While I have many times criticized speeches made on education by former President George W Bush, I have some inherent criticisms on the huge educational speech that President Obama gave this morning also. While Obama’s speech was delivered much better than any of Bush’s speeches on this subject, I am still digging through for actual details.
I worry that, regardless of how many previous presidents have handled multiple policy areas, Obama and his still not complete administration are biting off more than they can chew.
I know there are some who believe we can only handle one challenge at a time. They forget that Lincoln helped lay down the transcontinental railroad, passed the Homestead Act, and created the National Academy of Sciences in the midst of Civil War. Likewise, President Roosevelt didn’t have the luxury of choosing between ending a depression and fighting a war. President Kennedy didn’t have the luxury of choosing between civil rights and sending us to the moon. And we don’t have the luxury of choosing between getting our economy moving now and rebuilding it over the long term.
I do believe that we can handle more than one front in the policy area but what I am seeing is multiple fronts with no detail. Nothing in the four pillars for eduational reform that were laid out in the president’s speech today gave details as to how these areas would be accomplished. “Challenging states” to put more emphasis on early childhood education is a good challenge but holds no measurable method of finding accomplishment.
He (Obama) proposed to four pillars of reform:
1) “Investing in early childhood initiatives” like Head Start;
2) “Encouraging better standards and assessments” by focusing on testing itineraries that better fit our kids and the world they live in;
3) “Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers” by giving incentives for a new generation of teachers and for new levels of excellence from all of our teachers.
4) “Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools” by supporting charter schools, reforming the school calendar and the structure of the school day.
Investing, encouraging, recruiting, preparing, rewarding and promoting are all wonderful words and great rhetoric. Yet, I did not hear a word regarding how additional support for Head Start would be funded nor if it would be across the board in all states or only in those who currently lag behind in early childhood eduation.
Better standards and assessments for the world our children/students live in is a goal that I think should be achieved. My concern is how to achieve it and keep a level playing board. If standards and assessments are changed to better fit the world of the Hispanic American – the audience of the educational speech, will those standards and assessments be fair to the African American or the American who has no particular ethnic heritage? How do you “legislate” family life so all children have the same background so that common assessments are achievable?
While I believe that teachers should be paid more comparable salaries to their counterparts in the “real” world, corporate America outside of academia, where does this compensation come from? The taxpayers in NYS cannot sustain what teachers currently make, let alone if teacher pay were to raise dramatically. I also harbor some concerns in regards to payment according excellence. In Houston, a school district mentioned in President Obama’s speech today, pay for results has resulted in students knowing less, has resulted in teaching to the test, and has ultimately resulted in less critical thinking and logic skills being taught.
In speaking of a change in the school year, President Obama needs to recognized the agrarian schedule is still needed in some parts of the country. We cannot, in boosting education, cut the legs out from under the family farm that needs a school day that allows older children to come home and work on that farm. We cannot sacrifice the sports or other extra-curriculars that provide the incentive needed to get some students in the door of a school to learn to a longer school day that will alienate students.
While education is a policy area that the Obama administration needs to focus on, I suggest more detailed focus. If now is not the time for this detail, then leave education out of the picture until there is time to work on details.