Pres. Obama & the Achievement Gap

On July 29, 2010 President Barack Obama addressed a teeming audience at the National Urban League Centennial Conference with special emphasis on Education Reform here in the United States. The President began by stressing the importance of turning the economy of the United States around through health reform, consumer protection, and finally education reform through the Race to the Top Program.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) provides $4.35 billion for the Race to the Top Fund. The Race to the Top Fund is a highly competitive grant program designed to provide financial incentives for states to improve the quality of education afforded to public school children. The four core education reform areas are:

1. Adopting standards and assessments preparing students for college success and the workplace
2. Building data systems measuring student growth and providing administrators with adequate metrics necessary to improve instruction
3. Recruiting, developing, and retaining effective instructors
4. Turning around America’s lowest-achieving schools

In a land where the academic achievement gap between people of color and whites continues to widen, almost any measure to reverse this trend is welcome. If states can demonstrate they are committed to “outstanding teaching, to successful schools, to higher standards, to better assessments—If you’re committed to excellence for all children – you will be eligible for a grant to help you attain that goal” (Pres. Obama).

The program was designed with state applications for Phase 1 (January 19, 2010) and Phase 2 (June 1st, 2010). Tennessee and Delaware were victorious in Phase 1, with Tennessee receiving $500 million and Delaware $100 in education grants.

States are eligible for various funding award buckets contingent on their share of the federal population of children between the ages of 5-17. Said buckets range from $20 million to the highest phase 1 award range of $350-700 million reserved for the largest states (California, Texas, New York, and Florida).

32 states have taken great steps to reform their education laws during the first round of grant consideration. Although only a few were impressive enough to receive compensation, everyone’s a winner when educational standards are raised for the nation’s children. New Jersey and Pennsylvania are finalists in the Second Phase of the Race to the Top. 18 states and the District of Columbia have made the first cut, in their individual quests for a share of $3.4 billion.

If successful, Pennsylvania plans to split $200 million of the $400 million it is eligible for among 122 of its 500 school districts and 69 of its 135 charter schools. Philadelphia alone would get $32 million in funding for 76 low-performing schools queued for improvement.

It is disputed how useful these allotments will be to various school districts once everyone receives their share. It is not disputed, that any measure that pushes school districts to raise their standards of instruction, student achievement, and investment in America’s youth is welcome. Hopefully the “money talks” mantra will elicit substantial improvements in state standards of education trickling down to the attitudes fostered in the homes of children nationwide, ultimately providing the impetus for an invigorated interest and commitment to academic excellence.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/07/29/AR2010072901375.html?hpid=moreheadlines