Obama Touts Education Legacy, But Ignores Dismal Reality

President Barack Obama (photo credit: Daniel Borman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)
President Barack Obama (photo credit: Daniel Borman via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

Susan Berry of Breitbart reports on President Obama’s recent speech to an audience of high-school students, describing the state of his administration’s education policy. Parts of the speech obviously emerged from his parallel universe. Other parts provided warnings, disguised as promises, about what the federal government might do to children and families in the future.

Obama claimed “real progress” in educational achievement during his almost eight years in office. He bragged about his Race to the Top program, which “inspired students to set higher, better standards [Common Core] so that we could out-teach and out-compete other nations.” Like his comrade-in-arms Jeb Bush in a Harvard speech last week, Obama didn’t explain why he considers Common Core “higher” or “better.” Maybe because college-dropout and well-known education expert Bill Gates says so.

As evidence of the effect Common Core has had on educational achievement, Obama could have cited scores on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP, called the “nation’s report card”). But he chose not to, perhaps because NAEP scores have stagnated or fallen since most states fully implemented Common Core.

But what about his claim that his Common Core and other policies will improve college-readiness, especially for minority students? NAEP college-readiness scores also declined last year. And in Kentucky — the state that has implemented Common Core longer than any other — the achievement gap between white and non-Asian minority students is increasing. Well done, Mr. Obama.

Now for the threats. Obama touted his administration’s efforts (although he didn’t put it this way) to replace teachers with machines to “personalize” learning. He said this after warning the student audience that if they don’t pursue higher education, they’ll be replaced by machines. He didn’t seem to recognize the irony.

This effort to flood classrooms with technology, he noted, is being carried out with “private and philanthropic partners.” Wonder who those could be? And as Dr. Berry points out, such personalized learning “is heavily reliant on massive personal student data collection.” Since multiple studies have demonstrated the ineffectiveness of or even harm caused by “digital learning,” it’s a good guess that access to all that data is what interests Obama’s private and philanthropic partners.

Obama also emphasized that children are never too young to begin their fed-ed experience, and his administration is there to serve — “from the time they’re born all the way through until they got a career.” He bragged about having added 60,000 toddlers to Head Start, the demonstrably failed federal program that has sunk billions of taxpayer dollars into a gaping black hole.

Along those lines, Obama called for “high-quality preschool for every four-year-old in America.” As with other statist progressive-education advocates, he simply assumed that removing tiny children from their parents to hand them over to the government is a good thing (evidence shows otherwise). He noted that 46 states now offer state-funded preschool but warned in true Don Corleone fashion, “We’re trying to get those last holdouts to do the right thing.” When the federal government refers to you as a “holdout” who needs to “do the right thing,” be assured the methods of persuasion will not be pleasant.

Without being explicit, Obama also alluded to his administration’s complex plan for leveraging education, housing, and transportation policies to achieve socioeconomic integration in schools — that is, to inject federal controls over where people choose to make their homes and educate their children. “For too many students in America,” he said, “zip code still determines how far they’ll go. And that’s not acceptable.” Imagine the level of government coercion that would be necessary to make every zip code in America equal to every other in terms of resources, housing, education, etc. The president longs for that kind of power.

Obama touched on other education goals, such as making community college free (to paraphrase P.J. O’Rourke, if you think college is expensive now, wait until it’s free). He also urged the students to fill out the FAFSA application to get “free money” from the government for college. He didn’t mention that the highly sensitive personal and family information provided to the government via FAFSA is, according to a House hearing last year, vulnerable to examination and theft by all manner of evildoers. But since some of those evildoers reside in the federal government, apparently there’s little enthusiasm about fixing the lock.

So the president, with his two children safely tucked away in a non-Common Core school and not having to apply for government-controlled loans, crows about all he’s done for — to? — other people’s children. What a revealing illustration of the progressive mindset.

Jane Robbins is an attorney and a senior fellow with the American Principles Project.