High Schools to the President: What Thrill?

A couple of years ago, I was highly critical of President Obama’s first, it turns out annual, televised school-year kickoff address to America’s students. At the time I got a lot of emails telling me how outrageous my stance was, and how anyone, of any political persuasion, should be thrilled to have the President of the United States talk to their kids.

Apparently, the thrill is gone when you actually have to do a little work to get the President. According to internal White House memos, the President’s “Race to the Top High School Commencement Challenge” – in which schools compete for a chance to get the Prez as their graduation speaker – had generated only 68 applications as of February 28, which was after the original application deadline of Feburary 25. (The White House has extended the deadline to March 11.) To put that in perspective, the nation had over 24,000 public secondary schools as of the 2007-08 school year, meaning only about 0.3 percent of public high schools have expressed any serious desire to have the President send their charges off to adulthood. (Well, or college.)

So have our high schools suddenly discovered the Constitution, which gives the President no authority to meddle in education? Probably not, but it certainly does undermine the argument that it is a super-terrific thing anytime the Commander in Chief can take to the podium to tell kids to work hard and stay in school. Apparently, it’s only super-terrific if you don’t have to lift a finger – well, other than to work your TV remote – to get the President to talk to your kids.