Obama’s Choose Sidwell Friends

Once again, elite liberals show their hypocrisy by sending their children to a private religious based school while they tell other Americans, “No Vouchers for You!”

The Obama’s have decided to send their daughters to the elite Sidwell Friends Quaker-based private school. Meanwhile millions of inner-city African American children will have to continue attending failing public schools.


  1. Let’s get real here. I’m not an Obama fan, but I try to keep things in perspective. This is the President of the United States’ children. What would have been said if they were attending a private Muslim school.

  2. It is safer for the Obama children to attend a private school, don’t you think?

    Safety is an always an issue with the president’s children and even more so with Obama being the first black president.

  3. You said it much better than I did, Liza.

  4. Do you mean to tell me that it is not safe for children to attend public schools? Or do you mean not safe for black children? Or do you mean not safe for President’s children? Even though there will be Secret Service Agents with them every step of the way? Or you may even mean not safe for children to attend public schools in DC?

    Funny, how I thought SAFETY was a factor for ALL our children.

  5. Liza you are correct. It is safer for his kids to go there. It is also safer for any other child as well to attend an exclusive private school than to be stuck in the regular D.C. public schools. That is the point of the whole post. On top of being safer, they will probably get a better education. Again something that would also apply to every other child if they were allowed equal access.

  6. Further, it occurs to me that the very presence of the president’s children anywhere may put all of the people also there at risk.

    How about home schooling, Michelle?

  7. I agree that all children should be able to receive the quality of education one can get at Sidwell.

    Sidwell charges around $30,000 per year for tuition – maybe if public schools received that kind of money they could provide the same quality of education.

  8. James Davidson says


    Let’s see. At $30,000 per kid, that’s $600,000 for a classroom of 20, or even $300,000 for a classroom of ten. Isn’t that swell?

    Let me suggest you look a little more deeply into it. The public schools in the District of Columbia are among the highest funded public schools per kid in the United States and yield results among the worst.

    In Arizona, Tucson Unified is either among the highest or in fact has the highest funding per kid, due to its budget overrides, high property tax base, and desegregation property taxes. It also has one of the strongest teacher unions. And it has terrible results. Get a clue?

    Phoenix Union had a great superintendet in Raj Chopra, and he was making real gains in student achievement. The district’s average teacher salary exceeds $60,000, probably the highest in Arizona, and it has among the highest funding per kid; also due to overrides, a high propety tax base, and desegregation property taxes. Yet the union ran him out of office. Where is it headed now, despite the good funding sources?

    By the way, I agree the President-Elect and his First Lady have every right to send their daughters where they think is best for them, and I do not criticize them at all for doing what they think is right by their girls. They seem like very fine parents, to the extent one can tell from such a distance.

    One does tire, however, of the constant whining over public school funding, which is not nearly as bad in Arizona as one would think based on the constant grousing.

  9. To Iris and Sarah and anyone else who wants to criticize the Obamas for sending their little girls to a private school.

    Yes, the Obamas could have the girls tutored in the White House, but quite obviously they are trying to let them have as normal a life as possible under the circumstances. I think that’s fair enough.

    Also, President (elect) Obama has on hundreds of occasions stated his support for education and teachers. This will not turn around overnight, but I definitely agree with you that every child should have a chance at a quality education.

    However, I do not think that where Obama’s little girls go to school is slightly relevant to an argument about the state of K-12 education in this country.

    This is about the SAFETY OF THOSE CHILDREN. If you want to play blind, deaf, and dumb to the safety issue then go right ahead.

    I grew up in the Jim Crow south, and there are millions of people just like me who know what this is about from OUR OWN LIFE EXPERIENCE and, furthermore, it should be pretty damn obvious to the rest of you.

    You’ll be trashing Obama non-stop, I’m sure. This particular angle just isn’t going to work for you except in your own little echo chamber.

  10. I don’t care where the President sends his girls but if he’s going to be the President of “Change” and wants to invest in education, he’s got to show some consistency and allow other parents to send their children where they deem best even if that means private schools. I’m guessing the point of this post is to promote parental choice in education. Other less financially fortunate parents should have the same opportunities that the Obama’s have and I’m sure they would like to see the redistribution of opportunity and resources so they can get their children into a great school whether that is public or private. The Obama’s are committed to the National Education Association union which opposes any parental choice in education. So much for change.

  11. Gee whiz. I wonder if Prince Charles and Princess Diana had to endure posts like some of these when they sent their boys to Eton. Mon Dieu!

