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Obama Administration's Ambitious Education Plan Faces Tough Challenges

by Kelly Petty, published
credit: Labpluto 123/Wikimedia Commons

credit: Labpluto 123/Wikimedia Commons

As the Obama administration ramps up efforts to transform the nation’s education system, they seek the public’s help in guiding the vision. The U.S. Department of Education announced last Friday that it is currently accepting public comment on its Strategic Plan for 2014-2018, a comprehensive outline for turning around America’s public schools:

“Ensuring America once again leads the world in post-secondary completion by 2020 is the North Star guiding all our work at the Department of Education. The basic arithmetic of achieving this goal requires improvement at every level of education—from school entry to post-secondary enrollment and completion—and for all populations, including the historically underserved, from poor children to displaced adults,” said Deputy Secretary of Education Jim Shelton.

Citizens have until October 4 to comment on the education proposal.

The 44-page outline includes six key areas the department looks to improve in the next 4 years. Those include:

  • Early Learning: improve the health, social-emotional, and cognitive outcomes for all children
  • Elementary and Secondary Education: align instruction with rigorous academic standards to prepare students to graduate high school college and career ready
  • Post-secondary Education, Career and Technical Education, and Adult Education: increase college access, affordability, quality and completion of student higher education
  • Equity: close achievement gaps and increase educational opportunities for underserved students
  • Continuous Improvement of the U.S. Education System: enhance education system through widespread use of data, research, and evaluation and evidence
  • U.S. Department of Education Capacity: improve organizational capacities of U.S. DOE to implement plan

The plan is ambitious and represents a monumental shift in the way public education would serve the nation’s students. Yet, the plan is overreaching and presents too many issues that the federal government believes it could intervene and solve.

For example, the DOE is geared toward creating a student populace that is prepared for the future workforce by being STEM ready, college and career ready, and tech savvy at the same time just before entering college.

The plan also integrates the principles of Common Core to achieve the Obama administration’s goal of improving academic standards at the k-12 level. But, states like Georgia, who is backing out of the assessment portion of Common Core, is leading the charge for others to reconsider the controversial standards or get rid of them altogether.

Already within the next 2 years, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has several bold initiatives on his agenda to fill.

The Department of Education set a deadline of September 30, 2015 to complete several goals including: establish college and career ready standards and next generation assessments across all 50 states, increase degree attainment by 45 percent for 25 to 34 year-olds, have at least 37 states implement teacher and principal evaluation assessments, and increase the national high school graduation rate to 83 percent.

There are also the concerns over student data collection. As part of the strategic plan, the DOE wants to increase efforts to capture student data and streamline the process of doing so, all while maintaining the security of the data and ensuring privacy.

This now could include gathering data on children as young as kindergarten through a new program called KEA, otherwise known as a kindergarten entry assessment. These tests are designed to begin to measure student academic progress and cognitive abilities, among other factors, as soon as children enter the public school system.

Much of the plan is predicated on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, or No Child Left Behind. Both the House GOP Student Success Act and the Senate Democrat Strengthening America’s Schools Act of 2013, offered up to replace NCLB, are currently ensnared in a congressional impasse.

If either bill continues to be caught up in partisan gridlock like other pieces of legislation, the Obama administration will have a tough time of implementing much of its goals.

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