Who Says Elections Don’t Matter? | submitted by Ray Allen

“The early bird may get the worm, but it’s the second mouse that gets the cheese.” -Jeremy Paxman

In 2002, then President George Bush proposed what later became the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). The bill was championed by late Senator Teddy Kennedy and received bipartisan support in the Congress.

The Act was federal legislation based on the theory of setting higher standards and establishing measurable goals to improve student outcomes. The Act did not establish national achievement standards, but allowed (and encouraged) those standards to be set individually by each state.The NCLB legislation was trumpeted by conservatives and educational reform groups as a way to improve our country’s sagging student performance. On the other hand, liberals and the teachers unions, and public school educators attacked the bill with a full frontal assault.

Fast forward to Wednesday, November 4, 2009. President Obama announces his educational reform package, Race to the Top.

What does the new initiative include? Establishment of higher individual student achievement standards, tying teacher pay to student performance, better approaches to charter schools and other innovative public schools.

Sounds pretty much the same as NCLB to me, only with a major difference: a Democratic president is proposing it.

Maybe this is like Nixon going to China; only a Democratic president can propose and obtain such sweeping reforms in the educational area.

Don’t get me wrong, I remain a strong advocate for all the initiatives the president outlined. I believe their implementation is crucial to our country’s economic success. But I also find irony in the silence of those who were critical of such proposals in the past.

John Mathews was in the audience at Wright Middle School. To the best of my knowledge he didn’t faint as the president spoke. Perhaps that is a good sign.

I wish the Madison School District good luck in their negotiations with John relating to tying teacher pay to student performance. I think they will be out matched. After all, Mathews is the only union head to negotiate a pay increase for his members when everyone else is taking furloughs or salary reductions.

Politics aside, the president is on point with his emphasis on educational reform. For too long we have accepted average as being the new good. We spend more time making excuses for why children cannot achieve instead of making the hard decisions necessary to create an environment that fosters achievement.

And we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There are a number of public/private efforts focusing on the core subjects of math and science to use as a model. Within the Madison School district the charter schools of Wright and Nuestro Mundo prove that the charter concept can work successfully within the public educational system. Hopefully the current School Board will be more receptive to innovative ideas and proposals than past Boards have been.

The legislature passed several bills on Thursday remove to barriers which might impede the state from obtaining Race to the Top funds. That’s a good start.

Now educators and districts will have to propose innovative solutions if we are to obtain a piece of the new 4 billion dollars in funding.

But money alone will not solve our educational achievement problems. The NCLB legislation has increased federal funding of education, from $42.2 billion in 2001 to $54.4 billion in 2007. No Child Left Behind received a 40.4% increase from $17.4 billion in 2001 to $24.4 billion. The funding for reading quadrupled from $286 million in 2001 to $1.2 billion. Yet our performance still lags.

Bush may have proposed major reform, but hopefully these renewed efforts will finally get the cheese.

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