Where will the Obama girls go to school? Will Michelle and Barack Obama choose private or public? What statement will their choice make? These are some of the questions on the minds of many Washington observers after the news that Michelle Obama visited a private school in D.C this week.
In town with her husband, President-elect Barack Obama, for a White House meeting with President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush, Michelle Obama took the opportunity to visit Georgetown Day School. The Washington Post, quoting anonymous sources, says the Obamas are considering several other private schools as well, including Sidwell Friends, the Quaker school that Chelsea Clinton attended when Bill Clinton was in the White House. The Post's education columnist, Jay Mathews, is betting on Georgetown Day School as the Obamas' likely choice. Mathews says this is fitting on two fronts: Georgetown Day School was the first racially integrated school in D.C., and it is similar to the academically rigorous University of Chicago Laboratory Schools that Malia, a fifth grader, and Sasha, a second grader, currently attend. Several key Obama advisers send their children there.
But if the Obamas send their daughters to private school in a city that educates a high concentration of African-American children in its public schools, what statement will that make? D.C. public schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, whose two daughters are students in the district, has told reporters in the past that she would make a strong case for the city's public schools. But she also said she would never tell parents where to send their kids to school. She went one step further this week and told the Post that she doesn't think Obama should send his daughters to a public school simply to make a political statement. There is also the well-known fact that, despite some progress, D.C. schools are among the most dysfunctional, academically underachieving schools in the country. If Obama decides to send his daughters to a public school in the city, he would be the first president to do so since Jimmy Carter.
Over at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a Washington-based education advocacy group, policy wonk Mike Petrilli writes on his blog that he is pulling for Georgetown Day School, which participates in the city's voucher program. The program, which allows nearly 2,000 D.C. children to attend private school, faces possible extinction under a Democratic-controlled Congress. "It's one thing for Candidate Obama to oppose publicly funded vouchers on principle," he writes. "It's quite another thing for a President Obama to eliminate an existing program and kick his daughters' classmates out of their beloved school."
Looks like the choice for the Obamas won't be an easy one.