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Teaching Profession

Obama’s Damage Control on Vouchers

By Michele McNeil — February 20, 2008 1 min read

Barack Obama dared to declare that he might be open to vouchers if there’s evidence to back up this controversial education reform effort and, more importantly, if it’s what’s “best for kids.”

Imagine that—a presidential hopeful being in favor of a program if there’s research to support it, and if it helps kids!

Well, now the Obama campaign is in damage-control mode because vouchers are one of the most polarizing issues in education reform, and fiercely opposed by the teachers’ unions. After all, the National Education Association’s endorsement is still up for grabs.

Obama’s campaign sent Education Week this statement, offering a different interpretation of Obama’s interview last week with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. According to the campaign, Obama “repeated his longstanding opposition to vouchers.” Not quite. What Obama did was give a six-minute, thoughtful response indicating he was a skeptic of vouchers, but that he might change his mind if there was research to back it up.

That’s anything but a ringing endorsement of vouchers. But it stands in stark contrast to his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton’s not-under-any-circumstances opposition to vouchers, which she claims could be used to fund training grounds for “jihad.”

What’s more at issue is how Obama’s response has been portrayed in the media and blogsphere. Joe Williams of Democrats for Education Reform called this a Holy Sh*t moment. I thought it was an “eyebrow raising” moment, since Obama’s in a tough race for the nomination and dared to use the “V” word.

But on the flip side, there are those who think Obama’s statements weren’t that big of a deal. Union watchdog Mike Antonucci made the good point that Obama was speaking to reporters in a city with a voucher program, in a state where he needed to win. (And Obama did win the Wisconsin primary last night.) Alexander Russo said he’s heard Obama’s take on vouchers before. And the Core Knowledge Blog is a skeptic as well.

The Obama campaign maintains that the news reports have been “misleading.” However, perhaps what the campaign should be doing is emphasizing Obama’s statement that he would do “what’s best for kids” if the research supports it, regardless of any “preconceptions” he might have. Isn’t that what we would like our candidates to say?

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