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President challenges states to cut college costs, support teachers, prevent dropouts and beef up job training

The U. S. Department of Education has released portions of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech, which I have excerpted below. The complete address is at www.whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2012.

College Affordability: “When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college. At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July. Extend the college tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars. And, give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years …. Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid. We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money. States also need to do their part — by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets. And, colleges and universities have to do their part, by working to keep costs down. Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that. Some schools redesign courses to help students finish more quickly. Some use better technology. The point is, it’s possible. So, let me put colleges and universities on notice: if you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down. Higher education can’t be a luxury — it is an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.”

Teachers: “At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced states to layoff thousands of teachers. We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to a child who dreams beyond his circumstances. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives. Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging in their own pocket for school supplies, just to make a difference. Teachers matter. So, instead of bashing them or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. In return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.”

Dropouts: “We also know that when students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma. So, tonight, I am proposing that every state requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Job Training: “I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity …. Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job. My administration has lined up more companies that want to help. Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running. Now, you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers — places that teach people skills that businesses are looking for right now. And, I want to cut through the maze of confusing training programs, so that, from now on, people have one program, one website, and one place to go for all the information and help that they need …”

Do you think California should implement Obama’s ideas?

Posted on Friday, January 27th, 2012
Under: Education, United States | 10 Comments »

No Child Left Behind: the federal education reform act everybody loves to hate

Educators across the state and country are struggling with what many view as an impossible task: bringing all students up to proficient levels in math and English in the next three years.

The task-master is the federal government, which has mandated success in every school that receives federal funding for its low-income students, under the law called No Child Left Behind.

But the mandate, established under President George W. Bush, has proven so difficult to achieve that it has become known among public relations and marketing professionals as “the most negative brand in the United States,” said Rep. George Miller, D-Martinez, during an education town hall meeting last month in Pleasant Hill.

“We’re trying to rewrite the Elementary Secondary Education Act,” said Miller, who is the ranking Democrat on the Education and Workforce Committee. “You can’t say No Child Left Behind. It’s really negative.”

The rewrite is four years overdue, causing Miller to refer to it as static and outdated. Yet, he defended its goals.

“One of the efforts in that legislation was to begin to shine a light on what was taking place in our K-12 system,” said Miller, who helped write the law 10 years ago.

Before that, states and school districts touted average test scores to the public, often showing gains each year. Under this system, a majority of high-achieving students could give the public the impression that all students were doing well, while ignoring the minority that weren’t learning what they were supposed to.

“What we were doing is we were whipping the top 10 or 20 percent of students a little bit harder to bring up the averages and we only reported the averages,” Miller said. “And when things got difficult, usually we’d change the exam.”

When the tests changed, education officials told the public the scores couldn’t be compared to those from previous years. Thus, the testing system enabled educational agencies to continue glossing over those students who weren’t achieving at grade level.

“We were hiding from you what was happening in schools,” Miller said.

No Child Left Behind forced schools to acknowledge that some students — especially those who were poor, black, Latino, English language learners or students with disabilities — were falling through the cracks.

Nationwide, only 6 or 7 percent of minority students were reading at grade level by fourth grade, Miller said. By eighth grade, only 9 to 12 percent were proficient in math.

“We have a problem,” Miller said he and others on the committee agreed. “So, we said that we wanted the states to start to be accountable for the schools and what was going on in them. And we wanted to know how each and every child was doing.”

But the federal government didn’t dictate how states measured students’ progress, he said. Instead, it allowed each state to develop its own assessments.

“It was very controversial at the time,” Miller said. “We found out there was a huge division in America, most of it based on minority and income. Yes, in fact were leaving children behind. We were leaving them behind in droves.”

As a result of the federal government’s intervention, the reading achievement gap nationwide has narrowed and substantial gains have been made in math, Miller said.

“We’re pretty excited about that,” he said.

Still, he said No Child Left Behind needs to be changed. He doesn’t think drastic decisions should be made based on one percentage point, resulting in labeling teachers and schools as “failures.”

“I think what we need to do is dramatically different than what we’re doing now,” Miller said.

He’s a big proponent of common core curriculum standards to be taught in every state, preparing students for college and careers. So far, 47 governors have signed onto the idea, but details still need to be worked out.

Miller also wants all children to have access to highly qualified teachers. Right now, he said, a poor child has a one in seven chance of having a teacher without any background in math.

In addition, he supports federal funding for early childhood education, which he said provides the best bang for the government’s bucks.

“Good early childhood education is the greatest predictor of success,” Miller said. “If it didn’t matter, why is it that rich people fight one another to get their kids into a program?”

What do you think is the appropriate role of the federal government in education?

Posted on Thursday, September 1st, 2011
Under: California, Education, United States | 31 Comments »