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Barack Obama on Education (page 2)

Barack Obama on Education

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Updated on Nov 4, 2012

Yes and no, says Jennings. “Charter school kids have to take the test under No Child Left Behind, so there is accountability in that parents know the tests are the same for other kids [in public schools in that state],” he says. “But, there is controversy about whether charter schools are shut down fast enough.”

National evaluations based on test scores show that charter schools are not more successful than public schools, and in some cases charter school kids perform worse on state tests. “They’re very popular with parents, especially in the inner city, but their educational worth is an open question,” Jennings says.

The kicker is that because the closure of schools—whether public or charter—is the responsibility of states, not the federal government, there’s not much President Obama can do to ensure bad charter schools are no longer in operation.

No Child Left Behind

While Obama did not have kind words to say about this policy heading into his presidency, he never made any promises to kill the bill and start from scratch. He did say he thought some serious reforms were needed, especially in relation to teacher quality and retention, and offered ideas for professional development programs as a way to combat the issue.

While the financial crisis, two wars, and a deadlocked Congress may have detained President Obama from his promise to overhaul No Child Left Behind, he did create grant programs to resolve some of the fall-out of this controversial bill. Jennings said these grants “saved tens of thousands of teacher’s jobs and added money to states to offset state budget deficits.”

Though NCLB is four years overdue for renewal, and in desperate need of a make-over to its now-archaic provisions, Congress has just begun the process of reauthorization. The bill calls for states to reach 100 percent proficiency in reading and math tests in 2014, or they face several sanctions, including the loss of federal funding. “No state is going to reach 100 percent proficiency in 2014 and states can’t afford to lose the money,” says Cohen.

As 2014 loomed, and the slow legislative process lagged on, Obama and Duncan realized something had to be done, so in September of 2011 they announced a waiver scheme that allows states to exchange aggressive NCLB goals for reform measures. "To help states, districts and schools that are ready to move forward with education reform, our administration will provide flexibility from the law in exchange for a real commitment to undertake change. The purpose is not to give states and districts a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level," President Obama said.

Most states seem happy with the arrangement because they can change what they find most burdensome about the bill. But, it’s still early days. “It’s hard to assess the success of the waivers because very few states have gotten going, but it definitely is the closest thing to relief,” Cohen says.

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