How Obama Can Improve American Education

A developmental psychologist explains the three key measures that education reform must achieve.
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TRANSCRIPT

Question: How would you advise Obama on education reform?

Laurence Steinberg: Well, number one would be to use the bully pulpit to get parents more involved in their kids' education. And that includes reading to them when they're little, staying involved in their education not only in elementary school, but in middle school and high school as well. The second is to push for standards-based reform, to continue along this line, and to ask states to do this.

I think a third thing for the President to do is to again use the bully pulpit -- and I say that because you know the federal government has very little to do with education. All he can do is encourage; he can't really do very much more than that. But I think a third thing would be to try to encourage more talented people to go into teaching and to go into education, because we need good teachers if we're going to deal with the American achievement problem. And I think -- again, I'm not sure what he can actually do, except maybe by setting an example -- and I think President Obama is in a position to do this because he's obviously a very smart guy, and he's also a very cool guy. And I think that to the extent that we want to get kids to see that you can be both, that maybe we can build on his reputation and his persona to encourage that. So those are the main things that I would suggest.

Question: How would you evaluate Obama’s proposals for education reform?

Laurence Steinberg: I think -- I'd have to say at this point that there haven't been many proposals. So -- I mean, certainly the principles that President Obama has articulated are important ones. I think they're pretty consistent with the kinds of things that I and other people have been saying we need to do. He certainly understands the importance of education to the American economy. In his controversial speech to those schoolchildren he talked about the importance of doing well in school, of staying in school, in other words, of being engaged in school. That's all good. I think that education really has not been a priority of the administration so far because it's been understandably concerned with the economy, with health care, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I guess I'd like to wait and see what actually develops before we start talking about whether the policies are good or not.