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Barack Obama on Education
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This issue came up with some friends over dinner this weekend. In case you haven't been to his website, Obama does have a pretty good one, which includes his Blueprint for Change, a document outlining his plans if elected to President.

All the issues are worth a look, but let's focus in education for a second. Here's what he has to say about No Child Left Behind:

No Child Left Behind Left the Money Behind: The goal of the law was the right one, but unfulfilled funding promises, inadequate implementation by the Education Department and shortcomings in the design of the law itself have limited its effectiveness and undercut its support. As a result, the law has failed to provide high-quality teachers in every classroom and failed to adequately support and pay those teachers.

I'd like to find out more information about the funding of NCLB. A quick glance at the Wikipedia entry on the subject seems a little contradictory. There's this bit:

Federal funding for education increased 59.8% from 2000 to 2003.

And then there's a lengthy section on criticism of the act for placing much of the burden from improvements on state and local agencies. I'm afraid I don't understand how you can increase Federal spending by almost 60% and then say it's not being adequately funded. Does anyone know of a good on-line article that details the funding issue for NCLB?

Anyway, Obama says he doesn't want to do away with the Act; he wants to reform it. How?

Reform No Child Left Behind: Obama will reform NCLB, which starts by funding the law. Obama believes teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests. He will improve the assessments used to track student progress to measure readiness for college and the workplace and improve student learning in a timely, individualized manner. Obama will also improve NCLB's accountability system so that we are supporting schools that need improvement, rather than punishing them.

He says he's going to fund the law. Okay. But then there's that bit knocking standardized tests. Sounds like he wants to do away with standardized tests. There's just some vague mumbling about how he's going to improve assessments of student progress. How, exactly? Magically?

How exactly do you compare the level of knowledge and skills of students from school to school without some sort of measurement tool, i.e. standardized testing?

I taught high school for a couple of years, in Texas when the TAAS test was the standardized test used. Yes, there were teachers that taught toward the test. But if a test is reasonably well designed, then it's actually going to test much of what you want to measure. You can teach students test-taking skills, such as eliminating obviously wrong multiple choice selections and then guessing between the two most likely choices, but ultimately such strategies are only going to get them so far. In the case of math, for example, knowledge of the concepts is going to correlate strongly with their performance on the test.

If Obama has a suggestion for assessing student performance without standardized tests, I'm all ears. What I don't like are vague platitudes, which is much of what I see in his blueprint.

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