Barack Obama on Education (page 4)

Barack Obama on Education

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Updated on Nov 4, 2012

Though the funding has not increased massively, Jennings says the money that has been allocated has “led to more teachers being trained in math and science,” which many see as the key to improving math and science education.

Merit Pay

Despite the bane of teachers unions, Obama wanted to open up the idea (read: can of worms) of paying teachers based on their performance.

In this area, Obama definitely put his money where his mouth is by allocating funds for experiments in merit pay. Whether that has worked to improve teacher quality is up in the air. “There are very few successful merit pay systems because it’s difficult to figure out the criteria. We have a long way to go before anyone figures out a way to do it,” Jennings says.

Obama’s camp wants part of the criteria for evaluating teacher merit to be student test scores—a very controversial idea for education traditionalists, especially within teachers unions. But, Obama’s Administration has chipped away at this traditional mindset, and some groups of teachers are now reluctantly agreeing to allow student test scores to be one of many variables in determining teacher quality.

Though legislation will have to come at the state level, there are a few states, including Colorado and New York, that have passed teacher evaluation laws that take test scores into account. “This is a major change in the last four years,” Jennings says.

Though Obama stressed the importance of education from the get-go, the issue has taken a back seat to heavy hitters like the War the Terror, the financial crisis, and the health care law. Add to that a fiercely partisan political environment locking up Congress, and it’s clear that Obama has had a difficult time enacting the change he promised.

Jennings sums it up with this hypothetical: “If you had a survey that asked if the federal government should try to save teacher’s jobs, you’d probably get agreement. If you asked if the federal government should enact Obama’s program to save teacher’s jobs, you probably wouldn’t get agreement.”

Jennings thinks any evaluation of Obama’s performance on education issues should keep this in mind. “Obama has done much more than could have been foreseen when elected,” he says.

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