Wednesday, January 7th, 2009...1:49 pm

Obama’s View of Education

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By Diane Ross
The Centers for Quality Teaching and Learning

OK, I admit it.  I’ve been very reluctant to talk about education and politics, until now.  You see, every time we get a new President (or Governor) the education world changes.  President Bush introduced school accountability.  Imagine that: up until 2002, we didn’t have a system to account for how our students were doing in schools.  No Child Left Behind made schools and districts accountable for educating our children. 

But the problem is, we have yet to clearly define the criteria for accountability. First we point a finger at teachers and tell them they have to be ‘highly qualified.’  That definition from the Department of Education is that the teacher needs to have a degree in the field in which she or he is teaching.  

Secondly, we point a finger at the schools and give them ‘ratings’ based on how well students score on end-of-grade tests.  However, the government allows states to decide how that system of accountability is calculated.  States make up the tests and states decide if there are cut off scores or if improvement is made in order to make AYP. 

Then, we have the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test as the litmus test for how rigorous our state tests are.  Each year, a sampling of students from each state are ‘selected’ to take the NAEP test to see how they fare compared to their own state tests.  If the scores from each test are close, we know that the state test aligns with the national test.  But if the scores are far apart from each other, we assume our state tests are ‘harder’ than the NAEP test.  

So what is the new definition of ‘accountability?”  We have a new President, just elected and already eager to take another look at education.  President-elect Barack Obama is in favor of changing the way we compensate teachers.  He believes that merit pay is currently based on the end of grade, standardized test and he thinks that is not fair.  

Obama does believe that teachers who continue their education and continue to better their skills at teaching should be compensated for honing their teaching. I have to say that I agree with that, but there is a lot of muddy water between teachers and what is considered HIGH QUALITY PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT. 

I visit a lot of schools across the eastern seaboard.  I look at a great deal of data that indicates we are failing our children when it comes to education (in many instances).  We are not focused on students and what they will need to survive in their futuristic world.  We are focused on making people happy in their jobs as teachers so they won’t quit. 

But I think that if we focus more on helping teachers to be more effective in their jobs, thus seeing student performance increase and exceed expectations, teachers will be HAPPIER in their jobs. 

So, go ahead President-Elect Obama, give our teachers merit pay for furthering their education and improving their skills.  But let’s make sure it is focused on helping students to learn.

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