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?
In his inaugural address, the president did not talk about bringing health care within the reach of every American—a moral issue, according to some, akin to the civil rights struggle that made it possible for Obama to reach the highest office in the land. In his lone reference to health care, Obama said we would “wield technology’s wonders to raise health care’s quality and lower its cost.” During the campaign, he hailed health IT as the savior for America’s health care dysfunction, touted it as if it were unvarnished goods, and promised that it would not only improve medical quality care but lower the price of health insurance by precisely $2,500.
The peril and the promise of health information technology cry out for careful scrutiny, an examination yet to be done by the press, of whether IT can really lower health care costs at what price to consumers who may have lots to lose from its implementation. It is a big story. In the first of our Excluded Voices series, Yale professor Ted Marmor, an expert on U.S. health care, said “No other industrialized democracy has hit a cost control home run with information technology, and it’s provincial of us to think so,” adding it “might cost a fortune and become a boondoggle.” Indeed, New York Times reporter Robert Pear made that point Sunday, when he wrote “So far, the only jobs created have been for a small army of lobbyists trying to secure money for health information technology.”
Pear went further and described the coming battle between technology proponents hungry for profit and patient and consumer groups worried about a lack of privacy controls. For example, will insurers check a person’s pharmaceutical history and reject those who use too many expensive drugs? Will those using costly drugs be easy prey for companies wanting to sell the expensive stuff because they will now know exactly who their customers are?
For those eager to wade into this thicket, here are some more questions to explore:
• What privacy provisions are needed?
• How will those opposing such provisions wage the war?