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Obama Administration Must Embrace Real Education Reform, Not Rhetoric

Statement by Jeanne Allen, CER President
November 4, 2009

In response to President Barack Obama’s remarks today on his Administration’s education reform initiatives and Race to the Top competition, Center for Education Reform president Jeanne Allen released the following statement:

Today, President Obama championed his administration’s education reform initiatives in a Wisconsin speech, focusing on states that he claims are leading the charge for education reform.

The Obama Administration has jumped on board the charter school bandwagon and, in doing so, is telling states they must do better and create or fix laws in order to compete for their share of $4.3 billion in federal “Race to the Top” funds.

As admirable as the Obama administration’s policy on charters may appear to be, the President and his Education Secretary are, too often, giving states credit for talking about charter schools rather than actually changing laws to improve the likelihood that children will have real school choice.

For example, Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s description of reforms in Tennessee, Rhode Island, Indiana, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Illinois has been misleading. While the Secretary has said that ‘numerous states have adopted reforms that would have been almost unthinkable a year ago,’ this is simply not the case.

No state cited in this popular mythology has revoked limits on the number of charters allowed to open this year. Several, in fact, merely fulfilled budgetary promises of charter funding after having first wiped them off the books.

In reality, most of the nation’s 40 charter laws will need dramatic legislative changes to develop robust charter laws that actually allow for the growth of the types of schools both President Obama and Secretary Duncan routinely credit with raising academic achievement and turning around students’ lives.

We want to see states get bold and adopt strong charter laws – which everyone knows how to do, but often aren’t courageous enough to buck the status quo, the unions, and even continued ignorance of what precisely a charter school is. But that isn’t happening.

For President Obama and his Education Secretary to claim victory before “Race” participants have even reached the starting gate is disappointing.

It is time that President Obama and Secretary Duncan stop championing half measures and start demanding real results and bold changes in state laws.