On December 17, the New York Times reported on A-1 (headline: “Obama Pledge Stirs Hope in Early Education”) that “many advocates are atremble with anticipation over Mr. Obama’s espousal of early childhood education.” As I wrote back then:

It’s potentially a very big deal (“the $10 billion Mr. Obama has pledged for early childhood education would amount to the largest new federal initiative for young children since Head Start began in 1965.”) One can understand the hopeful anticipation that the Times reporter, Sam Dillon, found among those involved in early childhood education. To Scarborough’s point (I think) [On MSNBC, Joe Scarborough took the Times to task for the lack of skepticism in this piece], where’s the buzzkill “to be sure” paragraph in this piece? Where the reporter reminds readers that These Are Promises. Made By a Campaigning Politician (albeit one who truly does seem to hold early childhood education as a high priority). Confronting now a recession and so many larger (adult) hands also held out hopefully ($700 billion for banks. $10 billion for babies…) Hopefully the Times will also front-page what becomes of these promises. Keep in touch with these “advocates atremble with anticipation” and report back.

All of which bears repeating now. This, Obama’s pledge to invest $10 billion in early educational programs for children between zero and five, is one of many hundreds of campaign promises on which there has been “no action” to date, according to PolitiFact. We’ll be watching for Dillon and his peers on the education beat to follow when, whether, and how that changes in the months ahead.

As NPR reported earlier this month: “Obama’s education wish list may have to wait.”(“With the economy on life support and just about every state now slashing education funding, President-elect Obama is likely to focus less on his wish list and more on the political consensus he says he wants to build around education…”) And the $10 billion figure does not appear in the just-published-online official White House “Agenda”.

In other words: children between zero and five (not to mention those early childhood education advocates “atremble”) should probably anticipate less. On this issue, the press should be asking for more. –Liz Cox Barrett

Will he stand up to the teachers’ unions?

During the campaign, Obama suggested that he might, as many have urged him to do, “take on the [teachers’] unions.” His talk of performance pay (as opposed to tenure-based pay), in particular, hinted that the candidate, were he to become president, would risk angering—perhaps even alienating—one of the most powerful factions in Democratic politics. Once elected, Obama’s choice for Education Secretary—the reform-minded Arne Duncan—reiterated this inclination. And yet the vision for education that the new administration lays out now is…vague. While the plans specified—reforming NCLB, recruiting more teachers, and ensuring that they’re prepared for the challenges of the classroom—are commendable, those plans are also incredibly unclear about whether Obama and Biden will focus on teacher accountability, or whether the unions will remain an entrenched force in public education. As we’re seeing, it’s proving to be nearly impossible to have it both ways. And the dicey issue of merit pay gets the new administration’s most awkward dance-around treatment:

Obama and Biden will promote new and innovative ways to increase teacher pay that are developed with teachers, not imposed on them. Districts will be able to design programs that reward with a salary increase accomplished educators who serve as a mentors to new teachers. Districts can reward teachers who work in underserved places like rural areas and inner cities. And if teachers consistently excel in the classroom, that work can be valued and rewarded as well.

CJR Staff is a contributor to CJR.