Niagara Gazette

August 23, 2013

HAMILTON: Obama, Lewis and Quinn on education

By Ken Hamilton
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Former Tonawanda Town Supervisor Carl Calabrese nailed it when he pointed out that the beginning of President Obama’s speech started off by attacking the same people (Republicans) with whom he will have to work in order to get his education agenda passed; but by the end of the speech, Calabrese said, “… he (Obama) sounded like a Republican.”

Obama was sounding like a Republican in wanting to alter the way that we subsidize higher education.

Nonetheless, there are good reasons that I like the points that the president made concerning the subsidizing of higher education, if we should do so at all.

In fact, much of what he said might also be an applied template for even local school districts.

The president said that we should award the schools that concentrate on increasing the value that they provide to the student, the students’ parents, and to the taxpayers and society itself. He has my wholehearted support on that one.

A part of his proposed value quotient is funding to the colleges and universities that are actually controlling or decreasing their costs, which makes the cost of higher education more affordable.

The president also supports an old tenet of my own, in that in the reward for progress, we don’t necessarily reward the individual, or institution in this case, that has reached the highest levels; instead, we give fair compensation for those who have helped their student bodies come the furthest in their education.

That is, for colleges that accept students with lower academic attainments than do other colleges, but graduates them on time with parity or superiority, we ought to reward them for their successful efforts at quality instruction and the induced involvement of their students by their creative methods. As the president said, we cannot reward them for how many students that they have in their student body; but, instead, by the number that graduate on time and are indeed educated.

The president rightfully said on student loans that we cannot build an economy by people making money on those education loans, instead, we must build an economy on educated people making money.

Additionally, I agree with Obama saying that parents and students alike must know from where they can find schools that offer value in education. His new index will measure institutions that give the biggest “bang” for the buck, make them known, and make a special effort to better fund them.

But as Calabrese would point out, in the Democrat president’s speech, is his very Republican template of also holding the student accountable for learning and performance, too. The student’s next semester’s payment would be very much contingent upon the current semester’s performance.

Some students learn faster than others do. Their educational cost should and must be lower. A degree ought not be contingent upon time spent, but upon expenditure of energy used in learning. If it only takes you three years, instead of four, then you should get a degree based upon successful effort, and not upon the calendar.

Many years ago, I sat at a table at an event at Canisius College with former Buffalo Congressman Jack Quinn where Atlanta Congressman John Lewis spoke. To the delight of the students there, Lewis pounded upon the podium insisting that, “We got to put more money into education.”

I looked quizzically over to Quinn and whispered, “Jack! Why do we have to put more money into education instead of just bringing down the price of education?”

Quinn shook his head, grimaced and said, “That’s just the way that they [Democrats that sound like Democrats] think.”

In Obama’s case, who started off as a Democrat that thought and sounded as a Democrat – and still may think the same way, does it really take five years at the top in order to actually get it? It makes me wonder if he has finally been taking tips from former President Bill Clinton, who was a master at doing such.

We need both strong and critically thinking minds and bodies upon which to build an America that is able to sustain self-determination. Many of the steps that the president is taking are in the right direction, and should be applied on the state and local levels. Along with our colleges, our local schools must get on board with creative ways of improving education for all; and our parks must provide an environment for our youth to build the strong bodies that will hone their minds for their educations.

I have to give it to the president on this one.

Contact Ken Hamilton at