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Posted at 4:54 PM ET, 02/14/2011

The problem(s) with Obama’s 2012 education budget

By Valerie Strauss

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan talk a lot about using “what works” in helping to improve public schools, but their proposed $77.4 billion education budget for 2012 unfortunately wouldn’t do that.

It would do the opposite if passed, but it won’t make it through Congress intact; the Republican-led House just took a meat axe to the administration’s 2011 budget (which hasn’t passed Congress yet), cutting some of the programs that Obama wants to boost.

The document, then, is really a restatement of the administration’s ineffective educational values: increased competition for funding rather than equitable distribution of resources, more dependence on standardized tests for evaluation, more punishment for lowest-performing schools and an expansion of charter schools.

The budget document boldly declares that the administration’s key education initiative thus far, Race to the Top, has achieved “difficult yet fundamental improvements to our education system.”

No, it hasn’t. There is no evidence whatsoever that Race to the Top has done anything to improve real student achievement. In fact, Duncan himself has criticized No Child Left Behind’s emphasis on standardized testing as resulting in narrowed curriculum and other problems, yet he still, inexplicably, wants more.

Is it at all surprising that people get cynical about school reform when everybody who launches an initiative declares it a historic success before the ink is dry?

In yet another example of saying and doing two different things, Duncan Monday told a group of reporters that we don’t need “another study to demonstrate the longterm benefits” of high-quality early education programs. That can only mean that he understands that these programs are seriously important in preparing kids to achieve in school. They work.

Yet the 2012 budget proposal provides a small amount for such programs in comparison to what they are spending on untested proposals. (see numbers below)

The same holds true for reform strategies that incorporate wrap-around social and health services for families living in poverty.

Obama has repeatedly singled out the Harlem Children’s Zone as a model for school reform because it does just that. When he talks about the zone, he acknowledges the important link between poverty and academic performance. But again, the budget provides little money compared to the cash it wants to provide for tests and other nonproductive initiatives. Failing to address this issue in education, when 23 percent of American children live in poverty, is tantamount to malpractice.

What the budget does make a top priority is the controversial Race to the Top competition, which offered cash for states that would enact reforms that the administration supported, including an expansion of charter schools, common academic standards and more standardized testing.

Now the administration wants to spend $1.4 billion to expand Race to the Top in K-12 but also extend the model to early learning and higher education. This includes:

a) $350 million to establish a new, competitive Early Learning Challenge Fund for states to target early childhood programs.

b) $900 million for a new K-12 Race to the Top that will extend the program to school districts rather than states, and that will include special funding for rural districts though how much is not yet known. This way, the federal government can get districts involved in Race to the Top in states that chose not to participate, such as Texas.

c) $150 million in a new initiative to increase college access and completion and, the budget document says, “to improve educational productivity,” whatever improving educational productivity means.

Here are more numbers in the 2012 proposed budget. The $77.4 billion proposed budget is an increase of about 4 percent from 2010 (the 2011 budget has yet to be approved by Congress) and includes:

*$26.8 billion in a reformed Elementary and Secondary Education Act, better known as No Child Left Behind (assuming that Congress agrees to reform it, which it has not yet). This funding would include:

a) *$600 million for School Turnaround Grants

b) $300 million in new Title I funding to reward schools that show the most progress in improving the achievement of at-risk students.

c) $300 million for the Investing in Innovation program (Teach for America recently got a $50 million grant from this fund)

d) $150 million in Promise Neighborhoods, "an initiative that integrates a rigorous K-12 education with a full network of support services across an entire neighborhood, so that youth successfully complete high school and continue on to college." (This is the Obama initiative modeled on the Harlem Children's Zone that the president thinks so highly of. Compare this amount to the next item.)

e) $372 million to expand effective charter schools and other autonomous public schools that achieve positive results. (The biggest study of charter schools shows that most charter schools do no better or worse than traditional public schools.)

f) $835 million to support "a well-rounded education, including reading; science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); and the humanities

g) $365 million for efforts "to promote school safety, health, and well-being."

h) $750 million to reform education for English learners.

