Education Lessons Are Lost on Obama

Not every failure occurs in the classroom

I can't pinpoint the moment when the Obama administration went wrong on the subject of education. But I can pinpoint the moment when it demonstrated that it can't be taken seriously.

It happened on Monday, March 15, when Education Secretary Arne Duncan was expounding to reporters about revising the No Child Left Behind law. The new policy, he asserted, "is going to revolutionize education in our country."

No, it's not. We have been at the task of education for a long time, and one thing we have learned is that you cannot revolutionize it. The American system of schooling is vast, complicated, self-protective, slow to change, and even slower to improve.

On these points, No Child Left Behind leaves no doubt. It was inaugurated with grand promises eight years ago. "As of this hour, America's schools will be on a new path of reform, and a new path of results," exulted President George W. Bush upon signing it.

For the first time, the federal government demanded that states create and enforce standards, hold educators accountable, and make prescribed changes. It seemed to hold great potential.

But the potential has gone unfulfilled. In the first five years, there were small gains in reading proficiency among 4th-graders, but the gains were larger in the five years before that. Likewise with math.

Among 8th-graders, there was no change in reading performance. Math scores rose a little, but less rapidly than they had been rising. Nor have minority students improved more than before.

High school students also have nothing to brag about. A 2008 report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that among 17-year-olds, performance in math and reading is worse now than it was in the 1990s and no better than in 1973.

If you didn't know NCLB had become law in 2002, you would not guess it from looking at the trends in student performance. We were mediocre then, and we're mediocre now.

Hoover Institution scholar John Chubb, in his book Learning from No Child Left Behind, laments that "only a third of American young people are demonstrating mastery of the knowledge and skills that education experts believe appropriate for their respective grade levels." In some countries, two-thirds of kids meet that standard.

The common complaint among liberal critics is that Washington imposed new rules without supplying the needed funds. But between 2001 and 2008, federal education spending jumped by 72 percent.

In short, we launched an unprecedented and expensive effort to improve schools and help students—and it didn't work.

One problem is that the states that were serious about raising performance didn't need the law, and those that were not serious were able to evade or frustrate it. Michael Petrilli, vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, has explained, "While it's hard to force recalcitrant states and districts to do things they don't want to do, it's impossible to force them to do those things well."

Nor is it clear it would help if they did. Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor who was an education official under the first President Bush and a former NCLB enthusiast, finds no evidence that the remedies that failing schools must adopt actually work in practice.

As she notes in her new book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, few parents have taken advantage of the opportunity provided under NCLB to escape bad schools. Few students have leapt at the chance to get free after-school tutoring. Few failing schools have been able to turn around.

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  • Suki||

    good morning reason

    [all lower case in mourning for the healthcare vote]

  • ||

    The more we "systematize" and regulate "education", the further removed we become from "learning".Our school systems should be enabling skills development in logic, thinking and communicating, and instead we dictate "performance". Both the old and new versions (Release 1.0 and 2.0 of NCLB or, "Failforsure") of No Child Left Behind leaves all children behind "the curve". Obama's scheme merely puts bland icing on Bush's flatbread.

  • Jen||

    But Ivan, if we teach our children logic, there won't be anymore Democrats!

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    The fear of a populace conversant with logic and rhetorical analysis and able to see through their lies is hardly the sole province of the Dems. The bulk of our politicians of every stripe should (and when they are smart enough, do) dread that possibility.

  • Untermensch||

    I had the privilege to join a small-group discussion with Elinor Ostrom two weeks ago. Washington-centric education reform is one area that she specifically pointed to as wrong-headed. She made the argument that the centralization of decision-making, the consolidation of schools into ever larger units, and the dramatic reduction in the number of school districts (making them less accountable at the personal and individual level), as well as the removal of any sort of reasonable, community-based set of graduated sanctions to deal with failure were a recipe for disaster. NCLB and current proposals only double down on the worst elements of this system and accelerate failure.

    (I wanted to ask her if she felt that the centralization of health care policy would have the same effect, but it didn't fit into the theme of the discussion I was involved in. But every time she spoke about why central planning doesn't work, I kept thinking that what she was saying could apply equally well to our current health care mess.)

  • Arne Duncan||

    The new policy ... "is going to revolutionize education in our country."

    No, it's not.

    IS TOO!!

