March 23, 2009

Educational Investment, Part I: President Obama sheds light on education reform

President Barack Obama spoke before the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on March 10th, offering more details about his plans to improve education. In 2008, American students once again ranked below many of their international peers on standardized tests. The President built his campaign on the idea of change, and it is obvious that the archaic system of American education is in dire need of just that. The question is: what does good change look like?

It starts with early childhood education. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act promises an addition $5 billion to Early Head Start and Head Start programs. While the money promised will help states fund new programs and improve those in existence, is it enough?

To make post-secondary education more affordable, President Obama has said he will increase the cap on Pell Grants by $500. He has also briefly outlined a program that would do away with private lending for student loans, replacing it with a program run by the Education Department that would lend directly to students through the schools they attend. However, with rising tuition in addition to the costs of books and housing, will this money really enable more students to attend college or university?

Charter schools, which function similarly as other schools but lack much of the bureaucratic red tape, have been a hot button issue among teachers and policy-makers alike. President Obama wants to remove caps that limit the number of charter schools per state, as well as make it easier to quickly and efficiently shut down charter schools that are not doing well. Will the President be able to go up against members of his own party, and will charter schools really help improve the quality of our country’s education?

President Obama has suggested applying competitive market strategies to education by offering successful teachers increased salaries. Teachers unions have been overwhelmingly against merit-based pay for a number of reasons. Although both the NEA and AFT have voiced their willingness to work with the President on his initiatives, prepare for some heated debate regarding competitive teaching salaries and the standards used for measuring success in the classroom. Will he be able to reach out to teachers unions and institute merit-based bay? Will it help?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan advocates lengthening school days and terms, keeping schools open up to twelve hours per day, 365 days per year. However, this extra time won’t necessarily translate into more classroom hours. Instead, Duncan suggests inviting nonprofit organizations like the YMCA into schools to create after-school community centers where education continues after dark. Will local governments, students, and parents support extended school hours?

These goals of the new administration have been received with a mixture of enthusiasm and criticism. Next month, the President will not only elaborate on these initiatives but also provide a list of which defunct educational programs will be cut in the coming year. In upcoming posts, we’ll delve further into just how American students rank in comparison to their international peers, and if the initiatives above can feasibly bridge that gap. What will it take to prepare our next generation of thinkers to compete in the global job market?

This post was written by Allison Tritt, a former high school English teacher, volunteer for Oxfam Japan and blogger with Literacy ‘n’ Poverty Project. She blogs to foster global awareness and remind others that there is always a way to get involved. Please leave your comments or email Allison at with any questions.


Aree said...

Very nice blog, Sheer!!!

Leah said...

I've heard that in Asia (where most of the global math and science brainiacs come from) kids face so much pressure to excel in school that they commit suicide...maybe we just don't want our kids to live like that around child left behind is already ruining the childhood experience by zapping creativity and slow 360 degree learning from public all teachers do is 'teach for the test'...if it was up to me I'd say the government would stay out of education.

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