Friday, September 12, 2008

Obama Should Focus On Education Reform

Harold Ford Jr., head of the Democratic Leadership Council, with some good stuff on how Democrats need to change on the issue of education reform:
he said of Mr. Obama on education, "I think he is open-minded. Let me put it this way, he hasn't come out in opposition [to school choice]. He is a pragmatist. . . . He's not looking to antagonize anyone. But he's not afraid to stir things up."

Education is one of Mr. Ford's top priorities. That's because be sees fixing the public-school system as something that is essential for a dynamic, competitive economy -- and as the means for creating opportunities for millions of kids...

"Whatever works, in various communities, is what I support," Mr. Ford told me. "On the education front, if we are unwilling to take head on the issues that are facing our schools, meaning teacher quality, meaning classroom size, meaning accountability, then we kid ourselves if we think we're going to solve these problems.

"We adopt a one-size-fits-all [model] in education, and it doesn't work. . . . I love charters, the charter school idea. Why? Because in some areas it actually works and it works well."

In Congress, Mr. Ford supported creating a school-voucher program in Washington, D.C., that is now being used by hundreds of students to get a better education. It enjoys the support of the city's Democratic Mayor Adrian Fenty. But Democrats in Congress threatened to kill the program this year by starving it of federal funds. So I asked Mr. Ford if the program will be crushed by Democrats in the near future.

"It probably won't be," he said. "Don't get me wrong, they've had to fight to keep it alive. They had to go up against their own member of Congress, their own delegate, who is opposed to it. The mayor wants it, and I view the mayor of D.C. almost like a governor because it is essentially a state."

Mr. Ford stresses that education is among "the types of things Democrats are going to have to focus on . . . Not because we want to win elections, but because the country needs it.

"Without a serious, broad-based competitiveness plan for the country that organizes around energy and education, the country will continue to falter. The next 10 to 15 years, we'll be fine. But if you look past that 15 year horizon, we cannot expect to be the No. 1 center for innovation, for technology, for job creation, the No. 1 economic center, indefinitely."

What Mr. Ford sees in Mr. Obama is the potential to break the logjam on education and other issues that has prevented fundamental reforms from passing in Washington. "I think the country could invest in him and may be willing to align itself with his vision, if he has a broad enough vision to change the country 10, 20, 30 years down the road.


Harold Ford Jr.
Obama Should Focus On Education Reform

August 30, 2008; Page A9

New York

Barack Obama made history this week by becoming the first black man to claim the presidential nomination of a major American political party. He almost certainly won't be the last. Another rising -- and arguably more substantive -- star is former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford Jr.


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