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EDUCATION – PAST AND PRESENT

March 15, 2009

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By Athena Phillips

With America caught up in one the biggest economic crises of the century, it is time for our nation’s new President Barack Obama to turn up the heat. He has already been pressured to not only speed up the economy, but to reform education as well. Our nation’s youth are in danger! With thousands of schools failing AYP (Annual Yearly Progress) reports and NCLB (No Child Left Behind) standards, our country’s education is in a rut. We must ask: what did President Bush achieve?

Education reform was a central component to President George W. Bush’s first campaign platform. But when 9/11 occurred, he became a war-time president and shifted the focus of his administration to national security concerns. Despite this shift, President Bush helped create “No Child Left Behind,” which he signed into law January 8, 2002. The law seeks to increase accountability for student performance in the public school system. As required by the new standards, public schools now must ensure that their students are actually learning, measured by standardized testing. Otherwise, they face penalties as severe as school closures. If a student is enrolled in a failing school, his or her parents now have the choice to transfer their child to a more successful school.

In 2004, President Bush stated in his Republican National Convention speech, “We are transforming our schools by raising standards and focusing on results. We are insisting on accountability, empowering parents and teachers, and making sure that local people are in charge of their schools. By testing every child, we are identifying those who need help and providing a record level of funding. Challenging the soft bigotry of low expectations is the spirit of our education reform and the commitment of our country: We will leave no child behind.” Four years later, President Bush introduced the “Reading First” program. This program invests $1bn each year and aims to help low-income elementary school students become literate by focusing on reading and phonics. President Bush advocated heavily for intervention programs in all schools, federal Pell Grants for students, and for charter schools across the U.S.

So what is President Obama planning to do for education? Since President Obama’s mantra of “change” seems to be spreading to the US Department of Education, President Obama plans to reform NCLB, hoping to improve the progress assessment metrics. His administration has also unveiled a “Zero-to-Five” plan, which helps jump-start early childhood education. Among other agenda items are: addressing the dropout crisis, supporting college credit initiatives, and supporting ELL (English Language Learners) students in the classroom. One must wonder how the administration will accomplish these goals.

Interestingly enough, President Obama has begun preparations for retaining and rewarding teachers to make the profession more appealing. In 2007, President Obama stated in his Take Back America conference speech, “It’s time to turn the page on education, to move past the slow decay of indifference that says some schools can’t be fixed, that says some kids just can’t learn. As president, I will launch a campaign to recruit and support hundreds of thousands of new teachers across the country–because the most important part of any education is the person standing in front of the classroom.”

Let’s hope that our nation’s new president will achieve these objectives in time. For now, we should congratulate former President Bush on his education reforms. Education touches all of our lives; it affects both our present and our future. As Belmont students, it is central to our lives. In the eternal words of William Allin, “Education is not the answer to the question. Education is the means to the answer to all questions.”

Athena Phillips is a junior English Literature and Education double major.

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