The Obama Administration’s ‘Insane’ Educational Reforms
By: Casey Given
“On the personal level the student, the parent, and the caring teacher all perceive that a basic promise is not being kept. More and more, young people emerge from high school ready neither for college nor for work. This predicament becomes more acute as the knowledge base continues its rapid expansion, the number of traditional jobs shrinks, and new jobs demand greater sophistication and preparation.”
If you follow education policy, you might have guessed that quote is from President Obama. After all, one of the main aims of the President’s education reforms has been for states to adopt “standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and compete in the global economy.” But while the quote describes the United States current education crisis quite well, it is not from the Obama era, but rather from three decades ago.
In 1981, the Reagan Administration commissioned a report about the quality of public schools in America from the Department of Education. The result was A Nation at Risk, a powerful publication whose bleak assessment of public education prompted a wave of federal reforms including Bill Clinton’s Goals 2000, George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind, and Barack Obama’s Race to the Top. Ironically, all three of these laws have taken the same essential approach by requiring states to raise their academic standards. Unsurprisingly, their similar reforms have led to similar failures, as the cost of public education has increased and quality stagnated since the report’s publication in 1983.
Unfortunately, President Obama has not caught onto this trend of failed policies. Instead, he has taken a liking to blaming No Child Left Behind as the root of America’s education woes by offering states waivers from its strict standards-based benchmarks. While the President is certainly right that the 2002 law has been ineffective in improving academic achievement, he forgets that it is only one reform in a long line of failed federal interventions in education since the publication of A Nation at Risk.
Even more tragic, the President’s alternative to No Child Left Behind takes the same approach as all the previous failures by again requiring that states raise their academic standards to receive a waiver. The same strategy applies to Race to the Top, where states are also required to raise standards to be eligible for a share of $4.35 billion in grant funding.
Even a recent study by the left-leaning Brookings Institution agrees that the Obama Administration’s repetitive education policy is bound to fail because its focus on raising state standards is historically proven to be ineffective. “The quality of state standards, as indicated by the well-known ratings from the Fordham Foundation, is not related to state achievement,” the 2012 Brown Center Report of American Education finds. Furthermore, “[t]he rigor of state standards, as measured by how high states place the cut point for students to be deemed proficient, is also unrelated to achievement.”
Albert Einstein famously defined “insanity” as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Given this definition, the Obama Administration’s continued focus on raising academic standards in the states is unquestionably insane. The history of federal education reform has shown that students’ academic performance cannot be improved by a bureaucrat in Washington writing white papers requiring states to do “the same thing over again” through raising their standards. If the crisis from A Nation at Risk still describes our public schools’ situation today, then clearly the federal government has been ineffective in enacting meaningful educational reform.