ground. This is the second time a DDN reporter has gotten a one-on-one interview with Obama since the campaign began. My colleague Lynn Hulsey got five minutes to ask him questions a few months ago during the primaries.

In both cases, I hopefully slipped a couple education questions to Hulsey and Bischoff. But in both cases, questions about the economy were priority No. 1 and there wasn't time to get much beyond that. I know time is precious to a presidential campaign, but really, five minutes is not being fair.

Thankfully a teacher from Cincinnati bailed me out Friday.

During the queston and answer period after Obama's speech on energy, he called on a woman with an Obama T-shirt who identified herself as a Cincinnati teacher who asked this question:

"What would you do to correct president Bush's 'every child left behind' policy?'"

That brought a roar from the crowd, but also an extended answer about education policy from Obama. Here's what he said:

"It's important to try to be fair. The basic concept of No Child Left Behind was a good one. We should raise our standards so every child succeeds. And I agree with the notion that we should have a qualified teacher in every classroom. We are not competing, the folks here in Dayton, just against kids in Chicago and Miami. You are competing with kids in China and Bangalore.

The problem was in the execution. What the president did was he left the money behind for No Child Left Behind. We are asking schools to do more but not devoting more resources. The second problem is higher standards are measured only by a single high stakes standardized test and that test was administered sort of midway through year. It wasn't measuring progress. That made teachers and administrators worry that they needed to teach to the test because even if they do a good job, it may not show up on the test. That made it more difficult for teachers and less inspiring for students.

Some schools even eliminated art, music and foreign language. You know, I said something other day about foreign language and Republicans jumped on it. Let me be clear. I Absolutely believe immigrants need to learn English. But we also need to learn foreign languages. This is an example of problems we get into when somebody attacks you for telling truth. We should want kids with more knowledge. That is a good thing. I know because I don't speak a foreign language. It's embarrassing.

We need to change how measures of progress works. A standardized test given at the beginning of year would give teachers a tool to know where kids are starting. If they want, they can have another test at the end of year to see how they end up. In the middle, let teachers do what they do best, which is teach. We need to work with teachers to develop other assessment tools to be sure we are making progress.

There are some other things we need to do. We need to invest in early childhood education to close achievement gap. If they start behind they fall further behind as time goes by. We need to pay teachers more and give them more support. We need to expand after school and summer programs so young people have place to do homework and are not on the street getting into trouble. In many cases today, you don't have a choice for one parent to stay home. You have to have two parents working and kids need some place to go with supervision.

We also need to make college affordable. My plan is for a $4,000 tuition credit every year of college in exchange for community or national service by joining the peace corps or teaching in inner city school or joining the service.

Let me say something else. The government can do all kinds of good things. I can fix No Child Left Behind but if parents don't care then it is not going to work. Parents, you need to turn off TV set once in a while and put away the video game and met with your child's teacher and make sure they are doing their homework and have a curfew.

And if you child gets in trouble at school, don't curse out the teacher. We need some home training to go with a more intense effort by government."

(Image credit: Lisa Powell, DDN)

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