White House Begins Education Reform
The Obama administration sent to Congress this week a blueprint for reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). It essentially would overhaul the controversial No Child Left Behind, the ESEA legislation that former President George W. Bush touted as a significant contribution by his administration to education reform. But NCLB was roundly criticized by lawmakers, educators and states for being punitive and focusing too narrowly on testing.
In testimony this week before both House and Senate education panels, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said that the Obama administration’s blueprint centers on three primary goals: raising standards; rewarding excellence and growth, and increasing local control and flexibility while maintaining the focus on equity and closing achievement gaps. It also aims to ensure that by 2020, all high school students graduate prepared to compete and succeed in college and/or the workplace. Under the Obama proposal, schools that are making the most progress will be rewarded. Underachieving schools that improve student performance will receive credit if they still missed their targets. In addition, teacher and principal performance will be measured and held accountable to certain standards.
Rep. Robert Scott (D-Virginia), a member of the House Education Committee, said that Congress must work with the administration to not only identify problems but also prescribe solutions. For African American communities, the most important goal is closing the chronic achievement gap between white and black students through such measures as equitable funding, qualified teachers, and equal access to the same resources that enable high-performing schools to soar. In fact, Scott says, denying minority students an equal educational opportunity and allowing the achievement gap to continue for so long is a constitutional violation of Brown v. Board of Education. “When people say it costs a little more [to close the gap], well, we’ve been there before. Special needs students are [legally] entitled to a ‘free and appropriate education,’ and ‘we can’t afford it’ is not a defense.”