Other programs, though, would be cut, including Career and Technical Education, which would get $1 billion, or $264 million less than last year.

You tell me what’s wrong with this picture.

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By Valerie Strauss  | February 14, 2011; 4:54 PM ET
Categories:  Education Secretary Duncan, School turnarounds/reform  | Tags:  2012 budget, arne duncan, budget, career and technical education, charter school funding, education budget, education funds, harlem children's zone, increase in education budget, obama 2012 budget, obama budget, president obama, race to the top, teach for america  
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According to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (and they ought to know), funding for NBPTS has been zeroed out. Hard to believe. Fifty million for Teach for America and zero for National Board Certification, which has produced 90,000 accomplished *career* educators, with about $10 million per year--a rounding error in the federal ed budget.

Posted by: nflanagan2 | February 14, 2011 6:03 PM | Report abuse

What's wrong? We had Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumber running the show. It is as near a show of ignorance I have noticed in a while.

Nearly 75% of high school graduates do not attain a college degree, yet we drop their money and bolster money for colleges. They must really think that if it is free more will go. Reality says there are kids with grants that do not finish.

Who do they think they are fooling with $350 million for early learning (a.k.a. Pre-K or Day Care.)

These two added together could not complete a decent thought on education.

Posted by: jbeeler | February 14, 2011 6:26 PM | Report abuse

Race to the Top Has Unique Role to Play in Reforming Schools for the Future
By Arne Duncan/Secretary of Education.

The Race to the Top program has fundamentally redefined the education landscape in America. With less than 1 percent of the annual K-12 education spending in our country, the program has given states the incentive to lead reform in a comprehensive and collaborative way. Race to the Top has helped advance reform more in the past 18 months than any other program in the history of the Department of Education.

This money is absolutely essential to sustain the momentum created over the past year and a half. Race to the Top and other federal reform initiatives have unleashed an avalanche of pent-up reform activity in states and communities across the country. We need to continue to support that important work by extending funding for Race to the Top.

With the $4 billion available to support statewide reforms under Race to the Top, the Department of Education has funded 12 exemplary applicants. But these grants haven’t satisfied states’ desire for reform. A total of 46 states submitted bold, comprehensive plans for reform. With hard work and collaboration, governors, state education chiefs, state and local lawmakers, unions and other stakeholders worked together to advance reform.

Even before Race to the Top made its first grant, states showed their commitment to reform. Starting early last year, 48 states worked together to create standards that prepare students for success in college and careers. In a few short months since those standards were finalized, 35 states and the District of Columbia have adopted them. Forty-four states have formed two consortia to create the next generation of assessments that will measure student progress toward those standards. These tests will give teachers the data they need to help students succeed and will give parents the information they need to understand if their students are on track to graduating high school ready for college or the workplace.

Under Race to the Top, states are advancing other areas of reform. They are creating models of how to recruit, train and evaluate teachers and principals. North Carolina will provide incentives to draw teachers to the schools where they are most needed — offering to pay for graduate education and housing. Other states are doing the tough work of turning around their lowest-performing schools, and they are developing data systems to track and report progress. The District of Columbia is expanding access to high-quality early learning programs. All Race to the Top states have created comprehensive plans to prepare students for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the fields that will be vital for success in the 21st century economy.

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 6:45 PM | Report abuse

Forgive my cynicism, but "Race to the Top" reminds me of the problems inherent when private school parents seek to fix public schools they would never actually enroll their children in. Yesterday, in my blog, I reminisced about the "open classroom" model the powers-that-be trumpeted in the '70s at yet another cure-all. While I hold my breath, I ask your listeners to visit and see what I mean.

Posted by: dcproud1 | February 14, 2011 7:03 PM | Report abuse

Can Arne Duncan (And $5 Billion) Fix America's Schools?

"...the provision that has provoked the greatest outcry is a requirement that states drop any legal barriers to linking student test results and teacher performance. After years of dancing around the issue, Washington wants to know which teachers produce the best and worst students and is finally backing up that desire with real money."

"Duncan has spent a lot of time in his new job crisscrossing the country, talking to teachers, teachers' unions, school boards and teachers' colleges about the need to shake things up and change the way they all do business. ......Duncan's courage in speaking truth to the educational establishment is his greatest achievement, at least so far."

