The Education section of Barack Obama’s website begins with the quote, “I don’t want to send another generation of American children to failing schools. I don’t want that future for my daughters. I don’t want that future for your sons. I do not want that future for America.” Great way to start! I cannot imagine anyone wanting anything but the best in education for American children. I cannot imagine that a man with his financial resources would be sending his daughters to public schools, either. Now that we have the inarguable platitude out of the way, let’s see how Barack Obama plans to create this educational nirvana.
There are five main problems with our education system, according to Barack Obama. First, we are not getting the best teachers because we are not paying them enough. Second, our children are not learning the basics of reading, writing, arithmetic and science, lagging far behind many other countries’ students. Third, far too many children are dropping out of school, particularly African-American and Latino children, compared to white children. Fourth, teacher retention rates are low. And fifth, the cost of a college education is too high and our tax and financial aid system is too complex for students to take advantage of the opportunities that exist for them.
Now, we’ll take a look at how Barack Obama plans on solving these five problems and, just as importantly, how he plans to have Americans pay for it. Believe it or not, I have eliminated some of the points that say nothing for brevity purposes and have tried to concentrate on those areas where Obama actually has a non-generic idea.
Early Childhood Education:
Here, Obama advocates quadrupling the size (and funding) of Early Head Start and increasing federal funding for Head Start as well as local community 0-5 programs. Additionally, Barack Obama says he will provide affordable high quality childcare to working families. [As usual, there is absolutely no mention made of where all of the additional money is going to come from for these programs, let alone specifics on how he will manage to provide low cost, quality childcare. The two concepts tend to be mutually exclusive. We have all learned that you get what you pay for in life.]
Reform No Child Left Behind: While Barack Obama praises George W. Bush’s concept of No Child Left Behind, he criticizes the program for its emphasis on standardized tests and states that he will create a different set of individualized assessments that will show how prepared a child is for higher education and the workplace. He also believes that schools that are under-performing need to be better supported [funded?], rather than punished, as is the current system of No Child Left Behind. [I must admit, I don’t understand any of this. Standardized tests are criticized by Obama here in favor of a more individualized approach with a different set of standardized individual tests. Huh? I have no idea how the President of the United States is going to micromanage this while taking care of other slightly more pressing matters like National security. I also don’t know how things work in the backward world of education, but in the business world, we are rewarded for accomplishments and demoted or fired when we underachieve. If all schools are funded equally, what makes him think that throwing more money at a sinking ship is going to keep its passengers from drowning. Under-performing schools need to get rid of their under-performing teachers and administrators.]
Make Math and Science Education a National Priority: Obama says he will recruit degreed math and science graduates to the educational field and make sure that all students have access to a strong science curriculum at all grade levels. [Most of the people I went to college with that graduated with degrees in math and science, did so to pursue careers in science or in the highly lucrative financial sector. Obama’s going to have to throw an awful lot of money at these people to get them to switch careers. What makes him think that these people want anything to do with children? I would think that the people who want to be around children (i.e. those with degrees in education) would be better candidates for teaching. One thing that I have observed, however, is that those that have been in the business world for a couple of decades tend to have a desire to pass on their knowledge. Perhaps these people would be better candidates for recruitment.]
Address the Dropout Crisis: Obama will “address the dropout crisis by passing his legislation to provide funding to school districts to invest in intervention strategies in middle school – strategies such as personal academic plans, teaching teams, parent involvement, mentoring, intensive reading and math instruction, and extended learning time.” [This doesn’t address the reasons that students drop out in the first place – reasons that include parental disinterest, drugs, pregnancy and social alienation. Encouraging parental involvement only helps with parents who want or have time to be involved. Intensive reading and math instruction as well as “extended learning time” will cause many of these dropouts to run, not walk away from school.]
Support English Language Learners: Obama supports “transitional bilingual education and will help Limited English Proficient students get ahead by holding schools accountable for making sure these students complete school.” [This is one of my major bones of contention with the Democratic Party. They consistently advocate the segregation of foreign students, creating special bilingual classes for them. This becomes a crutch that impairs their ability to learn English and integrate into society as a whole. Of course, by maintaining this gap, there will always be a group whose rights they can fight for.]
