Today President Barack Obama made a speech to the National Urban League, where he forcefully defended his educational reform initiatives. These programs, particularly Race to the Top, have been criticized by many civil rights groups (including The Urban League) who believe that the competition involved for the grant money makes it difficult for the schools most in need to get funds. Education advocates, including some teachers unions, complain the programs set unfair standards for teachers.
Obama eloquently rebutted these criticisms. He explained that his programs reward states for making progress on raising standards, improving teacher quality, establishing data systems, and turning around low-performing schools, thus helping the schools most in need. Obama stated that he is is trying to encourage states to work together to adopt higher, more uniform academic standards, which he believes will help improve under-performing schools, as well. He sharply criticized the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which he said rewarded states for lowering standards, and claimed that Race to the Top is already reversing the negative effects of No Child Left Behind.
Obama went on to explain that Race to the Top would help states develop richer assessments that do a better job of gauging what students know so that teachers can improve instruction, instead of “teaching to the test.” He said the goal of reform isn’t to fire or admonish teachers, but to create a culture of accountability. He said that amongst the changes he wanted to see implemented were higher pay, better training and additional resources to help teachers succeed. “Surely we can agree that even as we applaud teachers for their hard work, we need to make sure they’re delivering results in the classroom. If they’re not, let’s work with them to help them be more effective. And if that fails, let’s find the right teacher for that classroom.”
Christi Grab is Parentella’s Editorial Director and author of The Unexpected Circumnavigation: Unusual Boat, Unusual People Part 1 – San Diego to Australia. She is currently working on book two of the series.
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