Obama's education plan asks schools to compete for money

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On Wednesday, President Barack Obama issued a challenge to educators, school districts, and states: improve education in your region, and you could see some significant funding increases. Among his administration's plans:

  • providing money to cover the unfunded mandates of No Child Left Behind.
  • ensuring that NCLB's mandates don't result in a only a regime of high-stakes tests; schools should provide a holistic education, including "visual arts, drama, and music."
  • recruiting a new cohort of teachers and principals to replace those retiring, in part through a program that provides scholarships to teachers working in high-need districts or subject areas.
  • setting up teacher residency program and mentoring relationships with more experienced teachers to better prepare teachers for the 21st-century classroom.
  • rewarding teachers who are most successful at promoting student learning and engagement.
  • proving tax credits to cover $4,000 of college tuition in return for service to the country in, for example, the Peace Corps, teaching, or volunteering.
  • simplifying the process of applying for financial aid for college.
  • expanding college outreach programs.
  • providing greater support for community colleges.
  • encouraging parents to take more responsibility for their children's learning and education.

You can read more about Obama's education plans at Times Higher Education.

I think all these sound terrific, but I've heard all of these suggestions before--I've even seen many of them implemented at local levels--and they have yet to have a nationwide impact. I'm hoping the Obama administration can accomplish all of these things (and more) to help public schools that desperately need both financial and professional-development resources. Because Obama's plan requires schools and states to compete for funding, there's hope that schools, districts, and states will craft more innovative and effective plans for public education.

Babs at Free Range Talk reports:

Obama is counting on the fact that the funds will be an incentive for change. Money will not be awarded to states that bar student performance data from being linked to teacher evaluations –several states, including California, New York, and Washington will need to change their practice if they wish to compete for the money. It will be interesting to see if the states and teachers unions, who are typically resistant to change, accept the challenge to” Race to The Top.”

Bloggers and stakeholders had a range of reactions to Obama's plan. Here's a sampling:

Ubuntucat says Obama's plan won't fix education in this country, in large part because of the primacy of standardized testing and a serious lack of classroom resources for students and teachers alike:

If you create a test that you’re judging the success or failure of a school on, you are necessarily creating a teach-to-the-test atmosphere. It’s like saying “I’m going to give raises to the employees who do what I say. But I don’t want you to do what I say. Just do your job.” If you say that as an employer, suddenly “your job” becomes “what I say.”

And good luck trying to create a standardized test that measures all that.

From the moment a student enters a school, the single most important factor in their success is the person in front of the classroom.

Really? So if I take the best teacher in the country, put her in front of a class of 30 students who have varying abilities (most of which on the low end), who all have behavioral or psychological problems, some of whom have learning disabilities of varying types; give that teacher no textbooks (or ones falling apart), no pencils, no computers, a room that’s constantly a mess; create a culture of low achievement and high grade inflation where every challenge to authority must be disciplined immediately or else the students will run amok—somehow that teacher is going to do better than a mediocre teacher with a class size of 14 students who all get outside tutoring, parental support, computers, textbooks, pencils, a clean building, a school culture of students being treated like responsible adults and, for the most part, living up to that expectation?

Lisa Snell with the Reason Foundation finds inconsistencies in Obama's education plan:

The education system is looking at receiving billions in extra funding but is being asked to make very few concessions or reforms. Most of the reform policies that Obama mentions, from charter schools to performance pay, are completely missing from the actual legislative agenda.

Charter schools received almost no funding from the stimulus package and there was no requirement for states to remove destructive charter school caps in exchange for billions. Similarly, while he plans to fund a few teacher incentive pilot programs, President Obama missed the opportunity to tie the billions in new federal education dollars to outcomes that could result in serious personnel reform.

Mr. Obama has also remained silent about the children who have escaped Washington, DC,’s failing public schools and used vouchers to attend higher performing private schools. At the very moment, he was giving his speech on how to fix America’s schools, Senate Democrats voted to effectively kill the DC voucher program and prevent more poor kids from fleeing failing schools.

The Capitalist argues that Obama's college affordability plan will actually increase the cost of tuition.

Jessica Calefati reports that there are questions about Obama's plans for funding online education:

Questions have also been raised about the efficacy of Obama's plans to spend $500 million expanding students' access to online education. The administration hopes various federal agencies will collaborate to create new online courses, which will be "freely available through one or more community colleges and the Defense Department's distributed-learning network." However, it's unclear how students would gain access to the courses, how they would earn credit for completing a course, and whether the free courses would be competitive alternatives to the many online community college courses already offered.

At the Huffington Post, Libby Quaid cites a union leader:

"We finally have an education president," said Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers. "We really embrace the fact that he's talked about both shared responsibility and making sure there is a voice for teachers, something that was totally lacking in the last eight years.

What are your thoughts?

Leslie Madsen-Brooks develops learning experiences for K-12, university, and museum clients. She blogs at The Clutter Museum, Museum Blogging, and The Multicultural Toybox.

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