Obama rejects opportunity to speak out on education reform in Fenty reelection campaign

President Obama has repeatedly cited education as a top priority, promising to increase accountability for teachers, administrators and parents. But he missed a major opportunity to speak out, education advocates said Monday, by failing to campaign for Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty, who is facing what many think is a likely defeat in Tuesday’s primary.

“Unless we take action – unless we step up – there are countless children who will never realize their full talent and potential. I don’t accept that future for them,” Obama said in March.

Fenty staked his political future on nationally known but locally embattled schools chief Michelle Rhee, who Obama praised when running for president but who is likely to be ousted if Council Chair Vincent Gray Tuesday becomes mayor.

“The president should have said something in support of Fenty,” said Juan Williams, a journalist and author who has long been a proponent of education reform. “Fenty has been willing to withstand the slings and arrows that come to a politician who stood tough in the midst of the education reform movement.”

Fenty said Friday that he had asked Obama – who is wildly popular with the African-American electorate that has turned against Fenty – to come to his aid. The Democratic mayor said he did not expect the president to do so, even though Rhee and Fenty have taken on the teacher union and fired underperforming teachers, tied pay to performance and moved to shut failing schools if they do not show improvement.

Obama has said throughout his presidency that he endorses the idea of requiring teachers to be more accountable, and said in a July 29 speech to the Urban League that “the status quo is inexcusable.”

“I am 110 percent behind our teachers,” he said. “But all I’m asking in return — as a president, as a parent and as a citizen — is some measure of accountability … we’ve got to make sure we’re seeing results in the classroom.”

D.C. Councilman Jim Graham, who supports Fenty, said the one person who could have changed the dynamics of the mayor’s race — ensuring Rhee another four years to implement her reforms upending the status quo — is the president.

“I think the president could have won the election for Adrian. I would go so far,” Graham said Monday.

“I think he should have,” Graham said, citing Fenty’s early endorsement of Obama during the presidential election.

“Fenty was there for Obama at the very, very beginning, when not a lot of people were stepping out for Obama,” Graham said. “And he is definitely in an Obama mold. I know it would be the president of the United States interfering with a local election in the capital of the United States. But I think he could have found something.”

“Maybe he’s done something that I don’t know about,” Graham said.