PGM
International Honor Society in Social Sciences
The mission of Pi Gamma Mu is to encourage and promote excellence in the social sciences and to uphold the ideals of scholarship and service.

STUDENT SHADOW PRESIDENT UPDATE

The White House recently found time to lay out a plan to fix one of the biggest issues facing America. Amazingly enough, I’m not talking about healthcare, either.  The very important topic the President and his team has been dealing with lately is a different type of reform – education reform.

I’ll admit education reform likely is not as high on Google’s “most searched terms” list as healthcare. However, in mid-March, President Obama sent a “blue print” to Congress proposing changes to No Child Left Behind (NCLB). But looking at the possible NCLB change from a broad perspective, it appears to be cheered and criticized in a fashion similar to the healthcare bill.

Writing with no great knowledge of NCLB other than experience and remarks made by teachers, professors, and editorialists, I can honestly say I’ve never heard a good thing about the law, other that maybe it “means well.” Unfortunately, the goals set by NCLB may have been too lofty, and inadequate funding made these aims unfeasible. This thought exists among my parents, both of whom are teachers. More than one of my college professors have reverberated this idea, as well.

I obviously have experience with NCLB because I went to school during the Bush years. With that, I can proudly say I graduated from a “failing school system” – at least that is what NCLB labeled my high school. Living in a rural town with a meat packing plant, a majority of the students in the school system were new Hispanic immigrants. Many of those students’ language skills simply were not up to NCLB standards. In my opinion, this was not a result of poor teachers' or students’ laziness, it was just one of the realities of NCLB. Parallel results occurred in school systems with poor and minority children all over the nation.

So Obama has set forth to make changes to “overhaul” this law. This was a campaign promise he made which has yet to be fulfilled. However, while this modification sounds good in speeches, many experts and commentators have expressed their doubts in Obama’s plan.

First, the good news. The initial step in the overhaul would provide more funding to the education budget – up to $4 billion more. It also seems the states and local entities would have more say in how that money is distributed. Obama’s new plan would also transfer focus from “failing schools.” Instead, improvement on a school-to-school basis would be emphasized, rather than putting all school districts on the same playing field.

Yet, as many healthcare-reform supporters have said about the recent healthcare bill, this proposed legislation may not do enough to fix the problems of NCLB. Among other criticisms is the fact states will still compete for money, meaning some schools will lose out. Standardized tests – a staple of the Bush-version of NCLB – will remain a determining factor when it comes to dishing out resources. Instead of making sure money is spread around evenly or fairly, funding distribution will continue to be competition-based.

Others say too much pressure would again be put on teachers to make sure their students do well on these standardized tests. If there is not adequate improvement, teachers and schools would face harsh sanctions. One provision even recommends a teacher-pay-for-performance system. The major teacher unions are against this new proposition as it is currently written, wanting stability and support from the law rather than threats.

In the end, the reaction to education reform is taking shape the same way people are responding to healthcare: most agree a change needs to be made, but many argue this isn’t the right way to do it. Again, I have no personal expertise in this area and am just calling it as I read it. We all must remember that reform of any type is usually for the better. While these changes may not be perfect, at least our nation’s leaders are looking to improve education and this is likely a step in the right direction. Will this NCLB “overhaul” fix or even improve education in America? Will this bill even get passed? As with healthcare, only time will tell.

Eric Knutson
Shadow President

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