Obama's Blueprint for Education Receives Mixed Reviews

Mar 18, 2010

President Obama's new blueprint for education, which overhauls the controversial No Child Left Behind Law, seeks to make every student college- and career-ready by 2020. Although the reform proposal has been accepted by some as a good idea, it has also received intense criticism from teachers' unions and other education-related associations.

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Revamping No Child Left Behind

President Obama sent a 41-page blueprint for education reform to Congress on Monday. The blueprint adheres to many of the principles first established by former President George W. Bush for the No Child Left Behind Act and proposes new actions to make every high school student college- and career-ready by 2020.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which is the most current reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), was created with the goal of bringing all students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014. NCLB has been criticized frequently since its inception because of the law's heavy reliance on standardized testing as a means of assessment.

The law established a system of financial incentives to motivate schools to improve test performance. Penalties were also created for schools whose test scores were not up to standard. Critics claim that the law forces educators to increase instruction in reading, writing and math (subjects tested under the law) and decrease instruction in the arts, elementary social studies and foreign languages (subjects not tested under the law).

This method of 'teaching to the test' was observed in many different schools. A 2007 study from the Center on Education Policy found that more than two-thirds of the school districts surveyed were forced to cut time in elementary schools for non-tested subjects so that they could increase instructional time for tested subjects.

Under the leadership of former president Bush, the Department of Education called NCLB a success, but was never able to provide any real statistics to prove the law's effectiveness. Since taking office, President Obama has expressed dislike for the current system, calling NCLB a 'flawed law' that focuses on labeling failures rather than rewarding successes.

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The Obama Blueprint

Obama's new blueprint for education renovates the current ESEA and outlines a re-envisioned federal role in education. The key priorities of the reform focus on making students college- and career-ready, elevating the teaching profession, creating opportunities for all students, rewarding excellence and promoting innovation. To achieve these goals, the administration proposes:

  • Raising standards in English language arts and mathematics so that every graduating student is college- and career-ready. States will have the option of improving existing standards or working with other states to develop common, nationwide standards.
  • Supporting states, schools and teachers who provide students with a more broad-based education in subjects not tested under law.
  • Requiring states to financially support the lowest-performing schools and districts and reward the schools and districts that make the most progress.
  • Encouraging states to implement evaluation systems for teachers and principals.
  • Providing funds to states and districts that improve the effectiveness of teachers and school administration in high-poverty, high-minority schools.
  • Investing in traditional and alternative teacher preparation programs that prepare, place and support teachers and principals in high-need schools.
  • Making dramatic changes to low-performing schools that do not demonstrate progress over time.
  • Supporting and strengthening programs for disabled students, ESL students, rural students and delinquent students.
  • Continuing Race to the Top incentives for systemic reforms at the state level and offering new incentives to school districts that take on ambitious reforms.
  • Supporting expansion of public school choice options and high-performing charter schools.
  • Increasing access to college-level courses, dual credit courses and other accelerated courses in high-need schools.

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Reactions to Obama's Reform Proposal

Obama's blueprint for education has received a great deal of attention over the last week. Many people seem to approve of the fact that the blueprint steers away from labeling and sanctioning schools that don't make adequate yearly progress on standardized tests. There have also been positive reactions to the idea of focusing on the most chronically failing schools.

'This blueprint lays the right markers to help us reset the bar for our students and the nation,' said Rep. George Miller, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee.

Jack Jennings, president of the Center for Education Policy, called Obama's blueprint 'thoughtful' and an improvement over what's there.'

But the revised plan doesn't sit well with everyone. Teachers unions have openly criticized the proposal, saying that it still puts too much emphasis on standardized test scores and makes unfair demands of teachers.

'Teachers alone cannot turn around struggling schools, and the administration's plans put 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers,' said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

The unions also have concerns about the school intervention models proposed by the administration. School districts that need help financing turnarounds will have to use at least one of these models to receive federal money. Of the four models proposed by the administration, three require dismissing teachers and principals.

'Under these proposals, school districts can carry out mass firings of teachers, without any evidence that a valid evaluation system is in place or being used,' said Weingarten.

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What Do You Think?

What do you think of Obama's blueprint for education reform? Is it the recipe our schools need to ensure every student is college- and career-ready by 2020? Does it put unfair pressure on teachers? Will Congress rewrite the proposal? Send us a tweet and share your thoughts @Studydotcom.

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