  12. Classic case of “for me but not for thee.” Meh. Please tell me what logistical or tactical consideration would prevent the Secret Service from protecting these children as effectively in a public school as in a private school. No such consideration exists. The Obamas want a superior education for their children, so union-controlled government schools won’t be considered . . .

  13. James Davidson – thanks for doing the math but what exactly is your point? I was simply observing that comparing Sidwell to public schools is making a ridiculous comparison.

    BTW, what exactly does the having unionized teachers have to do with the quality of public education, besides offering up a nice right-wing scapegoat.

  14. James Davidson says


    My point is simple: The most important factor to the public school system is leadership. If the public schools got as much as Sidwell, what would they do with it? How could they spend that kind of money reasonably on each classroom.

    Looking at it more generally, adequate funding obviously is a foundation, but what is done with the money is more important to public schools. Many districts squander what they get. A few with great superintendents do superbly. Peoria Unified under the late Dr. Ray Kellis comes to mind.

    And yes, a strong teachers union usually correlates to a poorly performing district. It’s not a scape goat. It’s a fact. Union leaders push for fewer programs and higher class sizes to increase salaries, and usually tolerate lower starting salaries as the senior-most union leaders feather their own nests at the expense of the new but powerless beginning teachers. They also often create a symbiotic relationship with a weak and ineffective superintendent — the you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours syndrome. A big clue is whether the union president gets a full release from teaching duties to work on union business. That suggests the union is running the district rather than the governing board.

    Turning back to the President-Elect, let’s cut him and the new First Lady the slack to do what they think is best for their girls. I don’t fault anyone trying to do right by his family. Isn’t that what fathers and mothers are supposed to do?

  15. The point of the post (I think) is Obama is a typical liberal elitist. He wants most families to be forced to accept the monopoly of government run (union-dominated) public schools, but when faced with the choice himself, chooses the superior private school. Nobody would give a rat’s ass where he sent his kids to school if he believed in school choice. This is “do as I say, not as I do.” And this fantasy that all public education needs is more funding is ridiculous. Funding for public education has been doing nothing but increasing over the past fifty years, yet performance continues to decline. Funding is not the problem, the system is the problem (monopoly, government-run, union-controlled). If you continue to pour water on a weed, it doesn’t turn into a flower – it turns into a larger weed.

  16. Does anyone besides me find it ironic that the pro-choice crowd is all about choice before birth but is all about anti-choice after birth?

  17. Maybe this visual aid will help:
    Public Espenditures on Public Education

  18. I actually think a major problem with public education is that it takes a one-size-fits-all approach which results in a great deal of mediocrity. I would actually like to see a great deal more diversity in how things are taught and approaches.

    However, there are a few things I do find disingenuous in some of the arguments made in regards to education.

    The first is, we know that the figures cited by the Heritage foundation don’t take into account that these per-pupil spending figures include a huge percentage rise in the amount of money spent on special education. When one factors out that portion, the rise is quite a bit less (around 70%). It also looks at nationwide average spending and nationwide average test scores, which hide both specific cases linking increased spending with increase test scores. I would also point out the increases shown in test scores are no flat and some groups have seen substantial improvement.

    A second point is comparing schools which screen applicants with those which must accept and educate everyone. Sidwell does. I somehow bet you could have a powerful teachers’ union and with $30K per student being spent and highly select admission one could have a stellar school.

  19. Tucson Vice says

    Last I checked, the Obama’s weren’t using vouchers to pay for Sidwell.

  20. The previous and current Mayors of DC all recognized the value of choice and have been strident advocates for charter schools and more choice. The current Mayor is also putting in place major accountability reforms and firing teachers who do not perform. Let’s not criticize one orthodoxy with another orthodoxy. Let’s look at what works and seek to implement changes based on real information.

  21. Yeah, I guess Barack Obama is to blame for decandes of continuous and escalating failure in much of the country’s K-12 public education.

    In TUSD, a person can graduate from college and have teacher certification and make $31,000/year. The median pay is somewhere around $40,000, I believe.

    Yes, this kind of pay attracts the best and brightest, bet on it. And that is just the tip of the berg if we’re going to talk about problems in public education in this district.

  22. Make that “decades” of continous and escalating failure.

  23. For all the comparisons and charts, let’s have on true comparison with all factors considered! With any discussion of cause-effect, there must be a true look at all factors that could have influenced the outcomes. To only look at funding and comparison to low test scores is just as faulty as those who say funding is the sole indicator of success.

