Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Schooling Obama

A couple of thoughts on the occasion of Barack Obama's major speech on education. For one, I thought the speech was disappointing. In the world of education policy makers there are two camps:

- First, those who think that improving student outcomes will come about chiefly through reforming schools (getting better teachers, improving curricula and pedagogical techniques, etc.), and
- Second, those who think that student outcomes will come about chiefly through improving factors outside of schools that affect children (their health, their parents, their activity choices before and after school, etc.).

I unashamedly stand in this latter camp, more or less signing onto what has been touted as the "Broader, Bolder Approach to Education". Coming from these sets of concerns and policy ideas, I found Obama's speech excessively wonkish and school focused. There were no bad ideas, of course--it's not like those in the second camp are opposed to reforms internal to the schools. Far from it. But it was disappointing that Obama didn't even really address the concerns of those who believe educational performance can be improved mainly through more holistic and comprehensive approaches.

Fortunately, there's much to suggest that Obama is a bit more of a second-camper than
he may lead on. Nevermind how the right is obsessed with linking Obama to Bill Ayers when the two sat on a board overseeing a school reform experiment. That project, too, was rather school focused, as a quick browse of the project's own report. As the New York Times Magazine reports, Obama has quietly allied himself with a number of advisers who emphasize human capital development, increased intervention into early childhood and parenting, medical care, and expanded after-school options. This, coupled with more substantial (and ultimately more important) policies that will hopefully raise the income of the poorest in society, will make a far greater difference in not leaving children behind than anything else.

I'd be interested to hear if anyone else has opinions on where they stand vis-a-vis these two camps. I'm typically one interested in building syntheses out of oppositions, but I can't seem to dialectically break these bricks. The evidence (and I'd be happy to go further into this) and my intuition just seem incontrovertible.


Blogger Ruby Fuerza AKA Lucille Brawl said...

I proudly stand in the second camp.

7:11 PM  

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