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.
This may mollify teachers—particularly the more established ones, whose long tenure has ensured them steadily increasing (though still often woefully low) salaries—but it should raise many questions in the minds of the media. Increased teacher pay, developed with teachers, not imposed on them, valued and rewarded as well, etc. are all well and good—but will the Obama administration value teacher merit enough to fight unions who want salary based on tenure, and tenure alone? Or to fight contracts that demand keeping even the most ineffective teachers in school systems until they retire (a good thing for those teachers, to be sure, but an incredibly bad thing for the kids they teach)? All questions in need of answers—and in need of asking. –Megan Garber
Will he reform drug policy?
Talk about the war on drugs was largely absent from campaign speeches, but it ought not remain so in the press during the next four years. Obama himself said he wanted to “give first-time, non-violent drug offenders a chance to serve their sentence, where appropriate, in the type of drug rehabilitation programs that have proven to work better than a prison term in changing bad behavior.” What’s more, a recent editorial in The New York Times pointed out that white teenagers’ use of cocaine exceeds that of black teenagers by a factor of four to one. But a letter responding to the piece mentioned that the incarceration rates for drug offenses were inversely proportioned, with more blacks serving prison sentences than whites. The Plain Dealer of Cleveland recently exposed this disparity in an investigative series focused on convictions in Ohio’s Cuyahoga county. CJR urges reporters to follow in the Plain Dealer’s footsteps to pursue regional and national stories that assess the efficacy of current drug policies and seek expert input on how they can be reformed. —Katia Bachko
Will he mention the downsides of health IT?