Sen. Barack Obama was in Colorado today, talking about education at Mapleton Expeditionary School of the Arts in the town of Thornton. The school is one of 17 small learning environments in the 5,800-student Mapleton School District.
Here, all 44 of the school’s seniors were accepted to college—which stands in stark contrast to the dismal dropout rates in many high schools across the country. So Obama used this as an opportunity to talk more about his education plan, including teacher-recruitment initiatives, “fixing” the No Child Left Behind Act, and a $4,000 tax credit to help students pay for college. He also put on his “Obama Knows Best” cap and emphasized the role of parents in student achievement.
But clearly, his choice of schools was telling. The principal, Michael Johnston, founded the school (called MESA for short), which was funded by the Gates Foundation. MESA is a college-prep high school that uses students’ interest in the arts to increase achievement in the core subjects of English, mathematics, and science. Johnston is a Teach for America alumnus who spent his tour of teaching duty in the Mississippi Delta and wrote a book about the experience.
In his speech, Obama talked of breaking free of “tired thinking” and making a “truly historic commitment” to education. He spoke of innovation in learning and leaving the old debates of “money versus accountability” and “vouchers versus the status quo” behind. He held up MESA as an example of education done right.
So what exactly does that mean? That was the question from one audience member who wanted all of this rhetoric translated into policy. Put simply, Obama said he’ll attach federal money to education innovation.