New Mexico School Counselor Hosts President Obama

While educators nationwide are imploring political leaders, policymakers and media to bring them into the conversation as they debate what’s best for public education, a New Mexico school counselor went one better. She hosted President Barack Obama today for a backyard talk on the topic.

Etta Cavalier, a 36-year veteran of the public schools and member of NEA-New Mexico, and her husband Andrew, a disabled military veteran, found themselves in the national spotlight as the president talked about the needs for public education in the U.S. during a stop in Albuquerque.

Roughly two dozen of the Cavaliers’ neighbors joined them for the question-and-answer session. (Read the Albuqurque Journal’s report on the event and a full transcript of the New Mexico event. Cavalier currently works in the Los Lunas Public Schools.

Touching on everything from the U.S.’s fall in global academic competitiveness rankings to the right of students to get an affordable higher education, Tuesday’s meeting reflected how integral education is to the upcoming elections.

“This issue of education gives you a sense of the choice that I think Democrats are trying to make and the choice that the Republicans are trying to make,” Obama said.

He posed a question to those gathered in the Cavaliers’ yard, and to all voters heading to the polls in November: “Who’s going to prioritize our young people to make sure they’ve got the skills they need to succeed over the long term? Nothing is going to be more important in terms of our long-term success.”

Never have the stakes been higher. In only one generation, the U.S. has slipped from first to 12th in the number of college graduates it produces. The country ranks 21st in science education and 25th in math education globally. The president touted his $4 billion Race to the Top competitive grant program, expansion of early childhood education programs and changes to student loan programs that will help make college more affordable for many.

At phone banks, rallies, and online, NEA members across the country are in the thick of campaigning for the candidates they know will support the real needs of public education. Learn more about their campaign 2010 efforts at EducationVotes and NEAFund.org.

In closing his backyard dialogue with the Cavaliers and their neighbors, President Obama addressed the importance of not blaming educators for all of the problems in public education — a technique that’s reached something of a fever pitch this week due to the release of the Waiting for Superman documentary and NBC’s Education Nation summit.

“Teachers can help, but parents, they’ve got to get those kids started in the right direction,” Obama said.

Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP