January 28, 2010

>GLSEN ED Eliza Byard on Obama SOTU, Changes in Education: Essential Investments, Room for Concern

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From GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard:

Last night, President Obama spoke eloquently of the need to “expand the promise of education in America.” The massive investments he has directed toward our nation’s schools are essential, but the way in which those investments are structured leaves room for concern.
President Obama is rightly concerned about the fact that we lead the industrial world in high school dropout rates. He is right to call out the fact that the level of achievement currently reflected by a U.S. high school diploma lags far behind what’s necessary for true individual – and societal – success. But his prescriptions for change, to date, do not reflect a balanced approach to the root causes.
The President and Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, have been very clear about what states and districts must do to benefit from the buckets of cash currently allocated for education in various pieces of the federal budget. They will require from states what they have termed the “four assurances” –
  1. progress on raising standards,
  2. improving teacher effectiveness,
  3. tracking and assessing student and teacher performance,
  4. and turning around failing schools.
They favor a free-market approach to achieving those goals, with an emphasis on competition, choice (primarily through an expanded commitment to charter schools) and incentives. Whether or not one agrees with this approach, it clearly only describes one element of the thorough-going culture change required to truly transform education in the United States so that all children leave high school prepared for success in college and life.

Last night the President called for reform to ensure that every American student has “access to a complete and competitive education” that is the “pre-requisite” for success in today’s world. This vision will not be a reality until the President and the U.S. Department of Education do all in their power to ensure that schools across the country remove the barriers to learning created by societal inequities and bias. Students will have a true shot at that success only if schools are strong partners with parents in guiding the social and emotional development of young people through their school years. By and large, schools are not living up to this aspect of their responsibility to the young people in their care. We need the President’s leadership on this front as well.

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