The Obama Plans -- and Fixing New York Schools

Are grades improving or is the bar being lowered

By Gabe Pressman
|  Friday, Mar 19, 2010  |  Updated 10:03 AM EDT
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The Obama Plans -- and Fixing New York Schools

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Chairs and tables in classroom

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The problem is clear: when you compare America  with some other western nations, our children are getting an inferior education.

The Obama administration has tried to address this issue with a new blueprint for change.  Yet some educators are skeptical that this new blueprint will work. Looking at the record,  a veteran civil rights leader, Charles Jones of New York’s Community Service Society puts it: “Our rather tepid efforts at reform aren’t going to cut it in a global economy.”

Obama’s new education secretary, Arne Duncan, has an alarming analysis too: “The fact is that we are not just in an economic crisis. We have to educate ourselves to a better economy.”

And Duncan, when he talks about fixing the Bush administration’s No Child Left Bahind Law, has blunt words for our educational establishment: ”I think we are lying to children and families when we tell children that they are meeting standards and, in fact, they are woefully unprepared to be successful in high school and have almost no chance of going to a good university and being successful.”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein are proud of having improved the math and reading test scores of many of our 1.1 million school children.  But, again and again in recent months, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of New York’s  Board of Regents, has told me that there’s something faulty about the test criteria since about 74 percent of high school graduates are not prepared to do college level work.

 “We have to lift the bar,”she says. And the Obama administration seems to agree.

Much of the 140 billion dollar federal program will help states create and keep jobs. But, as Duncan told U.S. News, “My concern is that hundreds of thousands of good teachers, not just bad teachers, are going to go, and that would be devastating.”

Duncan wants to adopt standards that compare favorably with the strict standards of other advanced nations.

It’s a step in the right direction but outlining the details is still a work in progress. There is a great need for states to institute reliable systems to evaluate the performance of teachers and principals. The federal government can prod and try to influence the pace of educational progress---but education is still a local and state matter.

Obama has emphasized he wants to concentrate on preparing students for college and careers, that the emphasis on passing national standardized tests has to be modified.

In ancient Greece, Plato said the mark of an educated man was the ability to think in the abstract.

To simply train students to pass tests is not enough. The challenges of life and career require more.

Somehow, our teachers must inspire in the younger generation a love of learning for its own sake and a passion to pursue the challenges that confront adults in our world.

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