"Duncan admits he is tackling the Everest of entrenched interests with this particular reform. "It's pretty controversial," he says of the rule. "But to say that great teaching doesn't matter and should be disconnected from student outcomes, to me, is ludicrous."

"Sure, all kids are guaranteed seats in a classroom, but too many are taught by middling teachers in awful schools, Duncan says. "It's obvious the system's broken. Let's admit it's broken, let's admit it's dysfunctional, and let's do something dramatically different, and let's do it now. But don't just tinker around the edges. Don't just play with it. Let's fix the thing.",9171,1920299-3,00.html

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 7:17 PM | Report abuse

dcproud1 is right about the "open classroom" cureall. I went through it as well. It was said to be the "answer" to all the different levels of instruction, etc. It was a failure. There were some good ideas in it that could be transferred to other programs-but as a whole, it didn't work.

There is not a"cure-all". It is going to take common sense and lots of hard work. This seems to be missing from our Dept. of Education.

NCLB was a good idea in concept, but in execution, all the administrators care about is the tests. Instead of using the tests to confirm that the children are learning the material, the teachers are pressured just to be sure their students pass the test.

It's kind of like cramming for exams. Do you really remember what you learned when you only studied to pass the test the next morning?

Race to the Top is by far the stupidest concept I have ever seen. If your goal is to make your students physically fit, would you only give grants to those who were the fastest? Or, would you want to help those who were struggling with the race? You might praise the winners, but you need to help all. So, now we are giving grants to those who are succeeding??

Posted by: mmkm | February 14, 2011 7:19 PM | Report abuse

All Race to the Top states have created comprehensive plans to prepare students for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the fields that will be vital for success in the 21st century economy.

Posted by: frankb1
And you posted a press release for what reason.

Do us all a favor and only post government documents that are not released by the government or politicians. If you have something like the power point of the President's reelection campaign in exploiting public education by individual state, post that.

It is bad enough people put advertisements on my car screen and now we get those who think we want to see press releases.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 7:54 PM | Report abuse

It is interesting that this President chose to use Republicans issues as Bill Clinton did. This is the same as the general's fighting the new war as the last war.

Big surprise that in a poor economy there is no possibility of political gains by using Republican issues since the American public will accept the shooting down by Republicans of new spending.

The President can yell Top Of The World Ma as much as he wants in public education and the Republicans are going to simply say Sorry no dough.

There can call a program anything you want but the reality is that Americans could not care less about Race To The Top. This is like a company that keeps on advertising without paying any attention to those who are viewing the advertisement.

If you really want to pass a bill to improve public education your bill better show Americans how the money will benefit every American no matter what economic class. Time to recognize that Americans only want their money spent when they see a benefit to every American.

Oh and by the way Clinton used Republican issues that did not require expenditures to gain popularity. There was welfare reform, nafta, and the repeal of Glass Steagall.

I am continuously under impressed by the intelligence of the President.

The Republicans will gain the White House in 2012 unless they are supremely dumb.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 8:20 PM | Report abuse

"Proposal ties teacher ratings to student scores...those with poor evaluations can be fired.

"Teachers in the Houston school district would be held much more accountable for their students' learning under a highly anticipated proposal to change the way they are evaluated.

Under the draft plan, released for public comment this month, roughly half a teacher's rating would be based on student test scores and other evidence of academic progress. The current system relies almost solely on principals' observations of teachers at work."

The proposed changes, if approved by the school board, would put the Houston Independent School District among a small but growing number of districts nationwide emphasizing test scores when grading educators."

Feb. 11, 2011 By ERICKA MELLON

Posted by: frankb1 | February 14, 2011 8:46 PM | Report abuse

"...the provision that has provoked the greatest outcry is a requirement that states drop any legal barriers to linking student test results and teacher performance."
Results of national tests in reading for 2009 of all students in the United States.

