This was a fun, rollicking speech. He didn’t bring the house down, but it was clear that the audience and the President were all having a good time.
What amazed me was the aftermath. Marc Ambinder (whom I actually enjoy reading) made it sound like the President threw a rhetorical hand-grenade at the Teacher’s Unions:
Today, President Obama wades in to a controversy that threatens to split one of the Democratic Party's most generous source of donations and activists, the teacher unions, from the whole. The dispute is about teacher performance, narrowly, and about government's distribution of common goods more generally.
Obama wants more accountability for teachers. The teachers unions contend that there is no universal metric that can reliably assess teacher performance, particularly in poor neighborhoods where students experience intense social dislocation. Part of the problem is that nothing seems to work: not charter schools, not tying teachers to student performance, not throwing money at schools, not even curricula reform. There are blips -- a voucher program works here, a charter school works there. Nothing seems to work everywhere. Performance measured in the short term doesn't tell people much about anything, but people grab on to numbers, and the government rewards states who show progress on the numbers, so... states do everything they can to get their numbers up.
Of course, Huffington Post (not a favorite) emblazoned a headline on this story as well.
I listened to the speech. It was a nudge at best.
I also want to directly speak to the issue of teachers. We may have some teachers here in the house. (Applause.) I know Urban League has got some teachers. Nothing is more important than teachers. (Applause.) My sister is a teacher. I’m here because of great teachers. The whole premise of Race to the Top is that teachers are the single most important factor in a child’s education from the moment they step into the classroom. And I know firsthand that the vast majority of teachers are working tirelessly, are passionate about their students, are often digging into their own pockets for basic supplies, are going above and beyond the call of duty.
So I want teachers to have higher salaries. I want them to have more support. I want them to be trained like the professionals they are –- with rigorous residencies like the ones that doctors go through. (Applause.) I want to give them a career ladder so they’ve opportunities to advance, and earn real financial security. I don't want talented young people to say I’d love to teach but I can’t afford it. (Applause.)
I want them to have a fulfilling and supportive workplace environment. I want them to have the resources -- from basic supplies to reasonable class sizes -- that help them succeed. And instead of a culture where we’re always idolizing sports stars or celebrities, I want us to build a culture where we idolize the people who are shaping our children’s future. (Applause.) I want some teachers on the covers of some of those magazines. (Applause.) Some teachers on MTV, featured. (Applause.)
I was on the “The View” yesterday, and somebody asked me who Snooki was. I said, I don't know who Snooki is. (Laughter.) But I know some really good teachers that you guys should be talking about. (Laughter and applause.) I didn't say the teacher part, but I just -- (laughter.) The question is, who are we lifting up? Who are we promoting? Who are we saying is important?
So I am 110 percent behind our teachers. (Applause.) But all I’m asking in return -- as a President, as a parent, and as a citizen -- is some measure of accountability. (Applause.) So even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we’ve got to make sure we’re seeing results in the classroom. If we’re not seeing results in the classroom, then let’s work with teachers to help them become more effective. If that doesn’t work, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom. (Applause.)
Arne makes the point very simply: Our children get only one chance at an education, so we need to get it right.
I want to commend some of the teachers unions across this country who are working with us to improve teaching -- like the Delaware Education Association, which is working with state leaders as part of their Race to the Top efforts, not only to set aside 90 minutes of collaboration time a week to improve instruction, but to strengthen teacher development and evaluation. That's the right way to go.
So, for anyone who wants to use Race to the Top to blame or punish teachers -- you’re missing the point. Our goal isn’t to fire or admonish teachers; our goal is accountability. It’s to provide teachers with the support they need to be as effective as they can be, and to create a better environment for teachers and students alike.