Barack Obama At A New Orleans Charter School

As 2 weeks of national conventions come to a close with exchanges of views on education at the height of the presidential campaign, I thought I’d share a couple of stories about Barack Obama’s quiet visits to schools and classrooms that took place before this year of nationwide campaigning and the wave of national media interest in the two presidential nominees.  

Today, I’ll share my recollection of a post-Katrina Barack Obama visit to a New Orleans charter school. Tomorrow, I’ll share a story of his visit to a Chicago public school demonstrating that success in urban education is possible and happening. 

In New Orleans, Senator Obama joined students, educators, City Year corps members and others to kick off a weekend of service to fix up a local charter school serving low-income local students.  He spent the majority of his time there in classrooms with students.  He asked about their lives and experiences in New Orleans pre and post-Katrina, their experience in the schools, and their aspirations and dreams for the future.  He expressed confidence to them about their future based on their positive spirit, resilience, capacity.  He made clear that the nation would not neglect New Orleans and its young people especially at this hour of such extreme need. 

Obama spoke to the volunteers – young and old and from all backgrounds.   He expressed great empathy for the tragedy of Katrina and its aftermath. But he told them that the biggest tragedy to hit the New Orleans schools may have been the quality of education for decades preceding Katrina.  He voiced hope and confidence in the prospects for dramatic improvements in the New Orleans schools in part because he had seen schools where children from low-income backgrounds were achieving at high level.  And he made clear his optimism was also based on the level of talent, civic commitment, and entrepreneurial energy that was being channeled into the city’s schools. He called on the federal government to do its part by providing substantial aid to help attract and retain outstanding teachers to New Orleans with signing bonuses, housing subsidies, professional development, and higher pay including more pay for better performance. 

Senator Obama became an original cosponsor of legislation to do just that written by U.S. House Education Committee Chairman George Miller and Senator Mary Landrieu.  Later in the year, $60 million was enacted by Congress as a down payment on this legislation to attract and retain outstanding teachers in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and to invest in higher education in the city and region. And this school year – for many reasons but with support from this legislation – was the first time in memory that the New Orleans schools had enough qualified teachers applying for open positions in local schools. 

And for the reasons that Obama described in his remarks kicking off this weekend of community service, the New Orleans schools have indeed gone from what some saw as a “charity case” to one of the most ambitious and energetic efforts in the nation to improve a city’s schools.

— Guestblogger Jon Schnur

2 Replies to “Barack Obama At A New Orleans Charter School”

  1. I sure hope you are playing a role soon in organizing a Marshall Plan for teachers and principals. We’ve tried making the hog bigger by weighing it more. Now its time to build capacity.

    We need to stop fighting each other over educational THEORIES but I’d just like to offer a couple of concerns. Think of all the wonderful accountability tools we have available for developing new educators, and then remember how useless they are under NCLB-type accountablity. Worst, as in money, bad accountability drives out good. Secondly, I can tell that you have far more wisdom than the true believers at the Broad School, but I have to offer a real world example. Last summer we got a superintendent from Broad who immediately began to mandate his scorched earth, test-driven management theories, and he ripped us apart. The racial divisions were the worst. Fortunately, he was gone in six months. Michelle Rhee should take note, but I suspect she is too much of a true believer to listen to other ideas.

    But you guys stressed the positive, and we need to get back to that. Education is about hope isn’t it?

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