4th grade
33% failed to read even basic
33% failed to read at grade level
Total 66% that can not read at 4th grade level

8th grade
25% failed to read even basic
43% failed to read at grade level
Total 68% that can not read at 8th grade level

With reading skills such as these on national tests how can there be the expectation that standardized tests will improve public education since standardized tests require reading.

If the same standardized tests were given to every student in the United States in the 5th grade it would be probable that 66 percent would fail based upon national 4th grade reading tests.

If the same standardized tests were given to every student in the United States in the 9th grade it would be probable that 68 percent would fail based upon national 8th grade reading tests.

Based upon national reading tests 66 percent of 4th grade teachers should be fired and 68 percent of 8th grade teachers should be fired.

Of course then massive additional firings that can be done in the 5th, 6th, 7th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th grade.

Of course students will not fail in these percentages if instead of national tests since almost all of the state standardized tests are watered down and meaningless in regard to whether student can be read at grade level. Many of the 66 percent that fail the national test will be tested on a state test and scored as reading at grade level.

The idea of standardized testing to improve education is totally idiotic given the large number of students that can not read on grade level based on real national tests, unless someone intends to use hundreds of different standardized tests daily as reading material for students in classrooms in the hope that this will improve their reading skills.

The problem in public education is not the teachers or the students that have problems in learning. The problem is the insane ideas of political leaders.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 14, 2011 9:20 PM | Report abuse

The Prez just fell down the rabbit hole with this latest. If only he would listen to educators, he would be saved a great deal of grief. Instead, he listens to Arne and Bill Gates et al, people who know nothing about educating students. Raw arrogance.

Poor Arne.What a talker -- but he says nothing at all. Quite pitiful really. Of course, Arne's been in the rabbit hole for 2 years now. The hole he's been digging has been getting deeper and deeper while his brain has been getting shallower and shallower. Laughable, -- except that we're talking about our country's children and their future. I've seen a lot of misguided policies passed by Congress over the years, but never since George Bush 2 and Congress brought us No Child Left Behind has our public school system been in the hands of such ignoramuses. All of us who voted for Obama thought he was smarter than this.

Posted by: theschoolprincipal | February 15, 2011 4:33 AM | Report abuse

From a conference in Washington DC in 2005, oh yes, the mighty plan to engulf......

Educational Entrepreneurship: Why It Matters, What Risks It Poses, and How to Make the Most of It

Obama and Duncan will see that their buddies at New Schools Venture Fund will have their "innovations" well funded. No worries.

Posted by: shadwell1 | February 15, 2011 9:21 AM | Report abuse

bsallamack's numbers are very interesting when you consider that the childhood poverty rate in the US is about 25%.

4th grade
33% failed to read even basic

8th grade
25% failed to read even basic

The schools in Chicago where I've taught have student populations which are over 90% low income.

Bsallamack makes a good point about tying teacher evaluations to test scores. Even with a value-added approach how do you hold teachers responsible? I have a student I see 1 to 3 times per week who lives in a basement apartment along with 14 other immigrants. He's often kept up all night by his mom making tamales to sell or the other men drinking and being loud. This student didn't go to school until 3rd grade when he moved to the US.

I do my best to help this child build his skills in my high school biology class, but his progress is very slow. The fact that he used to have serious behavior issues but now works hard in class should reflect on his teachers... he is learning and building successes in the classroom, but his standardized test performance is close to random and it will be years before he shows real improvement on such tests.

I agree that part of the problem is non-educators who are trying to "fix" the system which is so much more complex than they could understand.

Arne was our CEO of schools, and THAT is where the problem lies. School districts don't need CEO's they need superintendents who have deep classroom and administrative experience.

The competition model of "Race to the Top" appeals to many who see our schools as a meritocracy where the playing field is level. It is clearly not. Different kids need different approaches and resources if they are to be successful. NCLB and RTTT ignore the facts of education and rely on meaningless tests.

Giving everyone the same test and assuming it is valid and reliable enough to use to make any decisions about teachers or schools or programs or even students is a mistake.

I just don't know where the solutions will come from. Obama certainly isn't improving much over W. Bush. States are being coerced and the public is being mislead by political leaders and media distortions such as "Waiting for Superman." Obama's budget is just more of the same, and it does little to solve the fundamental problem of poverty in the US.

