The current issue of Rolling Stone offers an interesting piece, Barack Obama So Far, in which David Gergen, Paul Krugman, and Michael Moore have a disccusion on how the Obama administration is doing. The link above does not, unfortunately, take you to the full article, but does take you to report cards on 4 topics. Here are the topics, and the grade given on each for the Obama administration's performance:
Economic Recovery B-
Health Care B
(more below the fold)
I suppose I will want to read the commentary by the three, but I have some immediate reactions of my own. Let me focus on education, in which we read
Biggest Victory Devoted $115 billion of stimulus to modernize schools, preserve jobs for teachers and kick off the largest federal investment in higher ed since the GI Bill.
Biggest Blunder Didn't provide enough stimulus money to offset state cuts to education. "It made no sense to start new road programs when you're laying off teachers," says Nobel Prize economist Joseph Stiglitz
The assessment rightly criticizes the continued overreliance on tests, but I think gives too high a credit for being on "the right path", as one reads in when it quotes Jeanne Allen of the Center for Education Reform saying "There seems to be the right orientation for reform, but not yet the resolve to push Congress to make it happen". Here I note that Allen has been a long-time advocate of charter schools, but not just that, as can be shown by the membership of her board, which includes Chris Whittle, the founder of Edison Schools, one of the major attempts to privatize public education.
My own grade on education would only be a C or at best a C+. I give credit for providing stimulus money to help states and localities avoid having to do massive layoffs of teachers. But I see Sec. Duncan pursuing an agenda too heavily tilted towards one side of the educational debates, and an unwillingness to recognize the now document limitations of the approaches he advocates, and is - with the full backing of the President - willing to force down the throats of states using his control over billions of money through the stimulus to affect massive change without it ever being fully debated and vetted in the Congress. For example, his insistence on forcing states to expand charters seems to be undercut by the recent CREDO study out of Stanford U on Charter schools (press release here which
found that 17 percent of charter schools reported academic gains that were significantly better than traditional public schools, while 37 percent of charter schools showed gains that were worse than their traditional public school counterparts, with 46 percent of charter schools demonstrating no significant difference.
It is not clear why one would move to expansion of an approach that does not seem to be improving outcomes. Data from a study of Chicago schools during Duncan's term there finds a similar lack of improvement in the "innovations" he imposed - you can read the USA Today story on the report or if you wish, read the report which was put out by The Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago.
Let me summarize my grades on the four items.
Economic Recovery - I agree with the B-minus. I also agreed with Paul Krugman (on economics, that is easy) that the original stimulus was too small
Health Care - INC - I cannot give a grade until I see whether a decent bill can be passed. I understand the political difficulties involved in this process, and the desire of the administration to avoid the mistakes - such as excluding Congress - made in 1993 by the Clinton administration. It is not yet clear to me that the end result will not be a wasted opportunity. If I had to give an interim grade, it would be no more than B-
Environment - I probably would only go to B+, because I think the administration has moved a bit slowly on things like restricting Mountain Top Removal. Still, I am known by my students as a tough grader, so a B+ from me at this point is actually a decent grade.
That's my take. Details only on education, because that is the field of the four I know the best.
What say you?