An Update on Education Reform


As the school year comes to a close, this Spotlight focuses on the hot topics in education reform. We will look at the progress made in Race to the Top, No Child Left Behind, and The Dream Act.

Race to the Top Background
On February 17, 2009, President Obama signed the historic American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (AARA). Specific to education, ARRA supports reform by nurturing innovative strategies and setting a vision for improving results of student’s and the productivity and effectiveness of the public school system. As part of the Obama Administration’s commitment to reforming America’s public schools, the President challenged states to compete in a “Race to the Top” funded by $4.35 billion from the AARA budget. Its mission is to provide every child with access to a complete and competitive education through innovative approaches to teaching and learning. States which demonstrate success in raising student achievement and commitment to reform are rewarded and will serve models to guide other states. This groundbreaking plan is built around four core education reform areas:
• Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy.
• Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction.
• Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most.
• Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

The Third Heat Is On: Race to the Top District Competition
The third heat of Race to the Top began on May 22, 2012. Differing from the first two state rounds, this time individual school districts will compete for a share of $400 million in grants. Instead of adopting common standards and assessments, the focus of this round is personalized education. Applications are due in October 2012, and the Education Department expects to announce winners in December 2012.

Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge
As a core component of the Obama Administration’s comprehensive early learning agenda, Race to the Top–Early Learning Challenge was created to guide all children down a path of success in kindergarten by closing the school readiness gap. Improvements in childcare and the strengthening of the Head Start program are also key factors in the early learning agenda. Because both learning and development are focuses of this program, it is jointly administered by the U.S. Departments of Education and Health and Human Services. Specifically the areas of focus are:
• Increase the number and percentage of low-income and disadvantaged children in each age group of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers who are enrolled in high-quality early learning programs.
• Design and implement an integrated system of high-quality early learning programs and services.
• Ensure that any use of assessments conforms with the recommendations of the National Research Council’s reports on early childhood.

On December 16, 2011, it was announced that nine states were awarded grants from the $500 million Race to the Top-Early Learning Challenge fund-California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island and Washington. Progress updates on the states awarded grants will be posted to the Department of Education’s Early Learning Challenge website.

Race to the Top-Higher Education
President Obama proposed a $1 billion version of the Race to the Top competition for states to improve their higher education systems on January 27, 2012. The program would fund states aligning entrance and exit standards between K-12 and college to ease the transition. However funding for Race to the Top–Higher Education was absent from the approved $68.5 billion budget for the Department of Education for fiscal year 2013.

 The DREAM Act
Each year, approximately 65,000 undocumented students graduate from high school. However, because they are not citizens, these youth do not get the opportunity to work, join the military, or otherwise pursue their dreams. Often they are culturally American, having little attachment to their country of birth. This impassable situation was the impetus for the creation of the DREAM Act (acronym for Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) ‒ under which qualifying undocumented youth would be eligible for a 6 year long conditional path to citizenship that requires completion of a college degree or two years of military service.

Since 2001, the DREAM Act has been under consideration in a bill of some shape. On May 11, 2011 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reintroduced the DREAM Act in the Senate and as part of the reform to the US immigration system. It was supported by President Obama; however, Congress has yet to pass this act.

In May and June of 2012, the call intensified for Obama to issue an executive authority to halt deportations of those who would be eligible for the DREAM Act. The White House asserts that only Congress can pass the Dream Act, but that it can offer deportation relief on a case-by-case basis. However 90 immigration-law professors do not agree. On May 28 advocates sent Obama a letter, explaining the ways he could grant these young people “administrative relief” while they wait for Congress to pass the Act. There is a precedent for other presidents using executive authority to protect groups for humanitarian reasons. Ex. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton shielded Cubans and Haitians from deportation and President Obama with orphans after Haiti’s earthquake.

With the DREAM Act being stalled, two states have taken action: in July 2011, California enacted its own version providing illegal immigrants access to private college scholarships for state schools. In August 2011, Illinois authorized a privately-funded scholarship plan for children of immigrants both legal and illegal.

 No Child Left Behind Act
Enacted in 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act is the source of considerable debate in the education community due its reach into all government-run schools receiving federal funding. NCLB expanded the oversight of the federal government with the aim to improve education for students who may be at a disadvantage. No Child Left Behind requires all students to be proficient in reading and math by 2014. Highlights of the plan:
• Annual Testing: By the 2005-06 school year, states were required to begin testing students in grades 3-8 annually in reading and mathematics. By 2007-08, they had to tests students in science at least once in elementary, middle, and high school.
• Academic Progress: States were required to bring all students up to the “proficient” level on state tests by the 2013-14 school year.
• Report Cards: Starting with the 2002-03 school year, states were required to furnish annual report cards showing a range of information.
• Teacher Qualifications: By the end of the 2005-06 school year, every teacher in core content areas working in a public school had to be “highly qualified” in each subject he or she taught.
• Reading First: The act created a new competitive-grant program called Reading First, funded at $1.02 billion in 2004, to help states and districts set up “scientific, research-based” reading programs for children in grades K-3.

In 2012, President Obama began granting waivers from NCLB requirements to several states. In exchange for the wavers, the states “agreed to raise standards, improve accountability, and undertake essential reforms to improve teacher effectiveness” per a statement from the President. Almost two thirds of all states have requested or received waivers from the Department of Education; these wavers give the individual states the flexibility to prepare and evaluate students based on standards best suited to each state. The states granted waivers:
• February 9, 2012 – Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee
• February 15, 2012 – New Mexico
• May 29, 2012 – Connecticut, Delaware, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island

For updates on these initiatives and other educational reform, please follow the Wheelock Policy Connection on Twitter and Facebook. The below links can be used as reference for further information:
Race to the Top
No Child Left Behind