I just do my best with the 150 students I see in my classes. I try to teach subject matter as well as both academic and social skills.

I'd love to hear some suggestions for ways the system could be improved in meaningful ways.

Posted by: mrcantor | February 15, 2011 11:37 AM | Report abuse

Readers please post documented cases of Ms. Rhee publicly using her false claim.

The national newspaper that might do a real story is still interested.

Unlike Jay Mathews and the Washington Post they understand that national policy based upon falsehood is a national story.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 15, 2011 11:51 AM | Report abuse

I'd love to hear some suggestions for ways the system could be improved in meaningful ways.

Posted by: mrcantor
I am not a teacher why I have come up with all the ideas but her goes from previous posts.

I believe that the emphasis has to be on reaching children when they are young.

A student aide in every classroom when children are young.

Total recognition that if students can not read or want to read, these students will never be able to succeed in learning.

Computers in the early grades where children have access on their own to reading on their own a large selection of children books where the child can tap on a word and hear the pronunciation of the word. Their needs to be recognition that teachings is not simply spending every moment on instruction to the entire class.

A large collection of physical children books available and not just books that are at grade level. The goal is to get children to read above grade level.

The longer day for younger children should not just be a matter of warehousing these children in an auditorium. Their should be sessions for separate classes.

Time to recognize that minimal wage in this country is low. Bring in part time workers for these schools after 3 pm. High schools students could even be used.

Time to recognize that the public schools should no longer be places of teaching. There needs to be recognition that the public schools now need to be places of enabling learning.

Part 1

Posted by: bsallamack | February 15, 2011 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Part 2

Teaching is really still using methods and ideas of the 19th century. It is no wonder that it is not effective. Time to recognize that the methods and ideas were from a time when public education was producing individuals that could do limited reading, do arithmetic, and write words so that they could obtain jobs as clerk. It is interesting that many still do not recognize that these rather limited capabilities were really all that were necessary until the wide use of computers. Armies of clerks were required until then and writing skills were in actuality penmanship.

Big surprise that things have changed and these methods and ideas are no longer relevant.

The reality is that new ideas and methods are needed for public education in this nation.

These ideas and methods should derive from research in primary schools since the truth is that this is where change will have the greatest benefit on improving public education. If a child can not learn in the primary schools than it is likely that child will not learn later.

Then there is the question of reading. The reality is that children do not enjoy reading there is little chance that there will be improvement in public education. Contrary to popular misconception it is the ability to read that allows individuals to increase their abilities in thinking and not memorization. If children have been forced to memorize false facts does anyone believe that this will improve their thinking abilities. But when a child enjoys reading then that child will be read and come in contact with a large set of various information and ideas that will improve their ability to think.

Verbal ability is improved by children coming in contact with a larger set of words and not by being simply taught to memorize a limited set of words.

As an example of new ideas, why are we using the same 8 to 3 structure for all grades of public school? Why is the school day this way for the youngest children and seniors in high school. Yes at one time the overwhelming number of mothers in this nation stayed at home and so could be ready to accept their children at 3 p.m. But those days are long gone. Besides a longer school day for younger children would be offer a better opportunity of teaching children when they are young instead of trying to correct problems later.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 15, 2011 5:50 PM | Report abuse

Part 3
Change requires money but there already is the money for this. All the money wasted on standardized testing and other nonsense would pay for the change.

Beside Americans would also be willing to pay for change since this change would benefit all children since it is not change directed to only the poor.

I am really tired of public education where the same stupid thing is continuously done and no one supposedly can come up with ideas.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 15, 2011 6:02 PM | Report abuse

I'd love to hear some suggestions for ways the system could be improved in meaningful ways.

Posted by: mrcantor

Part 4
I also blame teachers for allowing themselves to get into this situation.

Time for teachers in middle class neighborhoods to start forming information groups to present to the parents to show the falseness of the politicians.

Teachers would soon find themselves as not picked upon by the politicians.

No more of this sit quietly until they decide to come for you in the night.

Posted by: bsallamack | February 15, 2011 6:07 PM | Report abuse

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