    What else changed in those years? What new mandates took time away from teaching the basics? What does the classroom look like compared to the classroom of years ago? How many children who were put in Special Ed because they were “slow” but our now mainstreamed due to civil rights laws we have now? How many children who are non-English speakers are included in that graph? How has our society changed in terms of parental support and expectations?

    Money is not the answer in either debate. It is not the cure for or the root of all evil. In all the talk of choice and student success, we have got to move past our political positions and look at real results. There are many highly performing public schools, schools that knock the socks off of tests and achievement, in all areas and demographics. There are schools in affluent areas that are not doing as well as they should. There are private schools that do not prepare their children well but will never be cast aside because they hold a special place in the hearts of folks due to their parochial or religious protection. That is not a bad thing but it is unfair when comparisons are made with faulty presumptions.

    The answer is in determining what works and what doesn’t based on the reality of that school. There is no need to re-create the wheel or impose the broad brush approach. Compare SSE indicators, mobility, language acquisition, and performance. There are no mysteries to what will make good things happen just the will to do them. Best practices can be determined and shared, and then accountability for performance measured. For the adults in charge…Can’t do, can’t stay.

    If you choose, as you should be able, to send your child to a school other than your neighborhood public school, great! That is not my point of contention. But do not preface the conversation with how horrible public schools are, that all encompassing phrase, in order to appease your choice. I have friends who send their children to charter and private, yet they live in a district that has excelling schools, that do much better than the private or charter. It is their choice not a requisite act to determine the success of their children.

    If every community had a solid, highly performing public school as a choice for parents the issue of vouchers could be discussed with integrity and even opportunity. Until then, it will continued to be perceived as an elitist attempt to abandon the rights of all children and a means to separate some children based on factors that go beyond educational opportunity.

  24. James Davidson says


    I agree it’s not fair to blame the President-Elect for the mismanagement of public schools that has taken place at least since the Carter Administration, and I don’t fault him the slightest for choosing Sidwell.

    I disagree with you about Tucson Unified. It probably gets more money per kid than any district in Arizona because of the $60 million in desegregation property taxes that it rakes in that. Only 19 districts get that source of taxation, and only one or two comes close to what Tucson gets. Yet TUSD remains poorly managed. If the district pays its beginning teachers so little, it is directly attributable to waste, or to the senior teachers taking a disproportionate share. It also is riven with Sacred Cows. Prime example is its La Raza program on whichn it wastes about $3 million. It has one of the strongest teacher unions in the state, and has nothing but failure to show for it.

  25. Please overlook the typos…was up all night with a sick child. Sorry!

  26. You know what is funny in this whole debate – I did some checking and Obama actually supports charter schools and voted on legislation in Ill. that expanded them.

  27. Actually Todd, what’s funnier is that a debate about public vs. private schooling is headlined with a grammatical error:

    “Obama’s Choose Sidwell Friends”

  28. Kim, excellent post at 9:35 AM.

    James D., if a person makes $31,000 per year, that is $2,583 per month before taxes, social security, health insurance, school loan payments, etc…

    I think there is a point where a problem is so obvious and glaring that it has to be addressed on an emergency basis. That is where teacher’s starting salaries are right now. Based on pay, teachers are being valued as much as those who are working at call centers, Tucson’s hottest low paying occupation.

    I do not doubt that you are right about there being a lot of waste in the district, too many administrators, too much of the money available for salaries going to administrators and senior level teachers, and too many sacred cows. The school district is a bureaucracy, to be sure, and has all the employment and personnel problems of any bureaucracy.

    I’m not sure in what order they should address their problems which they obviously do not want to address. But I do know that when teacher salaries are so out of alignment with what it costs to have a very modest lifestyle, then the best teachers are not going to swarm to TUSD.

  29. todd,

    Indeed, Obama is more “progressive” than most Democrats on the subject of school choice. I remember that the National Teacher’s Unions did not trust him as far as they could throw him, and backed Hilary to the hilt (who, by the way, sent Chelsea to a private school also.)

    I also get a chuckle that Obama did not only choose a private school, but a “religious based” private school.

    I would suspect that the school choice thing comes with Obama’s racial background. Minorities, and especially blacks, are the most underserved by the current iteration of a forced public education to those who cannot escape poverty.

    The two things that I so far like about Obama is his, for now anyway, at least tepid support of school choice and his determination to get a playoff in College Football (which I know is a bit hypocritical for a free marketer.)

  30. Liza,

    Step one would be to break TUSD back into smaller districts. It is far easier to control five distempered lamas than a disagreeable elephant.