Recruit, Prepare, Retain, and Reward America’s Teachers
Recruit Teachers: Obama says he will create new Teacher Service Scholarships that will cover four years of undergraduate or two years of graduate teacher education, including high-quality alternative programs for mid-career recruits in exchange for teaching for at least four years in a high-need field or location. Again, it’s the same old question – funding, funding, funding. Where is all of this money coming from? I wonder what is going to happen to all of the substandard teachers? I know … they can get jobs in the new, bigger federal government that will oversee all of these CHANGES!]
Prepare Teachers: Obama says he will require all schools of education to be accredited. He will also create a voluntary national performance assessment so we can be sure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom and start teaching effectively. Obama will also create Teacher Residency Programs that will supply 30,000 exceptionally well-prepared recruits to high-need schools. [Okay, for the sake of redundancy, we’ll pretend the Teacher Residency Programs and those in the federal government who will oversee it won’t cost a cent. I do question the paradox of a voluntary national assesment that will ensure that every new educator is trained and ready to walk into the classroom. What if teachers don’t “volunteer” to submit to this test. How will Obama “ensure” that they can “teach effectively?”]
Retain Teachers: Obama plans to expand mentoring programs that pair experienced teachers with new recruits. [This makes sense to me. The education process should be a team effort and, frankly, I thought this was already in place. Aren’t department heads paid for doing this already? I’m not sure if this addresses the issue at hand here, however. As long as we’re throwing money around, how about providing incentives to department heads for increasing retention rates or, better yet, pay reductions or demotions for subpar retention rates?]
Reward Teachers: Obama wants local school districts to design programs that reward accomplished educators who serve as a mentor to new teachers with a salary increase. He also wants districts to reward teachers who work in under served places like rural areas and inner cities and teachers who consistently excel in the classroom as well. [Bravo! This is how it works in the business world. Paying for performance is what makes capitalism work. Without incentives, we become a society of drones. Also, it is important to keep in mind that these are all things that Obama advocates local school districts doing and that it has nothing to do with the federal government. Hooray, no new taxes here! (except for the teachers who do too good of a job and wind up in the “rich” tax bracket, under Barack Obama’s plan.)]
Create the American Opportunity Tax Credit: Obama wants to create a universal and fully refundable credit (the “American Opportunity Tax Credit”) that will ensure that the first $4,000 of a college education is completely free for most Americans, and will cover two-thirds of the cost of tuition at the average public college or university and make community college tuition completely free for most students. Obama will also ensure that the tax credit is available to families at the time of enrollment by using prior years’ tax data to deliver the credit when tuition is due. [Holy crap! Talk about a whopper federal budget; the cost of this program alone has got to be astronomical. Because community colleges will be free, I can only assume that the teachers and administrators will be paid by the federal government. Is this what we really want? Even if we take the gargantuan leap of faith that the federal government could manage such a program, it gives the government the power over curriculum and could lead to the government controlling what information is disseminated to students. Teachers will become pro-government clones and all individuality of thought will be taken out of these progrms of higher learning. And, who are “most” students? Who will be excluded?]
Simplify the Application Process for Financial Aid: Obama will streamline the financial aid process by eliminating the current federal financial aid application and enabling families to apply simply by checking a box on their tax form, authorizing their tax information to be used, and eliminating the need for a separate application. [How the heck does this “streamline” the financial aid process? It does simplify it for applicants but someone in the government surely has to do something after the box is checked. This sounds like a nightmare waiting to happen. What if someone in the federal government misses the check box? It authorizes my tax information to be used by whom? What is the bureaucratic process after the box is checked?]
The burden of how well our education system does is always going to start with parents. Those parents that take an interest in their children’s education and who actively participate in the process will always have children who succeed academically. Those parents who do not value education or do not “have the time” to make sure that their children are doing all that they can in school will have children who do not value education and think it is a waste of time.
This is by far, the largest federal program that I have discussed in the Barack Obama Website Series. Ultimately, Barack Obama’s plan for education misses the boat because of his reluctance (or inability) to explain how he (we) will pay for it all. I shudder to think of what I will run into when I get to his plan for health care. But, let me not look too far ahead. Next up, the Obama plan for Energy & Development.