  • DJF||

    Its going to revolutionize it like the Soviets revolutionized the farms and factories

  • Barry Loberfeld||

    From here:

    The intrinsic flaw of "compulsory education" is that compulsion can keep a child's body in school, but not his mind. All restraints -- from the physical (truant officers and armed guards) to the pharmacological (Ritalin and its competitors) -- cannot compel the student, the designated learner, to play his part in the educational equation. Without that participation, all the teacher's efforts are ultimately as useful as chalk without a board. "But what about communication?!" Well, of course we want to get through to the child, to instill the importance of an education, but all such attempts at "persuasion" (in a context of coercion) can go only so far. If we cannot convey the importance of an education, how can we then convey that education itself? Once a child has shut himself down, only he can turn himself back on. Who else controls his mind? ...
    Compulsion and education -- force and thought -- are related like darkness and light: the presence of one is the absence of the other. The folly of bringing together both can be nothing less than manifest ignorance of the nature and reality of each.
  • ||

    The author said..
    ...Not every failure occurs in the classroom.
    ::
    What is added to the debate here?

    Did the author have suggestions for improvement?
    ::
    GP

  • doctor_k||

    Is this the best Reason can do the day after the takeover of 1/6 the US economy?

    Perhaps I am not nuanced enough but it seems to me that the basic Libertarian tenants of small government, individual responsibility and liberty are almost avoided here in an effort to engage in some esoteric debate of things that have no bearing on Libertarian philosophy. Obama went wrong on education the moment he continued having a Dept of Education, the moment he appointed the "fisting kit" guy to be the "safe schools czar".

    Obama has never even run a lemonade stand and his roots, training and area of expertise are in socialism/marxism. To debate where he went wrong on education is like asking where the scorpion went wrong when it stung the turtle carrying it across the river.

    IOW it's a classic definition of insanity.

    Debating the needle while the elephant in the room is eating the haystack.

    I'm still stunned that this is the what Reason decides to run the "day after".

    At the very least they could have run a story on how great it will be to have tax payer funded medical marijuana under the new health care. We are all going to need it.

  • ||

    Look around, doc. I think you'll find that Hit and Run isn't limited to one post a day.

  • ||

    The problems arising from student behavior and "crappy neighborhoods" are problems created by local, state or federal government and its laws rules and agencies, all designed to "help" the poor and the addicted and the uneducated . give head | how to simulate oral

  • Rick||

    Compulsory and public education are the foundations on which stuff like this health care fiasco are created.

    I will say this over and over until my death. Libertarians of all types should concentrate on education - if we could turn back that beast, all else would follow.

    We should be supporting and encouraging homeschooling and libertarian leaning schools like:

    Sudbury Valley:
    http://sudval.org

    Village Free School:
    http://villagefreeschool.org

  • David||

    I'll give a suggestion for improvement: get the federal government out of education, take accountability for schools away from the government and return it to the parents.

  • doctor_k||

    David: I'll give a suggestion for improvement: get the federal government out of education, take accountability for schools away from the government and return it to the parents.

    Thank you. Finally some common sense "Reason"

    Debating the merits of a socialist backed by a giant union who has canceled things like the DC voucher programs and then wondering where he went wrong on education is the definition of insanity.

    No need to even mention his education mentors like Bill Ayers.

  • ||

    My proposed amendment: get the government at all levels out of education and return authority for it to the parents.

    The more government does in this area, the worse the results; the more money thrown at the problem, the worse the results; the more fancy education theories are implemented, the worse the results. Try something actually new: take government out of education, totally.

  • ||

    I am all for Public Education just not Federal Run or State Run. Local communities SHOULD educate their children. Its the only way to preserve the Republic in any fashion but tyrannical.

    All democratic institutions at heart rely on educated Polity. One of the reasons I believe that public education has gotten worse and worse. They do not want educated people.

  • Hillary Clinton||

    "But what about the chiiiiillllldren?!? Won't somebody think of the children?!!"

  • ||

    The reason education reform is failing is because too many American kids are unwilling to stoudy, or even refrain from disrution.

    If anyone took the time to observe the beahavior of the lowest performing students, they would see children with tremendous skill for avoiding work. It's not uncommon for a student to repeatedly and deliberately break their pencil, write down wrong answers to race through an assignment. Very few students actually put the care and concentration into their work that real learning requires.

