Billions of philanthropic dollars are spent each year to assuage the budget shortfalls of the nation’s urban school districts. But the money comes tied to a strict agenda. With the Obama administration leading the charge and philanthropists like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and the Walton family footing the bill, America’s school districts are buying into the education reform movement... for better or for worse.
School vouchers, sometimes known as education vouchers, are government-issued certificates that can be applied to tuition at a private school. The most conservative of the 'school choice' campaigns, school vouchers seek to offer increased options to parents while promoting free market competition in public education.
The National Education Association (NEA) is the most outspoken opponent of school vouchers, claiming they will lead to the reduction of funding for and the privatization of public education.
Merit pay offers financial inventive to perform at a high level. While used often in the private sector, merit pay has come into vogue in discussions of education reform. Supporters of merit pay--including President Barack Obama--claim that using the management strategies of the business world will bring more efficiency and higher test scores to public schools.
Opponents, like national teachers' unions the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), say that current teacher evaluation methods are not consistent enough to ensure that biases will not be at play in merit pay. The NEA has also spoken out against systems that make "students part of the pay equation."
Charter schools are nonsectarian public schools that operate autonomously within a local school district. They are still held accountable for state and local educational standards. The "charter" is a contract between a school operator and a local district or state establishing the school's mission, programs, assessment mechanisms and proposed goals. The first charter school opened in Minnesota in 1991.
Charter schools benefit from small class sizes and local decision-making. A Stanford study, however, found that 83 percent of the time charter schools perform the same or worse than their public school counterparts. Nevertheless, the number of charters school has increased dramatically in the past few years--with the blessing of the Obama administration--and shows no signs of stopping.
No Child Left Behind was the education coup of the Bush Administration. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001--which was supported by politicians on both sides of the aisle--required states to set achievement standards for basic skills. In turn, Congress approved increased federal education spending.
While reformers were besotted with No Child Left Behind as a great equalizer, critics argued that it encouraged "teaching to the test." Nevertheless, the United States Department of Education touted the statistics provided by the National Assessment of Educational Progress indicating that, among 9-year-olds, math and reading skills improved drastically by 2005.
No Child Left Behind is still in place today.
On July 24, 2009, President Barack Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the Race to the Top program. Race to the Top encouraged states to compete for federal funding by submitting innovation proposals. Among the Department of Education's criteria were statewide longitudinal data systems, evaluation of teacher and principal performance, strategies for improving low-performing schools and the removal of state caps on charter schools.
Race to the Top was funded by the $4.3 billion allotted for education in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, commonly know as the "stimulus package." It has currently gone through two phases.
Supporters of Race to the Top applauded the policy's ability to instigate dramatic education reform in a short period of time. Opponents found it an unfair distribution of federal education funding.