Congress should help parents help their kids

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recently indicated that he would consider waiving the supplemental educational services (SES) provision of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). 

This is troubling. Not only would this be a major policy change, trumping Congress' current deliberation on the law's reauthorization, it also undermines one of the most innovative and sensible strengths of the law - serving the interest of parents and their children before that of adults.


Supporting reform while maintaining a commitment to at-risk students

President Obama firmly believes that all children deserve a world-class education. When he says all children, he means all – regardless of their race, ethnicity, disability, native language, income level or zip code.

The President’s proposal to fix NCLB focuses on schools and students at-risk, and on meaningful reforms that will help these students succeed. The plan will maintain the federal government’s formula programs serving disadvantaged students, English learners, migrant children, and students with disabilities. Many people are speculating that the President wants to make these programs competitive. They are wrong. The President is committed to keeping the historic federal role of providing funding for students who need it most. He does not want the programs dedicated to at-risk students to become competitive. And he does not want to reduce the funds distributed by formula.


Educating the whole child

In the President’s recent State of the Union address, he spoke about the steps we need to take to compete in the global economy and win the future. As the President rightly noted, education moves our entire society forward by ensuring that America’s workforce can meet current and future challenges.

This year we have an excellent opportunity to improve our educational system and move forward with a bipartisan reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). As my colleagues and I work on this critical legislation, we must go beyond simply addressing the academic needs of our students; we must focus on the development of the whole child.


Lest we forget: UNESCO remembers

Today I traveled to the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, along with the Presidents of Senegal and Georgia, former leaders of France, Germany, Turkey, current ministers, ambassadors and other dignitaries to mark the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps. That such a group has come together, Muslims, Jews and gentiles, to share this experience is, in itself, a milestone in bringing the world together in the goal of reconciliation and peace.
The trip, organized by the Aladdin Foundation, UNESCO, and the Mayor of Paris, is of particular importance as the survivors, witnesses and liberators of the atrocities that took place in these camps pass away.  We are here because the world needs to continue to teach the lessons of this terrible chapter in our history. As Dr. Mustafa Ceric ,The Grand Mufti of Bosnia Herzegovina, poignantly noted, "Those who deny the Holocaust are capable of committing another Holocaust." We cannot allow the distance of generations nor relational space from those most directly impacted by the Holocaust to blur the lessons we must share with our future leaders.


Competition in education funding hurts students

Many Americans, including President Obama, weren’t even born when the Soviet Union launched the first satellite into outer space in October 1957. Yet everyone knew exactly what the President meant when he said during his State of the Union address, “This is our Sputnik moment.” Today the U.S. faces economic and innovative competition around the world. If we want to win the future in the same way that we won the Space Race, we must do what we did then – invest in education. 

The President shined a spotlight on the importance of a long-term investment in education and recognized the critical role that teachers play in student success, calling for more respect for the teaching profession. His strong message of support for education and his call to fix No Child Left Behind is sorely welcome. However, as with many good things, the devil is in the details.


National education standards politicize education

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address illustrated just how much political duplicity has entered the debate about national education standards. While crowing about the success of his Race to the Top in purchasing states’ buy-in to the so-called Common Core math and English standards—and asking Congress for even more bribe money—the president then stood truth on its head by depicting the incipient national curriculum developed by Washington insiders as a grassroots effort.

Education progressives who delight in this disingenuous exercise of power to push national standards (and soon, federally subsidized tests as well) upon all U.S. public schools ought to take warning from England, a country where statist curricular guidelines are firmly entrenched.


School competition helps children succeed

Kelley Williams-Bolar made national headlines after being convicted for lying about her residency to get her two daughters into a better school district. She was sentenced to five years in prison. The sentence was reduced and she served her nine days in jail last week. The Akron, Ohio mother of two was herself just 12 credit hours away from becoming an accredited teacher. 

While not ignoring or dismissing the facts of the case of falsified records and the legal questions of culpability, this case highlights a bigger issue in education – the role of parents in their children’s education. How much control should parents have over their own children’s education? 


Race to the top takes away parental control

Last week in the State of the Union message, the President said that the responsibility for the education of children begins “in our homes and communities.” He is right about that. It is a self-evident fact that parents are the shepherds of their children’s upbringing, and that they have the first and most influence on their children.

He is also right, in a sense, that schools and teachers share in the responsibility for the education of children. They share in that responsibility in that parents choose them to teach certain things to their children.


Celebrating National School Choice Week

We are in the midst of National School Choice Week – January 23rd to 29th – which is being celebrated across the nation. It has been exciting to see so many events being held and so many people attending and speaking out in support of a quality education for all children. 

It’s been an incredible week here in the District for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program. The OSP provides children from low-income families the necessary option of enrolling their children in D.C. private schools. Currently the program is serving about 1000 children and is in danger of being phased out over the next two years. The SOAR Act, introduced January 26 in the Senate by Senator Joe Lieberman and the House by Speaker John Boehner, would reauthorize OSP for five years, allow new low-income students to enter the program, increase the scholarship amounts to approximately two-thirds of the public school per pupil amount, and continue a rigorous program evaluation.   


Sweden a model for American school choice options

In 1993, Sweden introduced a system of school choice and vouchers, inspired by the ideas of American economists Milton and Rose Friedman. Even though the system was just as controversial then as any U.S. voucher proposal, the right to chose your school and bring the funding with you is today considered a natural right for families and widely accepted by all political parties.

Even Sweden’s Social Democrat party supports the system and recently closed an internal debate on for-profit schools by deciding that there is no virtue in running schools at a loss: schools should be judged on their academic performance, not financial.

The reason for the Swedish voucher reform was both philosophical and practical. The philosophical argument was that since taxpayers have agreed to share the cost for a free and good education, then why should some have to pay for it twice – first with taxes and then in private school fees?  The more practical argument came from Swedish experience with educational reforms and innovations in the 1970s that to a large degree failed. It not only caused high costs for society and generations of students who saw few improvements, but it also created an aversion against further innovations and pedagogical experiments.