Today, President Obama promised us five ponies to cure our education woes.
It started off well enough:
My outstanding Secretary of Education Arne Duncan will use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars. It’s not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works.
But then he goes on to offer us five ideas which largely don't work.
In other words, we won't be getting five ponies; we'll be getting at best one pony, three broken down mares, and a gelding.
And a large pile of horseshit for the next generation to clean-up.
Let's take a look at each of our ponies.
Pony One: Early childhood initiatives.
Obama sells this pony by pointing us to some non-educational benefits.
For every dollar we invest in these programs, we get nearly ten dollars back in reduced welfare rolls, fewer health costs, and less crime.
He has to do this because these early childhood initiatives tend not to have any educational benefits that don't wash out rapidly once the child enters the public school system.
He also offers what appears to be an preschool version of NCLB by offering grants to states that:
[d]evelop a cutting-edge plan to raise the quality of [their] early learning programs. Show us how you’ll work to ensure that children are better prepared for success by the time they enter kindergarten.
Letting states develop their own plans and then define what success looks like didn't work too well under NCLB.
This pony might have offered some hope if the funding went to actual preschool programs that directly remedied identifiable deficits that many low-SES children enter school with: low language skills.
Pony Two: Better standards and assessments.
Next, Obama wants to challenge states to enact better standards and assessments.
Why would they ever want to do a thing like that? It's much easier to enact low standards that appear to show that students are achieving, rather than actually getting them to achieve to high standards. Where is the incentive? And Obama isn't providing any new incentives in this speech. States will either answer the "challenge" or they won't. My money is on "they won't."
Obama is also promising funding for data systems "to track how much progress a student is making and where that student is struggling."
This is one of the few good ideas in the speech. Although, why states aren't doing this for themselves is beyond me.
Pony Three: Recruiting, preparing, and rewarding outstanding teachers.
Then Obama attacks teachers. Apparently, the ones we have now aren't any good. I disagree.
When the automakers ran their businesses into the ground and came begging for relief, the CEOs got the spanking from Congress, not the assembly line workers.
The problem isn't the teachers. The problem is with the management from top to bottom. They are the ones who made the silly rules, who created the impossible work environment, that entered into bad contracts wit the unions, and hired teachers from education schools that failed to prepare teachers with the skills they need.
And, let's be honest, you'd have to be a little crazy to want to work in many schools today given the conditions. I think most teachers simply don't realize what's in store for them. That's changing with the Internet.
Pony Four: Promoting innovation and excellence in America’s schools.
Obama promises to remove the current caps on charter schools. This is a good thing. No student should be forced to go to a failing school. There's no guarantee that a particular charter will be any good, but at least the student gets a choice and isn't forced to attend a bad school.
Obama also ants to increase the school day and year. That's great, students get to waste even more time in crappy schools. Let's focus on improving the schools first and then we'll worry about gaining further efficiencies by lengthening the time requirements.
He's also going to develop "new strategies to make sure at-risk students don’t give up on their education" by dropping out in high school. Here's a good way: improving their K-8 education. I thought that was what this whole speech was about in the first place.
Pony Five: Providing every American with a quality higher education ...
... by making it more expensive to go to college by floating more "grant" money into the system.
This one fails Econ 101. It also ignores the primary problem preventing students from attending college: they aren't sufficiently prepared for the rigors of college. And, there's precious little in this new plan that's going to help here. Let's work on that.
This plan is long on lofty rhetoric, but short on anything that stands a good chance of working, much less has an established track record. Basically, more of what we've come to expect from education from the Feds.