Writes Education Week’s Alyson Klein, “Obama swept into office in an enviable position for pushing his school agenda. His education secretary, Arne Duncan, had fans on both sides of the partisan aisle. The Democrats had hefty majorities in both chambers of Congress, where lawmakers were itching to update the No Child Left Behind Act. Obama hadn’t gotten the teachers unions’ endorsements, but won the Democratic nomination anyway, freeing him to push for policies the unions opposed, such as evaluations tied to test scores.”
She goes on to remind readers that, thanks to his American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to jump start the sluggish economy, he started with $100 billion to spend just on education–and that included $4.35 billion for his Race to the Top grant program. The initial one offered up to $700 million each to states if, in their applications, they went along with Obama’s education priorities: standardized tests, teacher evaluations based on student performance, turnaround policies for dealing with struggling schools, expanding data systems, and the Common Core Standards, too. Oh, yes, to win, states’ applications also had to be deemed praise-worthy all around by the powers that be.
Not surprisingly, hungry for money, just about every state applied and complied with Obama’s education mandates. However, just 11 of them and D.C. won, sharing in that $4.35 billion windfall. Most, however, ultimately couldn’t live up to their promises to meet the administration expectations; nevertheless, other Race to the Top programs followed.
In addition, the Obama administration set aside $650 million in stimulus dollars for its Investing in Innovation (i3) grant program designed to promote new teaching approaches in school districts.
Then there was the $3 billion set aside to “turnaround” failing schools, which translated into shutting them down or firing their principals and firing half of their faculties.
And don’t forget his School Improvement Grant Program that spent in excess of $7 billion on low-performing schools. The results? Mixed at best, with 1/3 of targeted schools doing even worse.
Waivers to the onerous No Child Left Behind Act also followed, piling even more mandates on the backs of states and school districts. Meanwhile, standardized tests took center stage, with teachers taking a direct hit on their evaluations and countless parents eventually banding together and joining the testing opt-out movement.
Meanwhile, teacher bashing became a cottage industry, with the term “ineffective teachers” taking hold, along with expecting educators to work miracles despite conditions beyond their control, such as poverty and uninvolved parents.
Is it any wonder, then, that there are fewer education majors than ever on college campuses? Indeed, nationally their numbers have dropped by 10%; in California, though, that figure stands at a whopping 53%, with several other states not far behind, including New York, Texas, and Pennsylvania.
Many factors are at play here, of course, but it would be a mistake to discount government intervention in schooling altogether, and so the question remains: Is this a legacy you’d want to rest your laurels on?
And now comes this report from CNN’s Thomas Frank: “The Obama administration is considering a last minute policy shift that could force hundreds of school districts to cut spending at well-financed elementary and secondary schools and move nearly $1 billion dollars to schools with large numbers of low-income students.”
This with less than three days left in his reign…