Sidwell Friends, America’s Worst School


Sidwell Friends Middle School Building

“Brand new, but built to look obsolete and run down!”

(Guest post by Greg Forster)

Two weeks ago, Jay ruffled a few feathers by arguing that we shouldn’t care where President Obama’s children go to school. His point was that it isn’t necessarily hypocrisy for school choice opponents to send their kids to private schools, if they believe that private education is valuable (and thus something they’re willing to pay to acquire) but not the kind of thing government should subsidize to ensure equal access.

At the time, my response was that I totally believe Obama opposes school choice because he thinks government shouldn’t be in the business of ensuring that rich and poor alike have equal access to valuable goods and services, and I eagerly look forward to seeing this prinicple applied to his positions on welfare, health care, housing, labor policy, the environment, economic bailouts, entitlements, farm subsidies, taxes . . .

This morning, Jonah Goldberg argues that yes, Obama’s choice of Sidwell Friends while he opposes school choice makes him a hypocrite – but hypocrisy is overrated as a sin (this is a longtime hobbyhorse of Goldberg’s) and the real scandal is simply Obama’s (and other politicians’) opposition to choice. I couldn’t agree more.

But maybe school choice isn’t the only reason we should be interested in where the Obamas send their kids to school. This week, America’s Last Education Labor Reporter points out that Sidwell Friends is in abominable shape, and in desperate need of improvement:

It would be a shame if the Obama kids were to miss out on all these benefits, so we humbly submit these additions and subtractions to make Sidwell Friends the type of school the experts want all schools to become:

* Add a unionized workforce and a collective bargaining agreement. NEA asserts “that the attainment and exercise of collective bargaining rights are essential to the promotion of education employee and student needs in society.” How can the Obama kids have their education needs filled without agency fee, release time, grievances, binding arbitration and strikes?


* Add geographic enrollment boundaries. The Obamas will reside 3.5 miles from one Sidwell campus and 8 miles from the other, located in the state of Maryland. What’s next, flying in the next generation of Kennedy kids via helicopter from Massachusetts? Limit enrollment to those in the immediate neighborhood.


* Subtract weak teacher benefits. According to the Sidwell web site, teachers pay 10-40% of their health insurance premiums, pay into a defined contribution retirement plan, and receive only two personal days a year.


* Add diversity. The Obama kids will become part of the 39% of Sidwell students who are racial/ethnic minorities. But the DC Public Schools are 95% racial/ethnic minorities. How can the Obama children be denied so much of the rich cultural mix our nation’s capital provides?


* Subtract religion. The Quaker tradition is part of daily life at Sidwell Friends, including weekly worship meetings for all students, Quaker or not. This isn’t very inclusive of the Catholics, Muslims, Hindus, Wiccans and animists among the student body. Religious beliefs should only be studied from an academic standpoint and never practiced within a school’s walls.


* Add to the curriculum. Grades PreK-4 emphasize things like phonics, handwriting, vocabulary, comprehension, grammar, fractions, algorithms, geometry, and American history. Upper grades are heavy with English literature, advanced math, history, science, foreign languages and the arts. There isn’t much “getting information from television, film, Internet, or videos” or “Represent multiplication as repeated addition” for lower grades, or “Identify the countries, such as Italy, Poland, China, Korea, and Japan, where large numbers of people left to move to the United States at the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries” for upper grades. We don’t want to saddle a 21st century President with an 18th century curriculum.


As patriotic Americans, how can we stand by while our president’s family gets such substandard services?

Or maybe we shouldn’t be worried. After all, family and environmental influences are the only real determinants of educational outcomes. And clearly the Obama children are well blessed in that respect.

Or maybe we should be worried. After all, the Obamas did pick this shockingly substandard school, even though they had the opportunity to go with the nation’s most lavishly funded and heavily unionized schools in the D.C. public system, so how smart can they be?

12 Responses to Sidwell Friends, America’s Worst School

  1. Patrick says:

    I think they hired an architect that was cryogenically frozen in the late 70s to design this.

