NBC's Guthrie Allows Obama to Accuse Romney of 'Teacher-Bashing'

In a surprisingly tough interview with President Obama aired on Tuesday's NBC Today, co-host Savannah Guthrie cited Mitt Romney's criticism that the President has sided with teachers' unions against education reform, to which Obama shot back: "I think Governor Romney and a number of folks try to politicize the issue and do a lot of teacher-bashing."

Guthrie followed up: "Can you really say that teachers' unions aren't slowing the pace of reform?" Obama repeated the anti-Romney talking point: "I just really get frustrated when I hear teacher-bashing as evidence of reform." While Guthrie made some effort to pin down the President, she ultimately allowed him to build up the "teacher-bashing" straw man as he dodged her questions.

Guthrie pressed Obama with several pointed and substantive questions for the special Education Nation sit-down:

>We began by talking about the recent teachers' strike in his hometown of Chicago, which pits the teachers' union against his former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. There was a leading reform advocate who said this shows it is a new day for Democrats. They are no longer kowtowing to the unions. Is that how you see it?

>American students 25th in math. 17th in science. 14th in reading. And yet the U.S. spends just about as much as any other country per pupil. People are probably wondering what are we spending our money on then?

>Let me ask you about No Child Left Behind. The administration has granted waivers to states because Congress hasn't amended the law, allows them to not have as rigorous standards. Because of those waivers in some states, states are permitted to have different proficiency standards by race. The bottom line is, we have a situation in America in 2012 where you have African-Americans expected not to reach the same level of proficiency as whites in certain subjects. And I just wonder, on a gut level, does that bother you?

However, she couldn't resist wrapping up the exchange by lobbing a softball: "You got in some hot water at home, I heard, a while back when you let the world know that Malia had gotten a 'C' on a science test. That got me thinking. Have you ever failed a test?" Obama replied: "Oh, yes." A shocked Guthrie exclaimed: "Really?"

Anchor Brian Williams will interview Romney on the subject for Tuesday's NBC Nightly News and it will also air on Wednesday's Today.


Here is a full transcript of the September 25 segment:

7:00AM ET TEASE:

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: One-on-one. President Obama on the battle over how to fix our nation's schools. Can you really say that teachers unions aren't slowing the pace of reform? This morning, the President's revealing answer.

7:22AM ET TEASE:

GUTHRIE: Just ahead, President Obama on education and what he was like as a student.

7:30AM ET TEASE:

MATT LAUER: Also ahead, your interview with the President.

GUTHRIE: Yeah, we talked to him about education, we talked about the problems facing our nation's schools, also revealed what he was like as a young student and how he compares in the classroom to his own daughters Sasha and Malia. Lots to hear from the President coming up.

LAUER: I'll look forward to that.

7:42AM ET SEGMENT:

GUTHRIE: This morning on Education Nation Today, the President's perspective. I sat down with President Obama as he campaigned in Wisconsin over the weekend, and we began by talking about the recent teachers' strike in his hometown of Chicago, which pits the teachers' union against his former chief of staff, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. There was a leading reform advocate who said this shows it is a new day for Democrats. They are no longer kowtowing to the unions. Is that how you see it?

BARACK OBAMA: You know, that's not how I see it. What I see is that all across the country people want results. It was very important, I think, for Mayor Emanuel to say, "Let's step up our game," and it was important for the teachers' unions also to say, "Let's make sure we're not just blaming teachers for a lot of big problems out there. Let's make sure we've got the resources." So I'm glad it was resolved, but I do think that, from the perspective of Democrats, we can't just sit on the status quo or say that money's the only issue. Reform is important also.

GUTHRIE: Mitt Romney said that, "President Obama has chosen his side in this fight," that you sided with the unions, and another time last spring he said, "He can't talk up reform while indulging in groups that block it."

OBAMA: Well, you know, I think Governor Romney and a number of folks try to politicize the issue and do a lot of teacher-bashing. When I meet teachers all across the country, they are so devoted and so dedicated to their kids, and what we've tried to do is actually break through this left-right, conservative-liberal gridlock.

GUTHRIE: Can you really say that teachers' unions aren't slowing the pace of reform?

OBAMA: You know, I just really get frustrated when I hear teacher-bashing as evidence of reform. My sister is a former teacher, and I can tell you that they work so hard. They're putting money out of their own pockets in the classroom every single day, they're not doing it for the pay. And, you know, what is absolutely true is, if we've got a bad teacher, we should be able to train them to get better, and if they can't get better, they should be able to get fired.

GUTHRIE: And I'm sure you could recite these statistics by heart. American students 25th in math.

OBAMA: Yeah.

GUTHRIE: 17th in science. 14th in reading. And yet the U.S. spends just about as much as any other country per pupil. People are probably wondering what are we spending our money on then?

OBAMA: Well, you know, part of the problem we've got is we've got a very diverse country compared to some of the smaller countries where all the kids are coming to school pretty well prepared. They're not hungry, they're not poor. In our country, you know, we've got poor kids and we've – some kids who have deep troubles at home. But there's no doubt that we can step up our game. And this is a big argument and a big difference that I've got with Governor Romney in this election, because they talk a good game about reform, but when you actually look at their budgets, they're talking about slashing our investment in education by 20%, 25%. We've already seen 300,000 teachers that have been fired across the country, and as a consequence, class sizes have gone up by 5%.

GUTHRIE: Let me ask you about No Child Left Behind. The administration has granted waivers to states because Congress hasn't amended the law, allows them to not have as rigorous standards. Because of those waivers in some states, states are permitted to have different proficiency standards by race. The bottom line is, we have a situation in America in 2012 where you have African-Americans expected not to reach the same level of proficiency as whites in certain subjects. And I just wonder, on a gut level, does that bother you?

OBAMA: Of course it bothers me. And one of the good things about No Child Left Behind was to say all kids can learn. But the problem that you had was because it was under-resourced and because some kids were coming into school, a lot of minority kids were coming into school already behind, the schools were not going to be meeting these standards. And so what we've said to schools is you've got to continue to keep those high standards, but we are going to measure growth. We're still going to keep track of what you're doing with each group, and you're not going to have an excuse to do really well with white kids, let's say, and the black and Hispanic kids aren't doing as well, but you average it out and meet something. We're still going to disaggregate the information about black, white and Hispanic kids to make sure that everybody's moving.

GUTHRIE: Before I let you go. You got in some hot water at home, I heard, a while back when you let the world know that Malia had gotten a "C" on a science test. That got me thinking. Have you ever failed a test?

OBAMA: Oh, yes.

GUTHRIE: Really?

OBAMA: Absolutely. You know, I was – I would say I was a mediocre student until I got to college. I – I goofed off way too much. Malia and Sasha are so far ahead of me, basically in all respects, they're just better people than I was at their age, and – and they are doing wonderfully. You know, I couldn't be prouder of them. I will say that, at least at the school they're at, they're getting a lot more homework than I did when I was that age. I mean, they seem to be working deep into the night, you know. I didn't study that hard until the night before an exam.

OBAMA: Well, tomorrow on Today, we're going to get Governor Romney's perspective on the state of education in America.

Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen
Kyle Drennen is a News Analyst for MRC