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In the last Presidential debate, slated to be a foreign policy debate, President Obama made numerous attempts to shift the focus to education. Yet, his record on education hasn't improved the situation, and the policies he has quietly put in place only add more to the debt the nation's children will have to pay.
The controversial No Child Left Behind education law has been completely gutted under President Obama, with 26 states currently relieved of the duty to make all students proficient in reading and mathematics by 2014. Sidestepping Congress, the Department of Education gave the states waivers in exchange for their agreement to meet new goals which make them eligible for the administration's Race to the Top grants. While No Child Left Behind focused on consequences for schools that failed to meet standards, Race to the Top instead rewards schools for achievement and is aimed at only the bottom 15% of schools.
The cost for the President's new program will be $4.35 billion, which is only a small portion of the $69.8 billion he has proposed for discretionary spending for the Department of Education. Overall, the President's education budget would be a 40% increase from 2008. Despite the President's insistence that increasing spending is the answer to the country's education woes, research has shown performance-based pay does not work. Programs in New York City and California have previously been deemed unsuccessful and pay for performance has been noted as being "more useful politically than it is effective educationally." In the cases of Virginia, Florida and Washington D.C., the President's new grants have even led to race-based goals in order to qualify. While Virginia went back to the drawing board and now have all students with equal proficiency goals, Florida and D.C. were rewarded with money from the Race to the Top program.
As for alternative programs to improve the nation's education, President Obama seems to prefer his grants alone. In their previous debate, that actually had education on the agenda, Governor Mitt Romney brought up his support for school choice. While school choice programs have been extremely successful around the country, the President continues to fight against them. In D.C., he tried to eliminate charter schools completely and only funded the district's scholarship program (that provides students with vouchers) after a bipartisan effort begging him to approve the funding. Even many Democrats have come around to the idea of school choice, seeing it as a civil rights issue. "If rich white kids can go to the school that best fits them, why can't we provide the same opportunity to poor minority kids?"
Ultimately the President is desperately trying to pander to teachers and teacher's unions for votes. His policies don't reflect a President who is serious about changing education in the United States. Should President Obama win re-election, America's public education will continue to disappoint and fail to unlock the potential that resides in the next generation to inherit our country.