    I don’t believe that the sought after cost savings ever materialized when the separate districts were joined.

    School board positions would become less of a political plum and be filled with new people with different ideas.

  31. James Davidson says


    I couldn’t agree more that a starting salary of $31,000 is shameful. I do, not, however, attribute this sad state of affairs at TUSD to inadequate funding. Funding for maintenance and operations (M&O) starts with a certain base support level, which currently is nearly $6000 per kid. It comes from two sources: local property taxes, and state equalization aid, so that each district gets roughly the same per kid. Then the Legislature bumps that figure up for what is called Group B weights, including such things as small district size, non-English speaking kids, and a laundry list of other items, so that a district’s special circumstances can be taken care of. Then you add in Prop 301 money for the 6/10ths sales tax increase we voted on in 2000, and a share of Indian Gaming proceeds, both of which pour into the classroom site fund, intended to increase dollars in the classroom. This does not include soft capital (e.g., textbooks, computers, lab equipment, etc.) or building construction or renovation (paid for by the school facilities board.)

    In a classroom of 25 kids at $6000 per kid, you come to $150,000 a classroom, before you get to Group B, Prop 301, or Indian Gaming, and before any federal help comes in the form of Titles I, II, or III.

    For Tucson Unified, throw in another $60 million in desegregation property taxes, which goes into the M&O budget.

    With $150,000 per classroom coming in before the add ons, and not counting soft or hard capital, which is funded separately, or the $60 million in desegregation property taxes, why is the district paying the beginning teacher only $31,000? She is obviously getting taken advantage of. Her complaint lies at the feet of her union, which is using her horribly; her administration, which wastes money horribly; and her governing board, which does nothing for her.

    If you are right that they pay her $31,000, where does the other $119,000 in M&O for her 25 kids, and all the other funding go?

    To make it more galling, I’ll bet they give her peanuts for supplies.

    Liberals: Look at your allies in the teachers union. They are abusing their membership and hurting our kids.

  32. Framer,

    You are very astute to recognize the cost savings did not materialize in TUHSD. In fact, large districts are more costly and have no better, often worse, results in achievement than their smaller counterparts. The current move to unify districts is a step in the wrong direction if we want better schools and more efficient governance. Your description of school boards in the huge districts is right on; no better way to empower a union and disenfranchise the taxpayer than to remove voters from their elected officials by making the district so large it removes direct accountability.


    You overlook the reality that while the figures are all on a per student average, there are students that are not average. The cost per student of many children is much higher than the funding covers; the shortage is taken from that average. The Fed only picks up 17% of Special Ed costs while their share is 40%, that average kid pays the balance from their state funding. I do not for one minute defend TUHSD or Phx. Union, both receiving huge extra dollars that other districts do not see. But in the typical school district, the average student supports the education of the special needs child, ELL, and all other services. The figure you came up with must pay for the electric bill, school secretary, and the cafeteria staff in addition to teacher pay and supplies. In a high school, the extras really add up. Have you priced a football helmet lately?

    We are a fickle group. For all the talk of efficiency and high standards; are we willing to say no more athletics, every student brings their lunch, and busses are a thing of the past? I’m not suggesting that but when we really want to be serious about education reform, we must be willing to look at the actual cost and decide if we are willing to pay it or not. To confuse the issue with talk of vouchers is a red herring to avoid doing the hard work needed and admitting public education can be a very good thing, but it takes courage and conviction and will not come easily. The push-back from deeply positioned politicians is just as much to blame as unions.

  33. James Davidson says


    You have a valid point to a certain extent. The feds never have funded what they require in special ed, but that’s only one factor.

    Before you can make a case for higher funding, you need to show that districts are not wasting what they already have. That’s a hard case to make. I will guarantee you that you can find empire building in nearly every district office. Try firing an incompetent adminstrator or teacher.

    I still put out there the notion that a strong union correlates precisely to poor performance and waste of tax dollars. I haven’t seen anyone here refute it, though I sincerely hope I am wrong about. The facts just seem the other way, TUSD and Phoenix Union being exhibits A and B.

  34. FUNNY thing happened on the way to the PTA meeting………..

    Johnny can’t read because:

    1. His “Dad” did a “hit & run” right after conception.

    2. Mama works the night shift at a call-center.

    3. Johnny spends the night at Grandma’s house & Grandma lets him do anything he wants. He falls asleep in class a lot.

    4. His young years have been full of DES services because “Daddy” works under the table so he won’t have to pay child support.

    5. Mama and Daddy were using Meth, weed and alcohol long before and during the “wild thing”.

    6. Johnny is dyslexic but neither the school nor Mama has figured it out yet. Johnny is told to “try harder” over and over. He tunes everyone out now.

    7. Johnny spends his weekends wherever he can lay his head, so Mama can have some “Me” time.

    8. Johnny has been socially promoted along with other classmates who can’t read. He’ll snap out of it someday.

    Etc, etc, etc………….

    If Johnny can’t read, his parents need to move mountains to see that he does. Basic parental responsibility 101. Isn’t that the GOP way?

    Shame on all of my fellow conservatives who want a piece of the $30,000 a year private school pie. What if a “voucher” system did exist?? What if your darling “can’t-read Johnny” applied for 1 of 500 slots and got a rejection letter? What about the other 10,000 kids who applied for that same seat? Oh, here come the fireworks and the waterworks.

    Folks, this is a class ($) problem and most of us here couldn’t entertain the thought of paying that much for elementary education. Heck, I’ll bet plenty of readers don’t make much more than that a year. Surely entry level teachers don’t! Life will never be fair – don’t expect it to be. I’m grossed out after reading some of these comments.

    P.S………..Union across all industries have lowered the beginning salary of new hires. That’s been going on for 20 years now. Before the stocks took a dive, the S&P companies sure weren’t “sharing the wealth” with anyone making below the top 10% of the payscale. he Capitalism Honor System didn’t work because greed does not know honor. There is a huge problem with wage disparity…..but the Unions have very little to do with it. Hardly any employees are members anymore. It’s the “open door” policies of the Dow companies that put wages in the toilet.

  35. James,

    No fight here on the future funding issue. But the question of how to adequately fund schools remains to be answered.

    The statutes define teacher removal and the unions use every letter of that law. Removal of an administrator is easy compared to even a first year teacher.

    I agree with the union=poor performance opinion. Big school districts=big unions, decreased parent input and student achievement.

    Inside Out,

    I, too, have never understood how my fellow conservatives can turn their back on the Jeffersonian concept of a well-educated electorate and the responsibility of each community to educate its youth. To me, it is like the right to bear arms…how can I defend myself against the ill-conceived thought of others if I am not educated as well? I have also yet to hear a voucher pusher speak with any real knowledge of student achievement, educational funding and the actual dollars to the classroom versus the rhetoric. The term “dollars to the classroom” is a prime example of a common misconception that most do not understand.

  36. Ron Sukel says

    The message that the Obama’s are sending by enrolling Sasha and Malia at SFS is indeed troubling. Sacrifice and fair share seem to have no meaning when the Obama’s apply it to themselves. They need to lead by example.

    Us poor folks pay around 8-10k tuition per year. So, 200k/10= 20 students that could benefit from the cost of Sasha and Malia’s education alone. Now, that’s what I call fair and spreading the wealth.

    The best solution would have been to home school Sasha and Malia. Security, wouldn’t be an issue. Accusations of Elitism, dispelled. Controversy over public or private, gone.

    In fact, the Obama’s could have started their own Charter School in the White House with and expanded enrollment with deserving children who otherwise couldn’t afford the likes of SFS.

    I think Barack likes those photo ops of him ‘taking’ the children to school. He probably fits in a smoke break somewhere too.

  37. Ron Sukel says

    According to the Sidwell Friends web site


    There currently are no openings for grades 1-2 and 4-5. Those include the grades Sasha, 2nd, and Malia, 5th, are attending.

    Other grades at SFS have numerous openings.


    That seems strange.
    Were the Obamas forced adds or was Sidwell forced to close admissions for those grades.

    I wonder what the enrollment looked like before the Obama’s enrolled the kidlets there. What might it be costing Sidwell to have accepted the Obama’s as students?

    There may very well be a story here for some young, as yet untainted, news hawk.

  38. Well, I have been trying to make a go of it and blogging my brains out, but I certainly have to give you credit. That was excellently done. I don’t always make such clear points and a lot of blogs I read are poorly written and leave wondering just what were they trying to say.

    I find it so hard to come up with new ideas and rewritting someone else’s work can backfire. Particularly if you don’t know whether they are truly an expert in their field. The longer I work on the internet the more I wonder about most of the content. However, to be fair their are many aurthors in the print media out there that espouse their ideas as fact when they are clearly questionable. It is almost as easy to have a book published as an ebook.

    Anyway, thanks for the great blog.

  39. Financing is really struggeling around these days.

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