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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Race to the Top has potential to turn education system around

The United States used to be one of the world standards for good education, but we are currently ranked 17 out of 30 for the world's richest countries in science and 24 out of 30 in mathematics by the Program for International Student Assessment. Wisconsin has the largest achievement gap in the nation in terms of disparity in the educational performances of minority and low-income students in comparison to their white, middle-class peers. This may not be the cause of widespread concern among students on this campus, yet this continued decline in educational performance will seriously hinder the United States' ability to stay on the cutting edge of technological advancement.

On Nov. 4, marking the one-year anniversary of his historic presidential election, President Obama traveled to Wright Middle School here in Madison to talk about K-12 education reform. His choice of Madison as the site of this important announcement is an affirmation of the ideas Gov. Jim Doyle and the Democratic legislature have put forward to improve education in the state and compete for the initiatives contained in the president's plan. The plan, called Race to the Top, outlines four main goals: turn around low-performing schools, recruit and retain effective teachers, adopt rigorous standards and build a data system that will help track student achievement. While the specific criteria about how the stimulus dollars will be distributed to the states is yet to be determined, there are very specific requirements.

The Wisconsin Legislature just passed a law that drops the prohibition on using standardized tests scores as a measure by which to evaluate teacher performance in an effort to make Wisconsin eligible to apply for some of the $4.35 billion set aside in the stimulus. While this is a somewhat controversial issue, the Wisconsin Education Association Council's (WEAC) president has come forward in support of this bill. This was due largely to the legislation's recognition of the importance of a multi-faceted approach to teacher evaluations not solely based on overall student performance.

Race to the Top is a necessary departure from many of the reforms attempted under No Child Left Behind. This Bush administration policy placed heavy emphasis on the development of standardized tests, which created a rigid set of guidelines for education performance and provided little room for creativity in curriculum. States had every incentive to set the bar low in order to avoid having large numbers of their schools labeled as ""failing"" under NCLB. Thus not only were special education and English as a second language (ESL) students being left behind by schools that did not wish to lower their performance grade, the system also failed in its most important objective: encouraging higher educational standards across the board.

Realistically, any sort of national education plan will have to include some aspect of standards and assessment. However, this is only one of four main tenants proposed in Race to the Top. The president's plan allows states to devise their own proposals to solve the problems their schools face, while rewarding innovation and tackling failing schools with grants to help make these reforms successful. In contrast to previous attempts at national education reform, President Obama wants to provide the resources necessary to meet these lofty goals. The first $4 billion will be allocated to states that apply for Race to the Top grants, while the remaining money has been set aside for states to develop new forms of standards and assessment that address past problems in this area.

The comprehensive approach taken under Race to the Top is an innovative way to achieve serious educational reform. In most situations, it is not the teachers and school districts that are failing us. This nation needs to start providing the resources necessary to give all American children an education suitable enough to ensure that our country remains one of the world's leaders. As the President said last week in Madison, ""It's time to make education America's national mission.""

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Abrianna Barca and Travis Serebin are members of the College Democrats. Please send responses to opinion@dailycardinal.com.

 

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