    Still, not as bad as some of the buildings at Case Western Reserve University

  2. Patrick says:


    The link to your response links to Jay’s original comments.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Yes, it’s supposed to – Jay’s comment thread is where I wrote my original response.

  4. What do Barack Obama, Joe Biden, George W. Bush. John Kerry, and Geroge H.W. Bush have in common? Not one of them attended a school that had a policy to hire certified teachers. All of their schools were private and non-unionized. Obviously students attending these schools with “unqualified” teachers can’t be expected to amount to much in life or appreciate the virtues of democracy.

  5. Attorney DC says:

    It seems that some of these comments blame unions for teacher certification requirements. As a former teachers in boh the public and private schoolsystems, I wanted to point out that teacher certification requirements are handed down by the state board of education, not by the NEA or AFT. These requirements exist in states that have no teacher unions (“at will” states), like Virginia, as well as in states with strong unions, like New York. I am not a fan of traditional certification requirements, and I want to correct the impression that these requirements are the result of unions. In fact, they are the product of states (and of the federal government under the NCLB “qualified teacher” standards).

  6. Attorney DC,

    Do you mean to suggest that it isn’t the teacher union lobbyists advocating for certification requirements? Oh, and the unions are active in lobbying even in states without collective bargaining.

    This is a bit like saying that minimal checks on prospective gun purchasers “are the products of states” and have nothing to do with the NRA.

  7. Attorney DC says:

    Jay: I don’t have any personal experience with the lobbying efforts of the NEA or AFT. And I never lived or taught in New York (which appears to be a hotbed of union activity!). All I can say is that from my experience teaching in both union and non-union states, teachers were often pretty frustrated with the credentialing requirements, which vary from state to state and can change frequently. Teachers I knew were certainly not asking their unions to press for stricter and ever-changing credentialing requirements! I also did not see a direct link between union lobbying and any specific credentialing requirement. Additional crendentialing requirements seemed to be more of a political sop thrown out by the state legislatures in an effort to appear to be “doing something” to improve schools.

  8. Greg Forster says:

    Teachers and teachers’ unions are different things. Teachers know that the certification racket is a scam. That doesn’t mean their unions don’t support it. Unions support policies that benefit unions, not their members. And the certification requirements benefit the unions by creating a barrier to entry for the profession.

    Oh, and if, by your own admission, you don’t know much about union lobbying activity, you might consider refraining from making strongly worded claims about what is or is not a result of union lobbying activity.

  9. Stuart Buck says:

    As an attorney, it was personally frustrating to have to study for the bar exam. But having surpassed that hurdle, it’s also in my interest (whether I know of this or not) for the state bar regulators to make all other would-be attorneys pass the bar exam, given that this requirement is a barrier to entry that limits my potential competition.

  10. Patrick says:

    From my understanding some of the certification requirements have the teachers union teaching the courses necessary to be certified. Thus its just one more way for the union to make money.

    As a former public school teacher myself, I can say that is one area where teachers really, really dislike the teachers union. The bulk of teachers dislike jumping through all those hoops year after year.

    As for new teachers, my experience has shown me that the bulk of teachers want new or would be teachers to jump through those hoops – they just don’t want to do it too.

  11. Attorney DC says:

    Greg: You’re right: I don’t have any in-depth lobbying knowledge with regard to the inner workings of teachers unions and their effect on the credentialing process. But as a former teacher (especially during my time teaching in California), I kept watch on the development of new credentialing requirements as they were batted around the state legislature and dept of education (not to mention the NCLB requirements). From my ground level viewpoint, I just didn’t see much impact of unions on creating new and ever-changing credentialing requirements. The governing bodies seemed to be responding to a perceived desire on the part of the public for “better qualified teachers.” But, like you said, I’m not an expert.

  12. The Hawaii State Teachers Associatio (HSTA), an NEA subsidiary, supported the creation of the Hawaii Teachers Standards Board. The legislature mandated that four members of this board be nominated by the HSTA, three by the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA, the principals’ union), one by the College of Education (and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly is an NEA subsidiary) . The director of the Teachers Standards Board makes $80,000 per year. The first director was Sharon Mahoe, a former President of the HSTA.

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