    The biggest failure of education reform is that we've concentrated too much on everything external to the students (lessons, programs, teacher training), while failing to realize many students lack the discipline and work ethic for school. Their habits and attitudes are formed at home, and teachers simply no longer have enough authority in their own classrooms to alter the behavior.

  • Rick||

    Spoken like a true member of the local teacher's union.

    Children have a natural curiosity and instinct to learn. Learning is not the same as education. You lock students up for 8-10 hours a day in the equivalent of a prison, and then complain that they act like inmates?

    End compulsory school, end public school. What we have is indoctrination daycare.

    Is low performance caused by bad behavior or is bad behavior the result of one size fits all education? I would argue the latter.

    Enjoy your summer vacation!

  • Mike||

    Here's something - crappy schools are built by crappy neighborhoods. When your students are living with their illiterate grandparents because their unmarried mom's too addicted to crack to take care of them and their father's in jail, they're not likely to succeed. Some variant of that describes probably half of my mom's students in one of the schools that is in danger of being closed because they aren't meeting No Child Left Behind's metrics for state test scores.

  • Rick||

    The illiterate grandparents and crack smoking mom were probably educated in your public school system.

  • doctor_k||

    Amen Rick. They can't see the forest through the trees. People had crappy schools and no department of education for two hundred plus years of our existence. Government intrusion under the false auspices of good intentions has lowered the bar for everyone. Same as Health Care will do. If the onus is on individual responsibility and the safety nets kick in from a local on up direction the people with a greater vested interest will make sure their own are educated and their needs are met. Government has enslaved the poor and damned them to generations of entitlement. Throwing more money at the problem will only continue the problem as money is not the problem.

    But again the crux of Chapman's article is where Obama went wrong. I must ask where did Chapman's education go wrong that he can't recognize the obvious?

  • ||

    The problems arising from student behavior and "crappy neighborhoods" are problems created by local, state or federal government and its laws rules and agencies, all designed to "help" the poor and the addicted and the uneducated ... take away the welfare for individuals, families and companies and watch them straighten up. A lot of politicians, businessmen, bureacrats, academics, "scientists" and race-mongers will be against that and so it won't happen. Get used to it: each successive graduating class in every high school, college and university across the nation will be more ignorant, less able to learn, less willing to try to learn and more docile than their previous classes. Lean forward just a tiny bit and take a peek out the front window. Doesn't that look like the Grand Canyon's bottom we're staring at?? Yeah, because it is the abyss.

  • ||

    Is this the same Barack Obama who chaired the Annenberg Chicago School Challenge? lol

  • ||

    Yes it is the same Barack Obama, but the challenge was then and is now how to make most of the kids in the nation stupified and ignorant while avoiding daily street riots and violence that overturns society. Not how to educate children to be independent, responsible adults when they come from "disadvantaged" backgrounds. You can't rule a ruin, you know? How to make kids docile toward their rulers? Give them a target for their grievances and resentments. The less the target actually has to do with their problems, the more likely it is that the lie will be believed. Particularly among folks who are unable and uninterested in reading, writing or thinking. And doubly so when that inability and disinterest is the produce of the very educational system claiming to be their salvation.

  • Kroneborge||

    "No, it's not. We have been at the task of education for a long time, and one thing we have learned is that you cannot revolutionize it."

    Not true, moving to a system of vouchers would immedietaly shake things up, and revolutionize them.

  • ||

    The article below needs some answers immediately:

    Deceit is just the tip of the iceberg people. How come no-one, even Fox News won't get the answers to the facts in the following article?

    Why isn't the media finding out the truth for us taxpayers? Where are all the documents? Even just "one" of the them that is listed?

    http://canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/21269

  • abercrombie london||

    Good read.

  • old guy||

    It all starts here:

    Truancy laws are slavery.

    Unwilling slaves are motivated to do only as much as necessary to avoid punishment and NO MORE. Born an unwilling slave, raised an unwilling slave, what result should one expect?

