(CNSNews.com) - At an event in New York City on Monday, President Obama said "reforming our schools for all of our kids" was one of his accomplishments. He also described "public-education institutions" as "pathways for success."
But in the same speech, the president hailed a new private sector effort to teach black and Latino kids to read at grade level by third grade; increase their high school graduation rates; and get more young black and Latino men into higher education or career training, all of them things that a "reformed" education system might be expected to do.
Obama's remarks came a few days after House Speaker John Boehner said it's time to look at all the taxpayer money -- and the liberal policies -- that have been thrown at the nation's public education system over the years because they're not working.
Boehner and many Republicans support school choice, or giving vouchers to students trapped in failing public school systems so they can attend private or parochial schools.
As CNSNews.com has reported, President Obama tried to kill the District of Columbia's voucher program when he took office in 2009. Congress intervened, extending the program through 2016, but Obama's fiscal 2016 budget request would once again let the program lapse.
In his opening remarks on Monday, Obama thanked Lehman College for hosting the launch of the My Brother's Keeper Alliance, a nonprofit, private-sector effort to help "all our young people, long after I leave office."
"You know, everything that we've done since I've been president the past six and a half years, from rescuing the economy to giving more Americans access to affordable health care to reforming our schools for all of our kids, it's...been in pursuit of that one goal, creating opportunity for everybody," Obama said.
He thanked the Alliance for its determination to get results: "They've set clear goals to hold themselves accountable for getting those results -- doubling the percentage of boys and young men of color who read at grade level by the third grade; increasing their high school graduation rates by 20 percent; getting...50,000 more of those young men into post-secondary education or training."
Obama said the Alliance already has $80 million in commitments to "make this happen," and he also said it's not happening out of charity:
"[T]hey're not doing it just to assuage society's guilt. They're doing this because they know that making sure all of our young people have the opportunity to succeed is an economic imperative," so they can fill the "jobs of the future."
Although the public school curriculum is controlled at the state and local level, the federal government uses taxpayer dollars as an incentive for schools to conform to its vision of how education should work.
President Obama's Education Department, for example, has used "Race to the Top" taxpayer grants -- more than $4 billion -- to encourage states to adopt Common Core, a set of uniform, national -- and controversial -- education standards and tests now used by many of the states.
The executive branch also influences education policy with "guidance" to the nation's schools -- on bullying, suspensions and expulsions, and equal access for illegal immigrants, in Obama's case.
In January 2014, for example, the Obama administration directed schools to reform their school discipline practices. Schools should remove students from the classroom only as a last resort, and only for "appropriately serious infractions, such as endangering the safety of other students, teachers, or themselves," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said. The goal was to minimize the "school to prison pipeline."
A few months later, in May 2014, the Education and Justice Departments directed public schools to provide all children with equal access to an education, regardless of their or their parents' immigration status. This guidance came amid the massive influx of illiterate, non-English-speaking children crossing illegally into the United States from Central America, placing additional strain on some school systems.
'Liberal policies have not worked'
"How about we find a way to educate more of America's kids?" Speaker Boehner asked in an interview with NBC's Chuck Todd that aired this past Sunday.
"Half our kids given an education, more than half get a diploma, but they get a diploma, they can't read. And when you look at the schools in these inner cities, these families are trapped in bad schools that don't provide a real education, and look what you get.
"Chuck, what we have here is 50 years of liberal policies that have not worked to help the very people that we want to help. It's time to look at all these programs and determine what's working and what isn't, because until we start to find programs that actually work and we provide opportunities, more opportunities and a better education, we are going to have more of the same."
"If money was going to solve the education problem, we would have solved it decades ago," he added.
A year ago, Education Secretary Arne Duncan was asked about giving parents the ability to choose where their children go to school:
"We have to make sure every single public school in this nation is a school of choice," he told MSNBC's "Morning Joe." Teachers' unions, a key Democrat constituency, oppose voucher programs, saying they divert resources from public schools to private and religious schools.