Grading Obama on NCLB reform

Several weeks ago, I discussed President Obama’s education record in my introduction to education class. In particular, we talked about P-20 education, which begins in preschool and ends with graduate school. Predictably, the debate became quite contentious. Most of us had to agree to disagree on the most central points of educational politics. Partly in response to this debate, though, I decided to write an assessment of Obama’s education record in several areas of P-20 education issuing a letter grade (A-F) to make my position on his record clear. In this article, I will discuss his record on No Child Left Behind reform.

Reforming NCLB. The Obama administration has made plans to redesign the latest version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. They have determined that this act, in particular, “reinforced the wrong behaviors in attempting to strengthen public education.” In fact, the current version of the law, No Child Left Behind, is already six years past its reauthorization date and the Obama camp believes that the “pass-fail, one-size-fits-all” mandates full learning potentials by punishing students and schools that miss their goals. Any spirited argument of NCLB has those who enthusiastically agree or vehemently disagree with the President. NCLB, however, is clearly outdated. It also does not adequately meet the needs of the American K-12 student population.

In 2010, the administration proposed a Blueprint for Reform of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to address the problems with NCLB, making recommendations for closing the achievement gap. So far, though, Congress has made no official move to modify and authorize NCLB. The Obama administration has, instead, moved forward with a system waivers granted to states, and even individual districts, that develop strategies to address their own weaknesses in teaching and learning outcomes. NCLB has provisions that allow exactly what the President and his education advisors have done with waivers, making it possible for schools to take control and meet the needs of their students.

NCLB Waivers. Many districts have been approved for ESEA flexibility and have a heightened teacher evaluation system in place, designed to override NCLB’s goal of 100 percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014. Each NCLB waiver is different, though. For example, the Colorado Department of Education was approved for a waiver of the 14-day notice requirement to inform parents of public school choice in 2009, while in the same year Hawaii was given a one-year waiver of the requirement to spend 20% of its fiscal yearly spending on choice-related transportation. In the Colorado waiver documentation, for instance, the state agreed to still provide public school choice notices to improvement districts. In Hawaii’s application, the governing educational bodies of the state agreed to use the funds released by the waiver to fund specific student needs based on data. In all of the waiver requests, states were required to carefully craft their requests and provide a reasonable alternative.

The idea of individual states and districts asking for control over their student directives when it comes to achievement is a smart one that makes up for some of the flaws of NCLB. Every student population is different so one federal mandate for assessment can never work. Even with the NCLB waivers, individual K-12 students are grouped together but at least the waiver makes specificity of assessment and teaching a little bit more possible.

Waivers are a step in the right direction when it comes to policy reform simply because they give states and districts a voice in the teaching, learning, and assessments processes. Even a complete overhaul of NCLB would mean applying monotonous standards to a diverse K-12 student population, assuming that it included federal mandates again. Giving more power to individual districts, right down to specific schools, is really the right way to address the needs of custom student bodies. But would accountability suffer if there were fewer demands from the top?

Solely on his NCLB reform record, I will have to give President Obama an A-. There is room for improvement, especially when students are still tested using antiquated assessment measures. More important, though, NCLB still exists in its original state and has not been amended. However, I decided to stick with my A-, because these issues cannot be laid at the president’s doorstep. Throughout his tenure in office, President Obama has entreated Congress to amend NCLB, but they have met such requests with opposition and hostility. In response, he has used his executive powers to issue NCLB waivers to states that devise viable alternatives to NCLB. He has earned his A-.

Again, my opinions are just that, my opinions. I am looking forward to reading your comments and I encourage you to use this article as a springboard for discussion.


Click here to read all our posts concerning the Achievement Gap.

Choose your Reaction!