Underachieving on Education Reform

Only 34 percent of Americans give President Obama an A, or even a B, for his support of public schools, says an Aug. 25 Christian Science Monitor story reporting on a public opinion survey on education. That 34 percent has dropped from 45 percent a year ago, despite administration spending of more than $100 billion on k-12 education. Proof, as history shows, that money for education isn’t what makes kids smart. The opinion survey was conducted by Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) and Gallup. Support was “slim� for the “drastic school turnaround strategies� favored by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. They involve closing 5,000 schools and firing teaching staffs that don’t perform. Duncan has called on the NAACP for leadership in the program.

Obama has proposed some logical changes in the nation’s education system, from lifting limits on charter schools, to improving early childhood learning to merit pay for teachers, The New York Times reported. But having secured tens of billions of dollars in additional financing for education in his stimulus package and made clear “his aim to seek more in his budget,” he outlined how he would use federal money and programs to influence education at the state and local levels. “Influenceâ€� can well mean money with restrictive strings attached.

What Obama nonchalantly brushes aside is the fact that the U.S. Constitution leaves the responsibility for public K-12 education with the states, as expressed in the Tenth Amendment. But, because of the compelling concern about the quality and strength of our public schools, Congress has provided trainloads of dollars to supplement—and often interfere with—the state and local school districts. About 80 cents of every dollar for education in the recent decade has come from state and local sources. The primary source of federal money began in 1965 with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It was part of President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.� In 2002, it was reauthorized under George W. Bush as “No Child Left Behind� (NCLB).

Secretary Duncan said in an Aug. 9 interview on Real Clear Politics, “Our high school dropout rate around the country is 25 percent. We’re losing 1.2 million students from our schools…each year….Our dropout rate in the African-American Latino communities, in many areas, is 40 percent, 50 percent…We need dramatic change.”

Duncan, in a speech to the NAACP in July, credited the civil rights community for proposing the idea to strengthen the community involvement in school reform at a series of meetings at the White House in plans for reauthorization of ESEA to require a $4 billion School Improvement Program, the turnaround program for low performing schools.

In February, Obama asked Congress for a $3.6 billion increase in education money. He sought sweeping changes, as well, in the No Child Left Behind Act, which has split the education community for nearly a decade. NCLB required schools to have all students to perform at or above standards by 2014. Schools that don’t meet the goals four years in a row must take corrective actions. This can include new curriculum and even state takeovers or school shutdowns. Obama’s “Race to the Top� program last year had states competing for $4 billion. His more recent proposals would do away with the 2014 deadline and set up a new accountability system with more money for failing schools. It’s always about more money.

Obama in March laid out a blueprint to “upend how the government measures and encourages success in the country’s public schools.â€� It intended to rewrite President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law. “The proposal reflects the Administration’s belief…that the Bush-era law is too prescriptive and too punitive, and that it allows states…to focus on standardized tests and its emphasis on reading and math over other skills,â€� The Wall Street Journal reported. Obama’s aim, it said, was “to assure that high school graduates are ‘college-ready and career-ready,’â€� But that’s a long way from the fact that American students are far behind those in almost every other country. Amy Wilkins, vice president of the Education Trust, a non-partisan organization promoting opportunity and achievement especially for low-income kids, said the Administration’s plan could reward only the top 10 percent of schools while ignoring 85 percent.

August 31st, 2010
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