Senator Barack Obama appeared on Fox News Sunday and (among other things) spoke of his school reform bona fides. Chris Wallace asked him to name an issue where he'd be willing to buck the Democratic Party, and Obama pointed to education:

I've been very clear about the fact--and sometimes I've gotten in trouble with the teachers' union on this--that we should be experimenting with charter schools. We should be experimenting with different ways of compensating teachers...

So far so good; though charter schools were mainstream once upon a time (Bill and Hillary Clinton were big supporters back in the 90s), the issue has become increasingly polarized. And while the UFT has a couple of charter schools itself, most unions have been on a rampage against them. And he has gotten in trouble over his pay-for-performance comments, as at the NEA conference last summer. But here come the caveats:

WALLACE: You mean merit pay?

OBAMA: Well, merit pay, the way it's been designed, I think, is based on just a single standardized test--I think is a big mistake, because the way we measure performance may be skewed by whether or not the kids are coming into school already three years or four years behind. But I think that having assessment tools and then saying, "You know what? Teachers who are on career paths to become better teachers, developing themselves professionally--that we should pay excellence more." I think that's a good idea, so...

What he describes here--paying teachers for "developing themselves professionally"--is exactly what the teachers' unions want. He completely backed off his pay-for-performance proposal. So how exactly is this an example of bucking the Democratic Party?

Michael J. Petrilli
Michael J. Petrilli is a President at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute