There Are Many Paths Up the Mountain

This will hopefully be the first in an on-going series of posts regarding federal efforts at education reform. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has stated that the administration hopes to have a bill before Congress by August, so we will attempt to follow that debate as it takes shape this summer. The issues presented here are just brief sketches which we will explore in greater depth in the coming months, but they will hopefully be illustrative of the course of debate.

With that in mind, a couple of trends seem evident in the proposals already put forward. The most critical is the relaxation of federal standards for student outcomes. Moving away from the strict emphasis on math and science under the original No Child Left Behind Act, these proposals are an attempt at giving state and local governments more control over what their students are taught.

While school choice will be one of the most contentious aspects of any reform legislation, of greater importance will be an increased emphasis on broad measures of accountability. While there is evidence that charter schools and voucher programs are not significantly better at producing high-calibre students, the fact that these alternative educational models are increasingly being held to similar standards as public schools is crucial. The more that schools are required to prove that their various activities are improving student performance, the better it is for the public at-large. Granted, this depends on what we determine to be “success” from an educational perspective, but I won’t touch on that here.

The point is, the current reform proposals from the Obama administration represent a relaxation of the heavy-handed nature of No Child Left Behind, but in the same breath portend a persistent, strong federal role in developing education policy. With its emphasis on promoting ways to ensure that our schools are properly serving future generations of students, the Obama administration has recognized that there are many paths up the mountain, but that the federal government has a critical function in deciding which mountain everybody climbs.

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    • mattstrong
    • May 13th, 2010

    Tim,
    this may be outside of your core competencies, but I’d be interested in you taking a crack at homeschools at some point in the not-too-distance future.

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