(MintPress) – With an executive order on Thursday, President Barack Obama issued a waiver to 10 states that alleviate them from following the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education standards. The waivers suggest a movement from Obama to make adjustments to the law to make up for its shortcomings and shift more power to […]
(MintPress) – With an executive order on Thursday, President Barack Obama issued a waiver to 10 states that alleviate them from following the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) education standards. The waivers suggest a movement from Obama to make adjustments to the law to make up for its shortcomings and shift more power to the states. On Tuesday, education secretary Arne Duncan said the administration “desperately” wants Congress to remedy the law.
In a press statement, Obama said,
“”If we’re serious about helping our children reach their potential, the best ideas aren’t going to come from Washington alone. Our job is to harness those ideas, and to hold states and schools accountable for making them work.”
Since George W. Bush signed NCLB into law in 2001, schools have struggled to meet its expectations. The bill’s objective is to make all students proficient in math and reading by 2014, as determined by standardized testing. The standards-based bill then laid out yearly measurable goals for schools to follow based on their performance, an objective dubbed Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).
Schools stumbled out of the gates to reach the lofty AYP goals, and the trend has only become worse. In 2009, the percentage of schools that failed to meet AYP was 33 percent. In 2010 it rose to 39 percent before spiking in 2011 to 48 percent.
According to the Center on Education Policy, an independent advocate for public education,
“the percentage of public schools not making AYP in 2011 varied greatly by state, from about 11% in Wisconsin to about 89% in Florida.” Schools that fail in consecutive years to meet AYP are labeled schools “in need of improvement.”
The repercussions of schools failing to meet AYP include government intervention in the school that could result in complete restructuring of the institution and its funding model or closing and reopening the school under different control. Students could also be given the chance to transfer to another public school, resulting in potential population disparities with school districts.
States that applied for and were given a waiver from NCLB are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Twenty-eight other states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have all expressed interest in applying for the waiver in the future.
The Associated Press reports that students will still be tested annually in states that were allotted the waiver. However, starting in the fall, schools will not face the type of intervention seen under NCLB.
Race to the Top
In 2009, Obama injected a particular sense of gamesmanship into the education system by creating Race to the Top, a $4.35 billion program that rewarded K-12 schools funds for meeting performance objectives and promoting charter schools. Governors of the states may apply, but are not required to. Awards are given to the states to help fund schools and programs, but some states may apply and not win.
The Department of Education says “Awards in Race to the Top will go to States that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive early learning education reform.”
While the program has rewarded millions of dollars to individual states, it hasn’t gone without its criticisms. Civil rights groups – including National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Urban League and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law – have argued that the program rewards schools that are already doing well while leaving struggling schools out in the cold. The groups say struggling schools oftentimes are that way because they lack appropriate funding.
“If education is a civil right, children in ‘winning’ states should not be the only ones who
have the opportunity to learn in high-quality environments. Such an approach reinstates the antiquated and highly politicized frame for distributing federal support to states that civil rights organizations fought to remove in 1965,” the groups wrote.
Recent studies have put the United States in the middle of the pack when compared to other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries. The U.S. was ranked 14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and 25th for mathematics.
The best performing education system of the OECD countries belonged to Finland. The irony of this is that Finland doesn’t put too much pressure on academic persistence. Rather, Finland schools assign less homework and encourage more creative play from students.
This is the result of education reform in Finland decades prior – a similar reform battle that has been wagered in the U.S. Finland has no programs that equate to NCLB or Race to the Top, and have implemented policies that are essentially polar opposites from those seen in the U.S.
Instead, Finland relies on teachers that are trained to create independent assessment tests to gauge student accomplishment. Pasi Sahlberg, director of the Finnish Ministry of Education’s Center for International Mobility, details life as a teacher in Finland to The Atlantic, which is arguably very different than the U.S.
Anu Partanen Of The Atlantic wrote, “For Sahlberg what matters is that in Finland all teachers and administrators are given prestige, decent pay, and a lot of responsibility. A master’s degree is required to enter the profession, and teacher training programs are among the most selective professional schools in the country. If a teacher is bad, it is the principal’s responsibility to notice and deal with it.”
The word “accountable” is tossed around when looking to pinpoint reasons for a slumping U.S. education system. Arguments have been made over whether teachers, principals, school districts, parents or the government are to blame.
Sahlberg seems to be on the opposite end of the spectrum on accountability. “There’s no word for accountability in Finnish,” he was quoted as saying. “Accountability is something that is left when responsibility has been subtracted.”