Obama on accountability & excellence in education

Given we are now in the 2012 U.S. presidential election in earnest, I thought it might be interesting to look back to March 24th, 2009. At that time, I wrote:

Apart from Moira MacDonald of the Toronto Sun, little is being heard from the Canadian media on what the U.S. President Barack Obama is recommending happen in American schools and school boards. For example, here are some quotes from Ms. MacDonald’s column yesterday:

  • “This is not a review of George W. Bush’s education policies. These are a few ideas from a recent speech by President Barack Obama. It was the first major speech Obama has made on education since coming to office.”
  • “It was delivered nearly two weeks ago to the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce — business leaders from a community whose children are often amongst the most struggling academically…”
  • “But he did not shy away from hard truths — truths that would be like sticking a finger in the eye of many of those in our public education universe here.”
  • “‘In a 21st-century world,’ Obama said. ‘Where jobs can be shipped wherever there’s an Internet connection, where a child born in Dallas is now competing with a child in New Delhi, where your best job qualification is not what you do, but what you know — education is no longer just a pathway to opportunity and success, it’s a prerequisite for success….'”
  • “Although short on detail, Obama said good teachers ‘will be rewarded with more money for improved student achievement.…'” [My italics.]

Wow! Increased expectations! Improved standards! That classroom teachers should be rewarded on the basis of student achievement!

Frankly, in Canada, even knowing how well individual students are achieving, let alone in comparison to their peers, is wishful thinking. In fact, the very notion that how well a student does should reflect on how well a teacher teachers, causes the teachers’ unions nightmares. Accountability? What’s that?

And, yes, I’m a former teacher AND teacher educator. Yet, I would have had no problem with anyone assessing how well I teach, no matter where my school was located or what the language, social or special needs of my students.

In fact, when I was in private practice, that is what I did. I helped children who were doing badly in school — by providing them with the learning strategies they needed to succeed, such as something as simple as using post-it notes to keep track of the main ideas in a story. Or, common sense approaches like using a tape-recorder to tape-record and listen to what you just read — thereby using all the senses.

Which makes me wonder what ever happened to all the “listening” centres that used to be a part of every primary and junior classroom? In fact, when “whole language” was first introduced, we were told they were essential, as were the phonics practise centres. And, so they were. 

But, the tape-recorders and earphones were expensive and required some careful teacher planning to shuffle the various reading groups through those centres. So, another policy was implemented well but modified over the years to the point where there is no longer anything “whole” about whole language.   

In any event, I will definitely be following these developments. They may be just what choice and other educational advocates have been hoping for — because reform of our educational systems is long overdue.

July 5, 2012: So, did the President achieve what he hoped to? Well, actually, yes. Did he achieve everything he wanted to? Obviously not, no one could in such a short period of time. But, make progress? Definitely. For full details of U.S. federal improvements and reforms to education, check out this White House link and scroll down to “Progress.”