Barack Obama on Education
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During the 2008 presidential campaign, and after Barack Obama was elected, we brought you coverage of the new President’s plans for education. Has Obama and his administration made good on his education promises? Let’s rewind the tape, and look at what’s been done in the last four years to promote change in seven key areas:
In 2008, Obama said he wanted to “provide funds for states to implement a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students’ abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, and present and defend their ideas.” The biggest movement on the assessment front is something called the Race to the Top Assessment Program.
Basically, an extra $330 million in grant money was provided to two groups of states to create new assessments that, according to the Department of Education, “are valid, support and inform instruction, provide accurate information about what students know and can do, and measure student achievement against standards designed to ensure that all students gain the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in college and the workplace.”
The new tests are projected to be ready for use in schools in 2014. It is too early to determine if these tests are going to provide a more accurate picture of student learning, according to Jennifer Cohen, Senior Policy Analyst at the New American Foundation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy institute, and there are still challenges that lie ahead for this program.
One of which is the issue of the Common Core Standards, a set of educational standards for English language arts and mathematics that states can voluntarily adopt. The new tests will be based on this set of standards, but not all the states want to adopt the Common Core Standards, either because of politics or because, as in the case of Virginia, a state “thinks their standards are as good or better, and they don’t want teachers to go back and relearn the new standards,” says Jack Jennings, founder of the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocate for public education.
“As a parent, I would be concerned because Americans move around a lot (more than in any other industrialized country) and if they move, suddenly their kids are going to be taught very different things,” he says.
And on the policy side, it’s difficult to create good assessments across the board if everyone isn’t willing to go along. All Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama can do is hope that these common standards hold up, so that other states may want to fall in line, Jennings says.
In 2008, President Obama voted no on vouchers that would use public money to send kids to private schools because he thought they depleted resources for those kids most in need. He said yes to charter schools offering public schools healthy competition, and he has delivered on that promise by providing some competitive grant money to states that start up charter schools. But, has accountability measures for those charter schools been put into place as he promised?