Obama’s lesson plan

Much of what President Barack Obama said regarding public education during a speech on Tuesday is worth cheering.

•  He called for merit pay for teachers and said there’s no excuse for bad teachers to continue on the job if they’ve been given a chance but fail to improve.

•  He reiterated his support for charter schools and encouraged states to expand the number available.

•  He urged schools to consider longer days and longer school years to better prepare students for the 21st century.

•  He blasted schools that lower standards to accommodate poor student performance. “The solution to low test scores is not lower standards; it’s tougher, clearer standards,” Obama said.

At the same time, he called on states to develop new tests that measure student achievement in different ways to ensure they meet the needs of the 21st century. That can mean tests that better assess things like writing and critical-thinking skills. But it can also mean mushy tests in which students are rewarded simply for trying, not for actually performing well. The president and the public will have to continually scrutinize new tests to ensure they are the former, not the latter.

Additionally, the president called for more federal spending on things like early childhood education, home health care for young children, new efforts to train and recruit teacher and assistance to college students.

He offered no dollar figure for these proposals during a speech Tuesday. All may have merit in the long run, but they should be debated later. The immediate focus of new government spending should be to deal with the economic crisis, not on long-term programs.

Despite that, however, Obama’s call this week indicates he is determined to improve the nation’s education system with real policy initiatives, not simply by throwing more money at it.

For that, he deserves at least a B.


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