Earlier today, President Obama delivered a commencement speech to students graduating from Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis, Tennessee. Booker T. Washington high school won the president’s Race to the Top Commencement Challenge, designed to have high schools demonstrate their commitment to college readiness as part of a competition to have President Obama speak during their graduation ceremony. The school was chosen because of performance gains and increases in graduation rates.
President Obama spoke to the graduates about the value of hard work and the importance of education. But he also took the time to note his administration’s strategy toward improving education:
Ever since I became President, my administration has been working hard to make sure that we build on the progress that’s taking place at schools like this. We’ve got to encourage the kind of change that’s led not by Washington, D.C., but by teachers and principals and parents; by entire communities; by ordinary people standing up and demanding a better future for their children. We have more work to do so that every child can fulfill his or her God-given potential. And here Tennessee has been a leader, one of the first winners of the nationwide ‘Race to the Top’ we’ve launched to reward the kind of results you’re getting at BTW.”
Despite his assertion that education change must be led “by teachers and principals and parents” – not by Washington, D.C. – the Obama administration’s track record on education policy begs the contrary. His administration has continued the education spending spree, taking it to new heights thanks to a $100 billion bonus provided to the Department of Education through the so-called “stimulus” in 2009.
Moreover, the president is eager to consolidate more power in Washington by requiring states to comply with national standards as a part of No Child Left Behind reauthorization, driven by the belief that education reform can happen top-down from Washington. President Obama has called for the law’s reauthorization before the start of the next school year.
For nearly a half-century now, the federal role in education has continued to grow, without any commensurate gains in academic achievement or attainment. But the Obama administration still believes that, by tinkering around the edges and reauthorizing NCLB, that this time, they can get it right.
But thankfully, there is a chorus of strong conservative voices in Congress determined to restore educational decision-making authority back to the state and local level, and stop the education spending spree.
Representative John Kline (R-MN), Chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, is determined to reduce the federal footprint in education, provide fiscal restraint over education spending, and streamline the Department of Education. And just last Friday, the first step toward these goals was taken.
Representative Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-CA), chairman of the Early Childhood, Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee, introduced a measure to curtail the proliferation of federal education programs and introduced what will be the first in a series of education reform bills being crafted by the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The Setting New Priorities in Education Spending Act would eliminate 43 out of some 80 programs that fall under No Child Left Behind. Hunter stated:
It’s time to trim the fat. Today I will introduce legislation that will eliminate-not consolidate, not defund, but eliminate-43 wasteful K-12 education programs. At a time when approximately one-third of American fourth graders can’t read, we must concentrate on education initiatives that have a track record of putting the needs of students first.”
As the fight of No Child Left Behind reauthorization heats up, federal policymakers have two options: they can continue to repeat the failed policies of the past by trying to dictate education reform from Washington, or they can take steps to reduce the federal footprint and tack a new course. If President Obama is serious about locally-driven education reform, he should follow the lead of conservative in Congress, who are working to ensure that taxpayer dollars are wisely used and education is serving its most important constituencies-students, parents, and taxpayers-not bureaucrats in Washington.