On Tuesday, students at Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School in Philadelphia kicked-off the new school year with a speech from President Obama. Students at the nationally ranked 2010 Blue Ribbon magnet school were told by the President that they are in charge of their destiny and that nothing in life is beyond their reach.
For the second year in a row, the President has addressed students as they head back to school. But this year’s address differed in one significant way. Prior to last year’s speech, the federal Department of Education sent out a letter to school leaders across the country informing them of the President’s speech and providing lesson plans for teachers. Notably, the lesson plans suggested having students “write letters to themselves about what they can do to help the president.” This, understandably, created an outcry from parents concerned about political indoctrination.
This year, the Department of Education was careful to leave its prescriptions out of any pre-address promotion. But unfortunately, the Obama Administration is orchestrating a far-greater overreach into what children are taught in local schools.
Over the past year, the Administration has been staging a significant overreach into states’ educational decision-making authority, bypassing normal legislative procedure, and pushing state leaders to adopt national education standards and tests without a single vote in Congress. The push has also been taking place without input from parents and taxpayers.
But as four decades of ever-increasing federal involvement in education have proven, students will be no better off as a result, and parents will have lost one of their most important tools in overseeing their children’s education: control over the educational standards and tests paid for and determined at the state and local levels.
President Obama also said the following during his remarks to Masterman students on Tuesday:
Nobody gets to write your destiny but you. Your future is in your hands. Your life is what you make of it. And nothing—absolutely nothing—is beyond your reach. So long as you’re willing to dream big. So long as you’re willing to work hard. So long as you’re willing to stay focused on your education.
These words must have certainly rung hallow with the parents and children of the embattled D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program (DCOSP), who have had to watch as the President stood by while liberal members of Congress—supported generously by special interests groups such as the teachers’ unions—began phasing out the successful voucher program. For hundreds of low-income D.C. children who had scholarships yanked out of their hands by the Obama Administration, something has clearly been beyond their reach: a chance at a quality education.
The President went on to say: “More and more, the kinds of opportunities that are open to you will be determined by how far you go in school. In other words, the farther you go in school, the farther you’ll go in life.”
And here, President Obama is right. The benefits of educational attainment are well-documented. Dr. Patrick Wolf of the University of Arkansas, the principal investigator for the federally mandated fourth and final evaluation of the DCOSP, found that students who graduate high school earn more money, live longer, and are less likely to be unemployed or convicted of a crime.
Which makes the success of the DCOSP—and the promise for other nascent school choice programs across the country—so promising. While the graduation rate for students trapped in the failing D.C. Public School System stands at just 49 percent, students who used a voucher to attend a private school thanks to the DCOSP had a 91 percent graduation rate. Thanks to their educational opportunities, these students’ opportunities for a healthy and prosperous life have been elevated.
We can only hope that if President Obama decides to deliver another back-to-school speech this time next year, he chooses to address students in the District, whose lives hang in the balance because of his refusal to stand up for their chance at a bright educational future.