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President Barack Obama trying to transform education in America

These loonies insist that under Obama's plan 'teaching to the test' will become a respectable goal.


Although the federal government controls less than 10 percent of public school funding, President Barack Obama is using that lever to transform education in America.

The $4 billion Race to the Top grant program, the largest pool of money ever available for school reform, laid out some of his ideas for fixing failing schools and holding educators accountable. This week's announcement of the Education Department budget ΓΆ€” and proposed changes to the controversial No Child Left Behind Act ΓΆ€” show that Obama also aims to create a system that will allow the U.S. economy to remain competitive.

Congress should work swiftly to pass this new version of No Child Left Behind before August, when election-year politics will eliminate any chance of an honest debate.

The law has done some good things, including exposing the pervasive achievement gap between rich and poor and white and minority students and making progress toward closing it.

But many educators and parents despise its rigid focus on math and reading, as well as the "adequate yearly progress" standard that penalizes too many schools. Its pass-fail formulation could label a school as failing if even a tiny subgroup of students didn't improve enough.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said he would make significant changes on both fronts. That should be welcomed.

Details are still being formulated, but testing will likely be broadened to include more
areas, like science and critical thinking. This is crucial because of the outsize influence of standardized tests on curriculum today; the phrase "teaching to the test" may become a respectable goal rather than an epithet.

The adequate yearly progress standard will be scrapped, and schools would be graded on whether their students are "college and career ready." Representatives from 48 states are developing a rigorous set of national guidelines to explain what that phrase means. These guidelines would eliminate the problem of some states setting low standards that could always be reached, while others ΓΆ€” including California ΓΆ€” set higher standards.

This seems far more likely to help students succeed, with or without college, and to provide employers with the kind of workers who meet their needs.

The details are crucial. These new national standards can't lower the bar for California students, for instance.

Obama and Duncan want to move quickly on reform, so some of their proposals are untested. This is the case with several of the prescribed pathways for reforming a failing school in the Race to the Top grant competition.

But they want to try strategies to see what works. That's why they required states applying for Race to the Top funds to allow districts to use test scores to evaluate teachers. If some ideas prove ineffective, presumably they will be scrapped.

No Child Left Behind set admirable but unworkable goals. The proposed changes will keep the bar high while creating a curriculum suited to a 21st century economy.

— Editorial
San Jose Mercury News


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