Can Obama’s education reform help the U.S. ‘win the future?’

The current Elon University freshman class was only nine years old when the U.S. government enacted the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB). For all of the students who went to public school, nine out of their 13 years of education were measured as part of NCLB. President Barack Obama has recently launched an education reform that will end this act and bring in a new system of measuring success.

It can be argued that students currently enrolled at Elon found success with this program and have tested fairly well in order to get to where they are now. But did the No Child Left Behind Act have anything to do with their success?

NCLB requires that states develop assessments in basic skills to be given to students in certain grades. The act does not assert a national achievement standard, but instead standards are set by each individual state.

Having varied standards is one of the many problems with No Child Left Behind. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show about 69 percent of fourth-grade students tested as proficient on North Carolina’s reading tests, but only 32 percent of students tested as proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

As students get older, the gap gets even bigger. More than 80 percent of 8th grade students tested as proficient on the North Carolina’s test from the 2008-2009 school year, while only 36 percent of the same students were labeled proficient on the 2008-2009 NAEP.

On March 13, the Obama administration released its blueprint for revising the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) after discussing this plan in the 2011 State of the Union address, where Obama introduced the phrase “win the future.”

The administration has created a new goal, to be accomplished by 2020, aiming for the United States to once again lead the world in college completion. During the next nine school years, the same amount of time the current freshman class studied under the No Child Left Behind Act, the current administration plans to drastically change the national school system and move past the more than 10 countries that  have higher rates of college completion.

One of the biggest changes the blueprint mentions is that schools will be measured by student growth and progress. Under NCLB, schools were only measured by proficiency. A school that was making progress could still be considered failing.
This new program also plans to look beyond assessments to measure student accomplishment by taking into consideration things like attendance, conditions for learning and course completion.

I applaud the administration for wanting to alter a program that is dependent on standardized testing and test results, especially test results that are not even standardized from state to state.

But I am not sure this new plan looks  promising. The proposed blueprint mentions that high school exit exams and college placement exams should be aligned. This could improve the problem of standards differing from state to state, but it is not a set plan for standardization.

Most importantly, I wonder if replacing one type of standardized tests with another type of standardized test is the right answer. There will be more funding involved — $123 million in competitive funds to support innovative academic programs and encourage graduation.

But the schools that currently have the most innovative programs and the highest graduation rates are probably the schools where many in the Class of 2014 came from, schools that have not changed much from No Child Left Behind, with students who would probably enroll and graduate from college anyway.

So will Obama’s new plan really help us “win the future” or will it just continue with the future that would already exist? The education program needs more than just new tests that are tied to funding. That has already been attempted by past administrations, and it is time for something new, something that actually looks to the future and not the past.


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