When Barack Obama assumed the presidency, a nasty set of problems confronted him in P-20 education. High student loan debt, lack of affordable early childhood education options and everything in between were put in the President's lap and have been the very issues he has addressed in both terms.
Given the nature and sheer number of challenges, his administration has done a great deal to foster positive change and progress. In a bid to build upon his already stellar record on education Obama implemented a number of education reform initiatives in 2014.
1. Making colleges accountable for standardized test scores. In April, President Obama announced that colleges with education programs would soon be held accountable for the future standardized test scores of the pupils of their graduates, at least when it comes to federal fund incentives. The president's proposal plans to reward nearly $100 million per year in federal grants to education schools that have proven to turn out the best teachers -- some of that measured in the standardized test scores graduates are producing in their classrooms. Federal scholarship aid, then, will be based less on student need and more on the performance of graduates from those programs.
2. Plans to improve teacher preparation. The Obama administration unveiled a plan this year to regulate how the U.S. prepares teachers, stating that too many new K-12 educators are not trained properly or ready for the classroom. Under the proposal, the government would require states to issue report cards for teacher preparation programs at public universities and private colleges. Alternative programs run by school districts and nonprofits would not be exempt.
For the first time, the rating systems would reflect on how teacher candidates perform after graduation. The system would consider whether they accept jobs in their subject field, how long they stay and how their students perform academically. The proposed changes will not take effect immediately; states would not be required to issue report cards for teacher programs until April of 2019.
Under the proposal, states would rate programs as "low-performing," "at-risk," "effective" or "exceptional." Programs receiving ratings of "low-performing" or "at-risk" for two consecutive years would lose federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education grants, which give up to $4,000 a year to teacher preparation candidates who consent to work full time for four academic years in high-need fields and struggling schools.
While there is no evidence these regulations will lead to improvement, the proposed plan does seem to be on the right track to prepare our country's teachers for the reality of the modern day U.S. classroom. It is in everyone's best interest to train teachers right from the start to ensure our students are getting the best instruction possible from day one.
3. Tightened rules for undocumented K-12 students. This year the Obama administration strengthened its stance on protecting public school students who are undocumented immigrants. The policy includes guidelines on appropriate and inappropriate enrollment practices and it takes the place of similar wording from 2011.
The guidelines are just a small piece of a larger push for immigration reform from the Obama Administration. In 2011, Obama showed his support for immigrants and their right to education when he enacted the Dream Act that halted deportations of students and in some cases, their families. While the student portion of this legislation got a lot of attention, it also took a closer look at avoiding deportations of low-priority immigrants without criminal records.
Immigration reform is certainly a hot topic in Washington, especially as education funding seems to always be feeling a tight squeeze. Providing education to undocumented immigrant children, however, is an investment in the future economy of the country and should be considered a right -- even for those who have entered the country illegally, but not of their own accord.
4. Worked to improve Native American education. President Barack Obama has pledged to work with tribal nations to make sure Native Americans have equal educational and economic opportunities. The President said the administration is determined to partner with tribes, and that the relationship with Washington and tribal nations is the strongest it has ever been. His intended efforts include the expansion of opportunity among Native Americans.
Dozens of steps intended to improve the Bureau of Indian Education are being rolled out by the administration with the goal of boosting the academic achievement of Native American students, and also support economic development in tribal communities. The efforts include creating a blueprint for redesigning the Bureau of Indian Education and supporting digital learning by providing schools and dormitories with high-speed Internet.
I am so glad that Obama recognizes the many issues Native Americans in this country are facing. They deserve to have equal education and economic opportunities like the rest of us. I think Obama's efforts are spot on and hope that very soon, Native Americans will benefit from the changes he has initiated.
5. Implemented a millennial initiative that targets student loan debt.The Obama Administration formed an initiative targeted at Millennials (currently ages 18 to 34) and some of their most important life issues, including student loan assistance, technology use, job placement and educational spending by the government.
The President's emphasis on the cost of higher education will certainly appeal to Millennials, many of whom came of age during the economic decline and are still thousands of dollars in debt from student loans. Addressing these concerns, along with how the government should and will help Millennials work through them, shows an understanding from the administration that seems to be lacking on the other side of the aisle.
It's no secret that Millennials are increasing in influence but also face financial insecurity. The Millennial age group is also the most dominant electoral group and is expected to show a lot of influence in the midterm elections. Addressing the issues of this youngest adult generation is smart because it impacts the rest of the country too. The more secure Millennials are in their careers, finances and other areas of life, the better off the country as a whole.
6. Announced a $1 billion early education investment. In December, President Obama announced $1 billion in early education investments that will come from a combination of public and private commitments. Speaking at the White House Summit on Early Education, the President laid out the details for Invest in US, a public awareness campaign meant to bring attention to the great need for high quality early childhood education throughout the country. The campaign will run in partnership with the First Five Years initiative and its participating philanthropic organizations.
The President said that $333 million has already been committed by private partners, and another $750 million in federal funding will go towards programs like Early Head Start and the Preschool Development Grants. The President has been a staunch supporter of stronger early childhood education programs with federal backing since he first took office. This move represents more than just rhetoric, however. It shows the President's commitment to putting plans in motion to give American children, regardless of income, a chance to reap the proven benefits of early childhood endeavors.
The first step to having K-12 students who are able to meet the academic demands of the contemporary classroom is to enroll those students first in strong preschool programs -- and that starts with making it affordable for all families.
Did I miss anything? What would you add to the list?