Glenn Hamer

A few thoughts this week about some important changes happening here and abroad…

A new look at the Bush presidency

With the fall of Tripoli, the Arab Spring continues to be this year’s most promising story. The region’s bad guys are going away. Moamar Gadhafi is about to join Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and former Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in the dictator unemployment line, and Syria’s Bashar Assad is likely the next to get his pink slip.

As I look at this incredible upheaval that has overtaken the Middle East, I can’t help but think that historians are going to view the presidency of George W. Bush much differently than how we might have thought when he left the White House.

It was Bush in 2003 who raised the question, “Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom and never even to have a choice in the matter?”

To its credit, the Obama administration has not diverged so markedly so as to undermine the citizen uprisings. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deserves a lot of credit for her handling of this tidal wave of change.

This shift from dictatorial governments to ones where the people have a voice is going to be messy for a while. Don’t expect any U.S.-style transfers of power like we see on January 20 when we welcome a new president. But in the long term it’s the right thing for the region and for the world.

Admitting we have a problem

If the U.S. government is addicted to overspending, then the recent brouhaha over lifting the debt ceiling may prove to be the catalyst in convincing our politicians to admit that we have a problem.

The deal reached between the White House and Congress is by no means perfect. Just ask S&P what they thought of the agreement. And I’ve written previously about my concerns about the built-in triggers that could result in big cuts to the defense budget.

But we’ve turned a corner in the spending debate. No longer can a candidate for the presidency mount a credible campaign based on the premise that he or she is going to increase spending. Those days are over.

And it looks like out of all this sausage-making that we’re going to get a tax code that will have lower rates and fewer exemptions, deductions and credits. A cleaner, more efficient tax code should help create more jobs and with it produce more revenue. Add in a legitimate debate over entitlement reform and we might just be on the path to true fiscal reform.

Teach for America a beacon of hope for the future

It’s easy to get depressed about the nation’s future when our country is battling it out with the likes of Slovakia, Slovenia and Liechtenstein in world academic rankings. According to the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA, an exam administered by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the U.S. ranks in the middle of the pack of participating countries in the measurement of math, science and reading skills, falling behind not only world leaders China, but Estonia, too, population 1.34 million.

But there is reason to be optimistic. Teach for America is attracting our country’s best and brightest from our top universities. TFA is an elite employer, with a stronger draw for top graduates than Wall Street or Silicon Valley. The assignment given new recruits isn’t an easy one. These high-achieving recent graduates commit to serving two years in some of the country’s most challenging educational environments.

Yet over 60 percent of TFA teachers stay in education beyond their two-year commitment, continuing to make an impact in places like New Orleans, where, following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the city’s educational infrastructure had to be rebuilt. TFA now has over 400 teachers serving in New Orleans.

People are taking notice of TFA’s impact. The Walton Family Foundation recently announced a grant to TFA for $49.5 million to double the organization’s teaching corps over the next three years. Here in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer awarded TFA $2 million in stimulus funds.

TFA in Phoenix has nearly 600 alumni making a difference in our community. Under the leadership of the dynamic Pearl Chang Esau, TFA has doubled its private revenue here.

After parents, there is no more important variable in a child’s educational success than the quality of the teacher in the classroom. Teach for America is bringing outstanding teachers to where they are needed most.

Financial resource should not be a barrier to matching great teachers with struggling schools. This is an area where we can’t do too much. The more schools in which Teach for America can place its teachers, the more new horizons that will be opened to our kids.

Glenn Hamer is the president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry