President Obama will address every public school student in the nation next Tuesday, and is expected to exhort them to stay in school and work hard. This is such an a-political message that even the popular conservative blogger Ace of Spades (who “cuts like a hammer”) found the planned speech largely unobjectionable so long as it doesn’t drift into demagoguery or an effort to boost the president’s faltering cult of personality.
My colleague Neal McCluskey is concerned that it may do just that, noting that the curriculum materials tied to the speech and sent out by education secretary Arne Duncan prompt students to “Write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president,” and ask how the president inspires them. If the president is trying to avoid raising concerns about his speech among supporters of limited government, he’s doing a double-plus ungood job of it.
But what incenses me is not that the president’s face will be filling every public school classroom in the nation in Orwellian fashion. Or the likelihood that the Democratic public school establishment (95+ % of the NEA’s political donations go to Democrats) will no doubt use his speech as an opportunity to advance a partisan ideological agenda.
What incenses me is that while the president will be saying nice things about kids staying in school and graduating, his own actions and policies are having the opposite effect!
There is copious scientific research showing that private schools have higher graduation rates than public schools, and that their graduates are more likely to go on to college and complete college. And that is after controls for student and family characteristics that may differ between the public and private sectors. There is research from the president’s own Department of Education that the DC voucher program is producing significantly better academic results than DC public schools (and at a quarter of the cost). But the president has chosen to kill the DC voucher program rather than grow it, and he opposes private school choice programs at the state level that would bring these better educational outcomes within reach of all children.
So kids, here’s your lesson for next Tuesday: the guy talking at you from the television set may say a lot of nice sounding things, but he is not doing what is best for you. He is letting some combination of ideology and political self-interest trump what is best for you. That’s politics. And that’s one reason why we need limited government and educational freedom.