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Presidential candidates need to raise their IQ on the nation’s education situation

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BY DEBORAH HARRIS
         With unemployment still hovering a little over 8 percent, education is not at the forefront issue of this election; the issues of economy and healthcare dominate the campaigns. But with the massive strike by Chicago teachers, with total college student debt loans heading towards $1 trillion and with Obama’s Race to the Top program beginning to take effect, education reform is an incredibly relevant issue to both the Obama and Romney campaigns.
         Both candidates share some common ground on education, such as their support of charter schools. Both seek to revise the current educational system under NCLB,  albeit with very different ideology. Romney, with his CEO approach, wants to run public education like a business. Through his “A Chance for Every Child” program, Romney believes he can close achievement gaps across the public school system by privatizing education. The program would distribute vouchers to private schools and divert funds from public schools to more charter schools. Public education, however, is not a business; there is no dollar value that can be placed on an education. When a business fails, investors are upset and people are put out of work; but when public education fails, lives are ruined.
         Charter schools, while taking money from public funds, do not abide by the same rules as public schools. They can choose their students, and have no incentive to take in students with disabilities or behavioral issues, thus creating a two-tiered system within public schools.
       “On the federal tests, known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, from 2003 to 2009, charters have never outperformed public schools. Nor have black and Latino students in charter schools performed better than their counterparts in public schools,” Diane Ravitch, educational policy analyst, wrote in The L.A. Times.
        On the other hand, Obama sees education as the key to economic recovery and unemployment reduction. Far from Romney’s proposal to shrink the Department of Education, Obama’s educational policy, Race to the Top, is an even more aggressive form of NCLB. Race to the Top is a $4 billion competitive grants program, established by Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in 2009.  In the spring of this year, Georgia became one of 10 states to receive a waiver from Race To The Top, allowing the state to disregard the cumbersome goals of NCLB. This year, Georgia will receive a $40 million grant which mandates Georgia adopt a new teacher evaluation system and provides for the establishment of more charter schools. The effects can already be seen at Grady, which has been designated as a “Focus” school, akin to a “Needs Improvement” school under NCLB. One example is the administration SLO Assessment tests, which are a key part of the new teacher evaluation system. This also translates to more scrutiny from federal evaluators, who will increase their presence at Grady and similar schools with a wide gap between high test scores and low test scores, and graduation rates lower than 60 percent.
         While Obama may be on the right track, his program is still reinforcing the “teach to the test” method. Teachers are still held personally accountable for their students’ test scores, which are then tied to teachers’ salary, tenure and bonuses. While teacher transparency is necessary within the education system, these evaluations perpetuate a fear-driven environment, in which creativity, risk-taking, and teachers’ autonomy to plan lessons are all discouraged. Failing schools will suffer the most; the emphasis on “teaching to the test” will be greater than ever, with so much federal interventions. Accountability isn’t something that should be applied only to teachers; students, parents, the community and our elected officials should be held just as accountable. Both Obama and Romney, however, push an agenda with standardized testing and teacher accountability at the top. So no matter who takes the Oval Office this fall, I don’t see this system going anywhere.
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Presidential candidates need to raise their IQ on the nation’s education situation