Get Schooled

Malia and Sasha choose a school, the media wonder what it all means

For the private secondary schools of Washington, D.C., the Obama sweepstakes have officially begun, with archrivals Sidwell Friends and Georgetown Day emerging as the two lead contenders to educate the president-elect’s two daughters. Washington Post education reporter Jay Mathews and US News and World Report education blogger Eddy Ramirez are already parsing the political implications of the Obamas’ choice: Ramirez notes that Georgetown Day participates in the District’s controversial voucher program, while Matthews recommends a well-regarded public elementary school just a few blocks from the White House.
The public vs. private dynamic is given added significance by the D.C. school system’s recent overhaul at the hands of newly-appointed education chancellor Michelle Rhee, who was the subject of this adoring profile in the last Atlantic.

The media’s efforts to associate the Obama school search with the president-elect’s social and educational policies seems to build on some of the commentariat’s early speculations on the candidate’s reform agenda. In March, The New Republic ran a long article on Obama’s commitment to education issues throughout the campaign; the Josh Patashnik-penned piece concluded that the waning power of teachers unions in the Democratic coalition could give Obama an opening on education reform. But just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal’s Robert Tomsho and John Hechinger determined that any “overhaul” of K-12 education was unlikely during the first couple years of Obama’s term. As with many in the recent glut of “what’ll he do during his first few months in office?”-type stories, the Journal account leaves much to the imagination:

Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, a think tank, said he expects Mr. Obama to sidestep most major issues involving public schools and instead focus on small, symbolic initiatives in the mold of former President Bill Clinton’s promotion of school uniforms as a way to instill discipline in classrooms.

Going by the media’s parsing of the Malia and Sasha-stakes, Loveless, Tomsho and Co. will have less imagining to do once the Obamas make their decision. Wonder what they’ll have to say if they go in a really unexpected direction—CJR has heard great things about Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School’s lower school, although the National Cathedral School (located just down the street from the Vice Presidential mansion) would be a solid single-ed option. And although its name is somewhat misleading, the charter school School Without Walls would be a daring choice for the girls’ high school years…

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Armin Rosen is a former CJR intern.