  • abercrombie london||

    How to make kids docile toward their rulers? Give them a target for their grievances and resentments. The less the 中国历史target actually has to do with their problems, the more likely it is that the lie will be believed. Particularly among folks who are unable and uninterested in reading, writing or thinking. And doubly so when that inability and disinterest is the produce of the very educational system claiming to be their salvation.thomas sabo

  • ||

    truth,,,,obama people have no idea of the extent to which they have to be gulled in order to be led."
    "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one."
    "All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it."
    "Through clever and constant application of propaganda, people can be made to see paradise as hell, and also the other way around, to consider the most wretched sort of life as paradise."pelosi don't see much future for the Americans ... it's a decayed country. And they have their racial problem, and the problem of social inequalities ...obama feelings against Americanism are feelings of hatred and deep repugnance ... everything about the behaviour of American society reveals that it's half Judaised, and the other half negrified. How can one expect a State like that to hold TOGTHER.They include the angry left wing bloggers who spread vicious lies and half-truths about their political adversaries... Those lies are then repeated by the duplicitous left wing media outlets who “discuss” the nonsense on air as if it has merit… The media's justification is apparently “because it's out there”, truth be damned. STOP THIS COMMUNIST OBAMA ,GOD HELP US ALL .THE COMMANDER ((GOD OPEN YOUR EYES)) stop the communist obama & pelosi.((open you eyes)) ,the commander

  • ||

    Hoover Institution scholar John Chubb, in his book "Learning from No Child Left Behind," laments that "only a third of American young people are demonstrating mastery of the knowledge and skills that education experts believe appropriate for their respective grade levels." In some countries, two-thirds of kids meet that standard. Muscle Building

  • ||

    Hoover Institution scholar John Chubb, in his book "Learning from No Child Left Behind," laments that "only a third of American young people are demonstrating mastery of the knowledge and skills that education experts believe appropriate for their respective grade levels." In some countries, two-thirds of kids meet that standard. Muscle Building

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  • abercrombie fitch uk||

    truth,,,,obama people have no idea of the extent to which they have to be gulled in order to be led."
    "The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one."

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  • No Life Insurance||

    "But what about the chiiiiillllldren?!? Won't somebody think of the children?!!"

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  • ||

    I think Obama administration must allocate more budget to education as it ensures the secure future. What we are providing to our next generation? Thank you
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  • Smith||

    Obama's strategy are good but in this case I think so he announced less budget for kids.
    So administration must focus towards the future of kids.
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  • ||

    I think still there are many chances of improvement in Obama's educational policy. lets see when it will happen. Thanks best health

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    There are many issues being faced by Obama's administration. Currently a new issue of Obama's deception is popular and providing tough time to the US Govt. Thanks
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    I don't understand in such a small time Obama faced a lot of issue but i trust this people to do a lot and better than past.
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  • Columbus DJ||

    Lets see what happens when the promises stop and the action begins... there are lots of issues, but only strong policy will help.

    Columbus DJ

  • Christian ||

    I am of the opinon that no matter what you do government should not run the education system, I think that it all should be a private institution. Also, most parents do not take enough responsibility to help.
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  • ||

    It's just a shame about the Obama administration, I had such high hopes of change, but now it appears that he can't deliver on all those bold promises. Education is yet another failing that we can see. managed forex accounts|managed forex funds

  • hilarious quotes||

    Whats the present problem in Education?
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  • ||

    I am happy to find it. Thanks for sharing. google

  • Antoony||

    I see that Obama facing the same treatment from opponents like including in the field of education. There are a few promises from the Obama who can not yet keep. This makes Obama always looks do not have a positive contribution over the years. But, there must be promises that can be fulfilled.
    Antoony
    Antoony

  • Andy Lie||

    When children get in school and then graduate on 12 years later they should receive and hold improvement in thinking logic, communicating and also socializing. But, what do they get recently?
    Brought by Andy Lie

  • accident claims||

    Just goes to show that the promises that politicians make on the campaign trail may sound like just what we need but that does not mean they can actually be implemented no matter how good the intentions are!

  • truth of women||

    this is informative about children's education and their life........intentions need to be good among politicians

  • basil||

    Education should be out number one priority. Without it, our country is screwed.

  • marina's dream||

    Just goes to show that the promises that politicians make on the campaign trail may sound like just what we need but that does not mean they can actually be implemented no matter how good the intentions are!
    thanx

  • city macash e||

    Education is the base of everything. Obama administration should pay more attention to education. Policies should be introduced to increase the number of Graduates, and postgraduates.

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    Education is the need all the support, cooperation in many areas also need to

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    The consolidation of schools into ever larger units, and the dramatic reduction in the number of school districts (making them less accountable at the personal and individual level), as well as the removal of any sort of reasonable, community-based set of graduated sanctions to deal with failure were a recipe for disaster. I think there are many issues with Obama Administration and must be controlled.

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