Education Issue Update: Schools Surviving Turbulent Times

As always, there’s a lot going on across this country in the realm of education policy, especially in light of the economy’s continuing struggles. Let’s get right into it.

  • Remember No Child Left Behind, the Bush-era education overhaul centered around standardized testing? Well there’s a growing consensus out there that the policy is flawed, but with no Congressional support for any particular alternative, we’re left with a bit of a mess. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan – who refers to the policy as a “slow-motion train wreck” – is indicating that his department will offer schools relief from the law, and has already granted more than 300 waivers to schools who failed to meet targets. Three states (Idaho, Montana, and South Dakota), certain that their schools will fail to meet the ambitious proficiency requirements of NCLB, have threatened to cease implementing aspects of the federal law. Even worse, educators have taken matters into their own handschanging answers on their students’ standardized tests in order to make the schools look good. But does anyone have the authority not to implement the standards without congressional preapproval? That is not clear. So the battle continues.
  • Californians got some relief from a few temporary tax increases this year (ranging from 0.25% to 1%) but at what cost? The state’s public university system (which was receiving approximately half those funds) will take a big hit. Tuition will undergo a substantial hike and, as a result, the University of California will no longer give preference to in-state students who pay less tuition than those from out-of-state. Elsewhere, municipal education budgets are shrinking; in one case a newly-built high school is going to sit unused for a year or more, because the town doesn’t have the money to operate it.
  • If they have the right to marry, do students have the right to learn about them? Californians believe they do and should. State legislature recently passed a bill requiring the inclusion of LGBT historical figures in textbooks and lectures in public schools, in addition to adding sexual orientation to the state list of anti-discrimination protections. For civil rights groups, this is a definite victory for equality. For the opponents? They are “offended” by the proposed “homosexual curriculum,” and hope for a veto from Governor Jerry Brown.  On the other side of the ideological spectrum, the Tennessee state Senate approved a bill that would ban teachers from discussing homosexualitywith elementary or middle school students.
  • It’s not exactly breaking news to say that minority populations in America are underserved when it comes to education. However, a new study from federal civil rights officials puts the contrast in stark relief – for instance, it shows that schools with primarily black populations are twice as likely as mostly-white schools to be staffed with inexperienced teachers. Despite the many obstacles minorities face in the American education system and quickly-rising tuition costs, an interesting counterpoint demonstrating upward mobility: more immigrants now have college degrees than those who did not complete secondary school.

Times are tough, ladies and gentlemen. Which is to say that the way our country acts now will likely determine the course of our education system – and, as a result, of our economy – for years to come. I’ll be keeping you in the loop. In the meantime, if you hear about something this month that you think I should see, please drop me a line.