This week the National Urban League and several other civil rights groups issued a report claiming the Obama Administration’s approach to improving schools isn't much different than the largely unsuccessful attempts made at education reform under the Bush Administration. The report called the president’s $4.35 billion education initiative an “ineffective approach for failing schools.” It is a topic I wrote on a few months ago. One need only go slightly beneath the surface to discover Obama’s Race to the Top is strikingly similar to Bush’s No Child Left Behind.
The Urban League report, entitled “Our Communities Left Behind: An Analysis of the Administration’s Turnaround Policies,” cites federal data that shows just 3-percent of this country’s Black students and less than 1-percent of Latino/a students are affected under the first round of the administration’s Race to the Top competition – the very students most at risk of being marginalized and of dropping out of school.
The report calls the policies “bad educational strategy” that are “one-size-fits all” in a country that is vastly different from region to region, city to city and neighborhood to neighborhood.
The Urban League study goes on to propose a new approach to school intervention calling for a strong focus on school culture, curriculum and staffing as well as wrap-around support for students that includes a “positive behavioral approach” to school discipline and access to primary healthcare services.
President Obama faced his critics this morning in a speech at the Urban League’s centennial convention.
“We have an obligation to lift up every child in every school in this country, especially those who are starting out the furthest behind,” Obama said.
Earlier this week, the Department of Education informed the state did not make the final cut in round two of the Race to the Top competition. The reasons for Washington’s failure will not be out for several weeks but it is widely suggested that state officials knew from the moment they submitted our application that we fell short. Chief among the reasons – a lack of any substantive program to remove ineffective teachers and administrators and a lack of charter schools. The state’s application was considered half hearted at best, stymied by existing state laws.
President Obama went on to say this morning that he will not tolerate a status quo where the United States lags behind other countries in education achievement.
The problem is, as most educators know, studies that suggest the U.S. is lagging behind other countries are flawed. Why? Because, put simply, they compare apples to automobiles. About the only thing 15-year old students in Japan, South Korea and Finland (the countries that consistently top the rankings) have with 15-year old students in the U.S. is their age. Japan, South Korea and Finland have fairly homogenous populations and are, for the most part, monolingual societies (meaning diversity plays little role in educational achievement). All three also have education systems that tend to “weed out” or “track” lesser able and lower income students into alternate programs before their teen years. Saying public school students in the United States – who come in all colors and income levels and do not all speak the same language - perform worse than the highest performing students in other countries shouldn’t be a surprise.