In his State of the Union address, President Obama sounded the familiar themes that are mistakenly posited under the umbrella of education reform, including quality teachers, leveling the playing field by making sure college is affordable and doubling down on resources as other nations overtake the U.S. in the global race to the top of the academic ladder.
His annual prime-time pitch was, disappointingly, more of the same because what the president needed to say but didn't is more important than any of his usual rhetorical flourishes.
Interestingly, Bill Cosby, one of America's original kings of comedy, said precisely what Mr. Obama should have said Tuesday night.
In a teleconference honoring National School Choice Week just before the speech Tuesday night, the outspoken, plain-speaking Mr. Cosby relayed a personal story that connects all the dots.
Saying he had dropped out of school in the fourth grade, the 74-year-old who grew up in rough-and-tumble West Philadelphia said, "I lived in a housing project, I liked to play, and I met this woman [who] made you do your homework over and over. She knew my mother [who] told her 'get him.' " Mr. Cosby said it wasn't that he "didn't like school," it was just that he preferred spending his time doing what children love best, and that's playing and joking around.
But for the key paradigm - the intervention of his mother and a passionate and committed teacher - the other pieces might not have fallen into place. And that, said Mr. Cosby, is how education reform truly takes hold.
In other words, people change people.
"We have to reach the people," he said.
And who are the people? Mr. Cosby asks. The "babies having babies." The people who would rather spend $45,000 a year to imprison a lawbreaker rather than $10,000 to educate a child.
The teacher who doesn't "call me, email me or text me," and the parents who do not expect such communication.
The teacher who doesn't assign homework and the children who become "bored" while teachers are helping others play catch-up.
Indeed, while Mr. Obama and all the hand-clappers on Capitol Hill went along with his old-school education philosophy that essentially spells a-c-c-e-s-s instead of c-h-o-i-c-e, an old-school product of public schools and old-school family values explained why we need to take a right turn.
And it's not that Mr. Obama himself doesn't know better.
In fact, the president tried to sidestep his own mistake in his address when he said, "I call on every state to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18."
Sure, that mandate will make the educrats in Washington very, very happy - all the more opportunities for them to sit on their duffs, stare at a computer screen and judge the other "people."
But even Mr. Obama, who exercises school choice on his daughters' behalf and says he supports charter schools, had to reach for a pooper-scooper later in his remarks by saying, "I'm a Democrat. But I believe what Republican Abraham Lincoln believed: That government should do for people only what they cannot do better by themselves, and no more. That's why my education reform offers more competition and more control for schools and states."
To tell the truth, there's little evidence that Mr. Obama's school-reform agenda has aided or will aide Americans as they push for broader options in the public-education marketplace, since the people upholding the status quo also maintain a tight hold on the bags of money.
Proponents of school choice must push as hard and as fast as they can, that much is certain.
Team Obama hit the ground running Wednesday, taking its one-size-fits-all policies to Northern Virginia before heading to Florida and Michigan, where the rubber should hit bumpy roads.
• Deborah Simmons can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...
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