The announcement that President-elect Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, are sending their daughters to Sidwell Friends School, an expensive and academically demanding private school, has ended a speculation game that consumed many in Washington since the election. Would the Obamas send their daughters to public school? Or would they pick a top private school and, if so, which one? In the end, the Obamas' decision didn't take many by surprise. A spokeswoman for Michelle Obama said the family considered "a number of great schools"—apparently, public schools were never an option—but that, in the end, Sidwell was "the best fit for what their daughters need right now."
Naturally, the Obamas' choice has raised curiosity about the school and the type of education that Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7, are likely to receive there. Sidwell, which was founded in 1883 by Quakers, has educated many generations of the city's elite. The children of at least three former presidents are graduates of the school; the most recent is Chelsea Clinton. Vice President-elect Joe Biden's grandchildren attend Sidwell and are said to be good friends with the Obama girls. In many ways, Sidwell is similar to the private University of Chicago Laboratory Schools that the Obama girls currently attend. According to its website, Sidwell doesn't teach a set of religious beliefs. Instead, it seeks to cultivate in students "high personal expectations and integrity, respect for consensus, and an understanding of how diversity enriches us, why stewardship of the natural world matters, and why service to others enhances life." The school enrolls nearly 1,100 students in kindergarten through 12th grade; 39 percent of them are students of color. Annual tuition can run as high as $30,000.
Reacting to the announcement, the Wall Street Journal editorial page raised the hotly debated issue of school choice. Writing that "the Obamas are fortunate to have the means to send their daughters to private school, and no one begrudges them that choice given that Washington's public schools are among the worst in America," the Journal notes that "most D.C. parents would also love to be able to choose a better school for their child, but they lack the financial means to do so." D.C. participates in a federally subsidized voucher program that allows a limited number of low-income families to send their kids to private schools, including Sidwell's middle and upper schools. Congress, however, has threatened to end the program. If that happened, it would put Obama in a difficult position. For now, though, the speculation moves to another major decision concerning the Obama girls' move to the White House: Have they finally settled on a pooch?