Sunday, Aug. 24, promises to be a lovely evening at the Denver Art Museum (see photo at right, courtesy of the Museum), an important convention side event tapping into education issues, a traditional strength of Democratic contenders (with a tail wind, Vegas books that as a potential 20-pt advantage, baby).
Many of the nation’s most noted and successful education reformers will gather for a little chilled white wine and erudite paneling. They’re the kind of educators Barack Obama should love. Michele Rhee from Washington DC, with Mayor Fenty in tow (only on Eduwonk does the mayor get second billing). Cory Booker from Newark will be there, along with John King, the charter genius behind Uncommon Schools. Roy Romer’s a sure bet, along with Joel Klein and his unlikely political co-conspirator, Al Sharpton.
Organized mostly by Democrats for Education Reform, the sponsors are a who’s who of winning education reforms, including New Schools Venture Fund, the bank roller of those high flying charter schools we’re trying so hard to “name.” (Ted Mitchell: We’re awaiting your vote on this matter!) Mr. Eduwonk will be making a panel-moderating appearance, presumably in waders.
Sounds like a perfect mingling opportunity for the candidate himself, but even if he happened to be Denver Barack Obama would find a reason to skip. As seductive as this event may sound, Obama finds himself in a bit of a situation here.
The unions, both of which endorsed Obama, have their own advocacy movement, A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, backed up by their own long who’s who list of education notables. But those notables will be in short supply at the Denver Art Museum gala, in part because they take issue with the notion that schools can do much better than they do now absent massive social welfare improvements. The Broader, Bolder group favors bending school reform sharply in the direction of easing poverty.
The Art Museum crowd has no objections to easing poverty, but insists on keeping the pedal to the metal on school accountability and regards the Broader, Bolder notion of school reform–reducing class size–as so yesterday. Something akin to cargo pants. (Besides, when did child health care and federal housing programs start getting their funding through ESEA?)
Just to further muddy the waters, civil rights groups are feeling a bit out of sorts with the two unions these days, believing the unions could do a bit more to get better teachers into the neediest schools. The civil rights leaders are likely to be found sipping wine at the art museum.
Wow, that sounds both complicated and treacherous for Obama, which is why he has no intention of choosing between the groups. Nor is he tempted to match John McCain’s stealth move of endorsing the hard-core-reformists at the Klein/Sharpton Education Equality Project (Who will be at the art museum). Why should he? Already, Obama has put out an ambitious education agenda, with many of his points overlapping the agendas of rival groups. No need to confront either the unions or the reformers.
So my bet: Obama won’t endorse any of these “movements” and he’ll continue splitting the differences right through election day. Can his water walking strategy succeed that long? Hey, this is the candidate who landed in Iraq to find the prime minister endorsing his once-left-field position on withdrawing forces.
That luck could hold. Most definitely. Only that’s not my wager. As a known negative nabob, I’m compelled to cast a vote against the water walking strategy surviving through November. At some point, in some way, he’ll be forced to tip his hand.
–Guest blogger Richard Whitmire
Important postcript: There should be an audio link to the Denver gathering. Seek it out through the DFER link.