Last week President Obama sat down with Matt Lauer on the Today show to discuss the need for education reform. Education spending has gone up, and test scores across the country have still gone down. Obama understands it’s not just about money.
“And what we’ve got to do is combine a very vigorous reform agenda that increases standards, helps make sure that we’ve got the best possible teachers inside the classroom, make sure that we’re clearing away some of the bureaucratic underbrush that is preventing kids from learning. We’ve got to combine that with deploying resources effectively.”
He argues his Race to the Top initiative incentives change for the better:
“The federal government provides assistance to all states under a formula system, especially to help poorer school districts so that they can buy supplies, make sure that they can hire supplemental reading instructors and so forth. So that hasn’t changed. But that money, because it was in a formula — everybody was getting it no matter what you did — wasn’t really a catalyst for reform . So what we said is, ‘Let’s set aside a small portion, about $4 billion, and let’s say you’ve got to compete for this and you got to compete around things that reformers know make a difference, high standards, accountability, really training teachers effectively, making sure low-performing schools are being boosted up.’ And what’s happened is 32 states already have changed their laws, where previously all that stuff was stuck in state legislatures . Suddenly, because they had an incentive, they’re starting to actually make changes. It’s probably the most powerful tool we’ve seen for reform in a couple of decades.”
While these schools are scrambling to figure out how to turnaround, we have examples of high performing schools in low income communities all around the country to provide examples and mentoring.
Obama also understands the work of our schools and wants more schools to be like ours:
“And so our goal is to make all schools high-quality schools, make every classroom one where if a kid is showing up, taking the responsibility seriously, doing what they’re supposed to do, that they can succeed, they’re going to be able to read, they’re going to have high math scores. It’s going to take some time, but what we’ve now learned is there are schools that can work even in the toughest circumstances. And once we know that, then it’s inexcusable that we don’t try to make sure that every school is performing at that same level.”
It’s a huge change that finally schools that are doing well are receiving recognition for their work. However, they do need support. Many high performing schools in urban settings do need help with funding because they may be left out of these initiatives and still must find support to ensure that children from low income communities can receive the education they deserve. It is time to support “schools that can.”