Symbols Matter

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(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Jay points out that the president’s speech on education yesterday doesn’t resemble his legislative agenda. But it’s worse than that. There are things Obama could do to promose these good reform ideas even without legislation or budget changes, but won’t.

He calls on states to lift their charter caps. But what does he plan to do about charter caps? Even without extending federal authority over the states on charter policy, there’s plenty he could do, as Jay Matthews points out:

Will the Obama Education Department prepare and publicize a list of all the charter school cap laws in the country? Will Duncan call the governors, and legislators and school boards responsible for them and ask them to remove those restrictions on new charters, and find a way to get rid of bad charters?

Is the pope Muslim?

So on pretty much all fronts, the president’s “plan” for education is just symbolism.

But you know what? Symbols matter! The president is using his position in the spotlight to endorse choice and competition (as he did during the campaign) and rewards for performance, the two indispensable principles of sound educational reform. Even if he’s only doing it because Democratic constituencies other than the education unions expect it, it matters that the president has chosen to align himself with those constituencies rather than the unions. He could easily have taken the old line and kowtowed to the unions. But he didn’t, and that counts for something. So let’s give the president his due.

Now if only he had stopped his pals in Congress (who look an awful lot like his bosses these days) from kowtowing to the unions on vouchers.

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