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May 5, 2009

By Athena Phillips

Are you tired of hearing the same old things on the news…”economy this” and “economy that?”

Yes, it is important for us to get the nation’s economy out of its current crisis phase, but education reform is just as important. In fact, education reform will do more to strengthen the economy’s long-term performance than throwing billions of dollars at Detroit and Wall Street. Before President Obama took office, he pledged that he would make “a historic commitment to education.”

Almost three months have passed since our nation’s new president took office, and it is a rare occasion to hear the topic of education discussed. His monumental list of education programs is astounding – but his administration has yet to achieve anything. As an aspiring teacher, I am worried that education for our country currently sits on the policy back-burner.

Most surprising of all is that the new government has done nothing to reform No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Reforming and successfully implementing NCLB should be the most important item on the President’s agenda. 100% efficiency in schools might be idealistic, but to do nothing is tragic. If President Obama’s $11.5tn budget includes bailouts and infrastructure stimulus spending, then surely education funding is not out of the question. If my children are going to be stuck with the bill, they should get something out of it – and quick.

What is stopping the President from reforming education? The reality is that teachers are stuck in dreadful, unglamorous teaching situations, where the constant threat of losing their job – pitiful salary and all – exerts a tremendous amount of pressure on them. It’s no wonder that their students underperform; undue pressure would make any teacher underperform.

The President continues mesmerizing the American public with flowery rhetoric regarding education reform. I know that President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have a lot on their shoulders. Did Obama promise us things that are not realistic? Can his administration achieve these goals in four years? It will be interesting to see if he passes this particular test.

So far, Obama has left us with more questions about education than he has given us answers. For example, President Obama plans to weed out bad teachers by rewarding the teachers whose students achieve better test scores. This is not the way we should reward our teachers! Tests are not always the most accurate measurement tool for gauging a teacher’s effectiveness. Student levels of community participation – from service projects to tutoring their classmates – could reflect a “change we can believe in.”

President Obama has also argued that he can implement education reforms without adding to the federal deficit. Forgive my skepticism, but as a prime debtor for the new government’s massive spending program, that seems pretty questionable to me.

These tasks are easier said than done. Although President Obama’s reform promises sound amazing, we need to ask ourselves: are these goals realistic? Will they ever be achieved? In time, I hope he succeeds. For now, we must remember that education touches the lives of everyone around us in one way or another. It is crucial to our lives as students. It is time for change to happen and for us to start thinking realistically.

Athena Phillips is a junior English Literature major.

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